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Shashi Tharoor Needs to be Told How to Apologise. And That 'Eunuch' is Not an Insult

A politician who brags about his reading habits; gave the entire country the phrase 'exasperating farrago of distortions' to describe an absurd situation couldn't find a word for his opponent​.

Adrija Bose | News18.com

Updated:January 14, 2020, 5:43 PM IST
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Shashi Tharoor Needs to be Told How to Apologise. And That 'Eunuch' is Not an Insult
A politician who brags about his reading habits; gave the entire country the phrase 'exasperating farrago of distortions' to describe an absurd situation couldn't find a word for his opponent​.

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Of course, it was surprising that it came from Tharoor-- one of the very few politicians who opposed the Transgender Bill that was recently passed in the Parliament. In fact, in a letter to the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot, Tharoor had asked for the withdrawal of the bill as the present definition of transgender, he said, failed to reflect the fundamental understanding of gender. Meanwhile, transgender communities across the country held protests as the bill was silently passed by our politicians.

Tharoor may have opposed the bill, but it isn't hard to see that transphobia can't be wiped out even if one memorises the dictionary. A man who brags about his reading habits; gave the entire country the phrase 'exasperating farrago of distortions' to describe an absurd situation; and told us he knows words such as Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, one that we are still trying to pronounce, apparently couldn't find a word to describe his political opponent. At least, in Tharoor's case we know it's not a case of lack of vocabulary.

In the interview on Monday, the Congress leader said, “Mr Kejriwal is trying to have it both ways. He has made statements deploring the CAA and NRC but has not taken any tangible action. He has not even shown human compassion one expects from a chief minister for victims of violence in his state. In any other state, had students been bashed up in this manner, the chief minister would have visited them and shown them some concern. Mr Kejriwal really wants power without responsibility, which, we all know has been the prerogative of eunuchs for the ages.”

In South Asian countries, the words “hijra” or “eunuch” is used to refer to the "third gender". It is not an abuse or an insult. But, the word has become a daily staple in the speeches of our very regressive Indian politicians whenever they want to accuse their opponents of being weak and incompetent. In 2009, Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray had referred to the erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a eunuch. The then party chief Bal Thackeray had followed up by referring to Singh as “politically impotent”. In 2017, West Bengal's BJP State President referred to Trinamool Congress activists as eunuchs. Later, yet another leader from BJP called Mamata Banerjee a 'hijra'. Every time, there's outrage till the next politician calls yet another politician 'hijra'.

But, unlike them, Tharoor tendered an apology. Or, so he thinks.

Any apology that starts with "apologies to those who found..." is, let's be clear, not an apology. The mere fact that Tharoor himself couldn't see why it is offensive is disappointing, to say the least. But Tharoor being Tharoor even tried justifying why he used it in the first place.

Tharoor put the onus on Stanley Baldwin. Baldwin, however, would not have been happy about it. The prime minister of the UK between the two World Wars, fed up as politicians sometimes are with the media, had compared press barons of the time to harlots. Baldwin, a cousin of writer Rudyard Kipling, borrowed Kipling's words when he said in 1931, "What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, but power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages".

Tharoor, however, is right about Tom Stoppard. The playwright and had used the "power without responsibility" argument while referring to politicians in his novel 'Lord Malquist and Mr Moon', published in 1966. Stoppard had written, "The House of Lords, an illusion to which I have never been able to subscribe—responsibility without power, the prerogative of the eunuch throughout the ages."

So let's just call Tharoor's apology for what it is-- a colossal failure.

Last year, Apsara Reddy became the first transgender person to be appointed as the general secretary of the Mahila Congress, the women's wing of the same political party that Tharoor belongs to. In an interview then, Reddy had said, "I want to be looked upon as an equal, somebody who is praiseworthy, who can deliver, and who can leave their gender at the door and still be an equal. I think we have a long way to go before we achieve that kind of equality."

Tharoor just proved that there's a long way to go before transgender people in the country achieve that kind of equality. But it definitely begins with our politicians realising 'eunuch' is not an insult.

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