HT Sangliana, the former Director General of the Karnataka Police recently made outrageous and appalling statements while attending an award ceremony held to honour women for the time and work they put in to generate change.
Asha Devi, the mother of the 2012 Delhi-gangrape victim Jyoti Singh was the chief guest at the event. When Sangliana was called upon to take the stage, he went up to the podium and said, “I see Nirbhaya’s mother, she has such a good physique. I can just imagine how beautiful Nirbhaya would have been”.
The thoughtless, degrading, and offensive statements didn’t just end with Asha Devi and her daughter. The former DGP went on to give ‘safety tips’ to women. He said, “If you are overpowered, you should surrender, and follow up the case later. That way we can be safe, save life (sic), prevent being killed”.
To associate a dead woman with her appearance is not only absurd but callous.
Living here, outlandish and appalling comments don’t come to us as a shock anymore. It is an almost daily occurrence for politicians, god-men and various other people of high stature to take it upon themselves to make thoughtless, toxic and baseless statements about groups and communities. Although, Sangliana’s comments could easily top the list.
For him to think it is okay to tell a woman she has a great figure and he can only imagine what her daughter looked like if she looks like this, is severely problematic and offensive. The reason his ‘compliment’ is so recognizably problematic is that it brings to the forefront our inability to look at women beyond their physical appearance and our constant dismissal of the abilities women have and the work they do.
Women have always been burdened with the crushing weight of ridiculous, unattainable, and oftentimes even unhealthy beauty standards. To most people, women are what their bodies are. Our expectations of women are always related to external beauty.
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To associate a dead woman – a woman who died the way she did, a woman who paved way for legislative reforms, a woman who forced us to address the issue of rape and our individual and collective attitudes towards it – with her appearance is not only absurd but callous.
The other glaring issue is the inherent sexism that makes us believe it is okay to tell a woman that she has a good ‘figure’. It’s a compliment! Now we can’t even compliment women? Oh, those feminists.
Here is a simple test to see if a compliment is acceptable – would you say it to men? I have not once heard a man being told his figure is great. Saying someone has a great physique has an underlying sexual tone – which is the problem with what Sangliana said.
Also, this wasn’t a beauty pageant or a fashion event, this was an award ceremony for the work women put in to generate change and talking about a woman’s physique at an event like that takes away from her work and the essence of the entire event. Women are individuals with abilities, talents, passions and drive, they aren’t defined by their bodies, they are defined by what they do and who they really are.
Here is a simple test to see if a compliment is acceptable – would you say it to men?
HT Sangliana deserves all the scrutiny and backlash he is getting. The fact that this man couldn’t think of anything better to say at a ceremony that predominantly dealt with women’s work, tells us a lot about our collective attitude towards women.
We often tell women they should learn to take a compliment, but we never tell men like Sangliana that they should learn not to sexualise women and to see women for who they are, beyond their appearance. It’s time we learn that it isn’t a harmless compliment when you tell women they have a good physique.
It’s time we stop derailing conversations about the work women do. It’s time men like Sangliana learn to be more aware and less patriarchal and it’s high time we get rid of our ingrained sexism and think outside the bounds of patriarchy.
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Featured Image Credit: IAS Paper