The Hardik Pandya-Koffee With Karan episode wasn't about sex positivity, just plain old sexism

Partha P Chakrabartty

Jan 12, 2019 13:51:38 IST

The recent controversy over KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya’s appearance on Koffee with Karan has left the cricketers carrying the can, but just consider for a minute how many people it took for this crass spectacle to play out. Someone ran the research and scripted the questions; Karan Johar asked them; the producers and editors thought the conversation scintillating and titillating instead of repulsive. A big channel broadcasted the show.

It does not end there. Today’s international cricketers are thoroughly trained to face the media, but clearly, this curriculum has nothing in it to cure them of their sexism. Surely, the team management knew of this upcoming appearance on this particular talk show. Moreover, there is an elaborate code of conduct for Indian cricketers, but again, there is nothing in it that applies to the present situation.

What drives this failure to notice sexism and anticipate the disgust of audiences? The first reason is that we have not yet accepted that we are a fundamentally sexist society. If we did, we would realise everything we consider ‘normal’ has grown out of this sexist society. Therefore, a special effort will be required to rid ourselves and our society of sexism. This means an active anti-sexist stance rather than a passive one. It means that, when you’re making a code of conduct or training someone to face the media, you include such a section.

The Hardik Pandya-Koffee With Karan episode wasnt about sex positivity, just plain old sexism

File image of Hardik Pandya. Reuters/Paul Childs

This is why a generic curriculum on how to face fame will not be sufficient. Sexism has to be actively targeted to be overcome. In the same way, we need more women, and women who are actually heard, in positions of power and leadership in the media. The media bears a special responsibility in the shaping of minds both young and old; they really should have caught this before it blew up.

Another, subtler reason is at work in this episode. I think part of the reason people like Karan Johar didn’t anticipate this backlash was because they felt they were doing something radical. In some ways, they were — the honesty regarding sex is not something we see every day. There are people denouncing Hardik Pandya’s parenting, and sure, the sexism is alive and well there — but frank and open conversations about sex are not a problem. Nor, in particular, is the volume and variety of sexual experience of our cricketers.

It is probable that the men in that room thought they were opening up conversations about sexuality. I am not sure I want to lose this openness for the sake of a Rahul Dravidian discomfort with sexuality. But even this so-called sex positivity is, after all, born out of a sexist society, and all of us, especially we men, must be mindful of this.

Pandya and Rahul’s experience is a teaching moment, but many lessons can be taught. The most basic lesson young people can draw from this is that it is okay to behave like this, but not okay to model this behavior in the media; that you can get away with doing all this so long as you don’t become famous and speak about it on a talk show. That would be profoundly wrong.

The second lesson that can be drawn is that we must return to a closeted world, where we pretend to be doodh se dhula hua and appear shocked or surprised whenever the sparkledust of sexuality makes its appearance. That parents should castigate their adolescents for expressing their sexuality, or that a heavy blanket of silence should cover any hint of it within the family. This, too, would be a profoundly wrong lesson.

The lesson I hope we all draw from this event is that it is not okay to reduce women to nameless objects. That sex is about more than just the slaloming of bodies, that it is a mind-body experience with a whole person, and not just with a flesh-and-blood cutout. That it is an intimate act, not a performance. And that in their chasing of sexual experiences, our cricketers must not lose their fundamental humanity and their ability to treat women as people with agency and dignity.

Sexism in our society is hardly a character flaw restricted to some bad eggs. By treating Pandya as an exceptional case marked out for special punishment, as a ‘bad character’, we are ignoring the real issue. Pandya’s ignorance when it comes to how to look at and treat women is the product of the larger society around him. It is this ignorance that has to be addressed. Rather than just bad behaviour, what I saw on Koffee with Karan was a spectacular lack of anticipation. What did Pandya think this interview would do to his sex life, for instance? Which woman would like to become the next woman to be arbitrarily counted off in a crowd?

And what of the example that Pandya has set for his audience? In an ideal world, our children would not idolise cricketers (unless they wanted to become athletes themselves). Otherworldly as their skills are, at the end of the day, cricket is just a game, and modern sports leaves athletes with little time to develop a wider range of experience or a deeper worldview.

But now that they already are idolised by children, cricketers must accept their mantle of responsibility. The backlash endured by Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul, including a statement by their captain, has drawn a line in the sand. At least when it comes to the public sphere, we can hope that such an example will no longer be set.

Updated Date: Jan 13, 2019 11:24:21 IST

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.