My Side of The Shield

Chief Ministers Should not Waste Time Trying to ‘Understand’ or Assess Women’s Beauty

It seems Prime Minister Modi’s advice to his party leaders not to make unneccessary and controversial comments has not been taken seriously by a section of BJP leaders. One such example is the Tripura Chief Ministe Biplab Deb. Modi had recently told his party people that unnecessary remarks hurt the image of the party. Actually it is not just the party that they are hurting but the image of India and Hinduism ( since they call themselves Hindu Nationalists) is also hurt by these unnecessary remarks.

Biplab Deb has been a headline hunter right from the moment his name was announced as Tripura Chief Minister. The details about the new CM of the state naturally grabbed headlines in the local and national media. The man who had replaced Manik Sarkar, the CM for 20 years, was a media sensation.

It was indeed a remarkable feat of Biplab’s party. Thus the man had created quite a ripple in various geographical locations with his arrival in the scene! He was not just the CM of a Northeastern state but was prominent in national discussions.

But grabbing headlines for political reasons was not enough for Deb. Recently he declared that internet and satellite communication existed in the Mahabharata era. His comments once again stirred the hornet’s nest. There have been historical evidences of amazing achievements in the field of science and mathematics in ancient India. From zero to calculus, Indian mathematicians invented almost all of the fundamentals of modern mathematics. It was the Indians who first said the earth is round. Plastic surgery and organ transplants were also done by ancient Indian physician Sushruta. This list goes on and on. But if we start talking about Ganesha’s head as an example of organ transplant instead of talking about Sushruta’s surgical procedures, then we turn history into farce and instead of glorifying ancient Hindu science we actually demean it by reducing it to myth. Similarly when we make claims like internet connections in the days of the Mahabharata just because there is the mention of Sanjay being able to see whatever is happening in the battlefield, that becomes a joke. By doing so we actually mock the real achievements of the ancient Indians.

There have been historical evidences of amazing achievements in the field of science and mathematics in ancient India. From zero to calculus, Indian mathematicians invented almost all of the fundamentals of modern mathematics. It was the Indians who first said the earth is round. Plastic surgery and organ transplants were also done by ancient Indian physician Sushruta. This list goes on and on. But if we start talking about Ganesha’s head as an example of organ transplant instead of talking about Sushruta’s surgical procedures, then we turn history into farce and instead of glorifying ancient Hindu science we actually demean it by reducing it to myth. Similarly when we make claims like internet connections in the days of the Mahabharata just because there is the mention of Sanjay being able to see whatever is happening in the battlefield, that becomes a joke. By doing so we actually mock the real achievements of the ancient Indians.

The internet remark had become a joke for obvious reasons but the headline hunter in Deb wanted something more serious! So this time he choose to speak on the multinational cosmetic industry and beauty pageants. It could have been a serious comment about how the cosmetic and beauty industry enforces fashion and beauty stereotypes all over the world for their benefit or how women and men have been manipulated by stereotypical ideas of beauty created by the fashion/cosmetics industry. But that would be too dull like a documentary and Biplab wanted something bigger and better and grandiose like a bollywood movie. So he choose to go a few steps further and the result was a sexist, racist, and stereotypical comment. He started comparing beauties and said that he does not ‘understand the beauty of Diana Hayden’ though Aishwarya Rai was a real beauty. According to him, Diana does not qualify to be called a beauty because unlike Aishwarya Rai, she did not ‘represent Lakshmi and Sarasawti’. As if Aishwarya Rai was judged on some some ‘desi’ parametere in the international beauty pageant. What he tried to project as an informed and wise opinion on multinationals and stereotypical notions about beauty ended up sounding like the rants of a Bengali nationalist who think that Bengalis are superior by default whether in terms of beauty or intellect. Biplab’s confusion about Diana’s beauty only conforms to the ‘fair and lovely’/’fair and handsome’ obsession of a large number of Indians.

This dose of sexism and racism could have been enough for headline hunting. But how could Biplab Babu not add some flavour of his own perception of history? So he proffers his wisdom in style and says- “Indian women did not use cosmetics. They didn’t use shampoo, they washed their hair with methi water and bathed with mud”. What he missed here is that the English word shampoo has its origin in the Sanskrit word Champi. They did not use multinational brands but the concept of shampoo was an Indian invention. While trying to focus on Hindu history he ended up demeaning it. The whole point about stereotypical notions of beauty also got lost.

Over-enthusiasm about a cause often kills the cause. This is happening with a section of people who identify themselves as Hindu nationalists but end up saying things which are actually demeaning to Hindus or Indians in general. People like Biplab Deb need to stop for a while and assess their own actions and words. He did not even realise that his Mahabharata comment was actually demeaning to Hindu history or that the Diana comment was politically incorrect. We cannot expect Biplab Deb the person to be serious about the knowledge culture of ancient India or to be respectful to cultural or racial differences. But what is expected of him as the Chief Minister of a state is that he should not waste his time trying to ‘understand’ and assess the beauty of women but should rather concentrate on real issues and governance. He may not pay attention to what other think but he should at least pay attention to what their own PM says about unnecessary comments.

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