Chetan Bhagat, rape jokes are not funny at all

Chetan Bhagat thought it funny to tweet about how the rupee was asking for punishment for its rapists. Just because rupees and rape are both in the news cycle does it make it okay to get a cheap laugh by clubbing them together?

Sandip Roy August 29, 2013 07:18:35 IST
Chetan Bhagat, rape jokes are not funny at all

A few weeks after the “Nirbhaya” gang rape I received a message on my Blackberry messenger. It said there was a candlelight vigil at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

In those days there were candlelight vigils all over the city and 'Take Back the Night' protests. But this one was a joke. The Indian cricket team had been decimated in some match or the other. And it was about why no one was holding a candlelight vigil for the rape of the Indian cricket team.

It wasn’t funny then. It’s not funny now.

Just as Chetan Bhagat’s now deleted tweet about how “ the rupee is asking, is there no punishment for my rapists “ is singularly unfunny, insensitive, tasteless and just plain crass.

No matter how low the rupee sinks, there is no basis to even begin to compare its plight with what happened in Shakti Mills or that Delhi bus or Kamduni near Kolkata.

Chetan Bhagat rape jokes are not funny at all

Screengrab of Chetan Bhagat's Tweet.

After the latest Mumbai gang rape I had written a piece about how despite all the outrage over “Nirbhaya”, the Verma Commission report, our politicians just didn’t get it. They were happy to use rape as a political football to take potshots at each other and make inane suggestions like police escorts for women journalists. Other women, apparently, were on their own. But what do we expect from politicians like Sharad Yadav who waxed eloquent in parliament about Sheila ki jawaani and Munni and her Zandu balm while discussing rape?

“So what, we are all men after all!” Yadav quipped. Yes, and politicians are politicians, after all. In that context perhaps it’s not that surprising that BJD MP Jay Panda thought it funny to tweet that the rupee was the victim of rape by the government. There’s no blow too low for politicians out to score a point.

But at least Panda, when confronted about it on Twitter quickly agreed that it was never appropriate “to use the rape analogy for anything other than rape.” And then he deleted it.

Bhagat deleted his tweet with nary an apology nor an acknowledgment – an act of utter disingenuousness.

It’s not like Bhagat has not voiced his concern about the attacks on women. “I believe women need to be given an extra space in life since they are facing the brunt in society and this is not just because of the Delhi gangrape incident,” he said at an event in March. “This is one reference point of how much brutal, horrific things may turn.”

And he called for a “re-check on our morality stand.”

Apparently that “re-check” includes tittering on Twitter about the rape of the rupee while the rape survivor in Mumbai is still recovering in the hospital.

After the huge protests following the Delhi gang-rape, Bhagat broke India down into four classes of people. Ones were the political masters. Twos were the industrialists and capitalists. Threes were what he called “people like you and me” with some affluence and education but still deprived of “speedy justice, accountable leaders or protective police force.” The Fours were 90 percent of the country, the ones who worked on its farms, cleaned its houses, lived in its slums.

Bhagat had some advice for those clamouring for change, scolding them for imposing their “new-found modern values on (the Fours).”

Don’t just laugh at anyone who says women should cover up and not venture out at night. Suggest that while this old belief may come from a place of practical reality, this cannot be the primary solution. I am not saying these people are not regressive. However, if you want change, be inclusive.

Sorry, my colleague Lakshmi Chaudhry had written at that time but outrage over rape isn’t elitist.
Women are not some “special” category citizens whose rights are up for negotiation or can be downgraded because, oh, the rest of the country isn’t quite there, dear! Besides, this isn’t about getting the village elders to get on board with a family planning program. Rape is not a cultural bias, it’s a crime.

Bhagat wants to come across as the sane middle-of-the-road no-nonsense voice of reason, one that does not pander to political correctness but his one careless tweet betrays how skin deep this “no tolerance” attitude towards rape really is.

In response to the Twitter outrage over his tweet, Bhagat tweeted "People here flipping out on using word rape as metaphor. Murder is OK. Using F word is also OK." There are hundreds of jokes about murder. So why are we so touchy about rape?

Here’s why. We do take murder a bit more seriously than rape. We are a little more likely to get the police to file that FIR though not always. We are more likely to report it. A person reporting murder is less likely to get asked out on a date to a disco by the cop or have their dress code questioned or be blamed for bringing it upon themselves. Murder and most other crimes do not happen in a social context where the victim’s name needs to be always blacked out in the media.

But it’s not about murder anyway because murder is not in the news now. If Chetan Bhagat had said the government was murdering the rupee no one would have batted an eyelid. It’s about trying to tee off the news cycle. Just because both rupee and rape are in the news, Bhagat decided to mint a cheap laugh out of tragedy. Chetan Bhagat (or Jay Panda, for that matter) would never make a joke like that about terrorists after 26/11, or about the Line of Control after Indian soldiers get killed there, or the flood victims of Uttarakhand or the children killed after a school meal in Bihar.

That he thought it fit to make a joke about rape shows that somewhere inside, rape, and the outcry over rape, is still considered trivial compared to those other tragedies.

That he deleted it without apology makes it more shameful than less. Chetan Bhagat once wrote a best-seller called The 3 Mistakes of my Life.

Maybe he could add a fourth one to that list now.

Updated Date:

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