It is simply not cricket to oust players for bragging
The content and tone of the responses were enough to inspire reams of articles devouring into the 'toxic masculinity'.
By Anamika Chatterjee
Published: Sun 13 Jan 2019, 7:00 PM
Last updated: Sun 13 Jan 2019, 9:38 PM
On a regular day, Koffee With Karan celebrates all things pretty and petty. Today, it has stirred a national conversation. For the first time, the Bollywood talk show, hosted by filmmaker (and 'kingmaker') Karan Johar, invited two Indian cricketers - Hardik Pandya and K.L. Rahul. Dressed in a plaid blazer, yellow sunglasses and an array of gold chains, Pandya seemed poised to steal the show, even as his colleague kept his outfits, and words, relatively understated. Thereon, everything went downhill. Cringe-inducing questions were followed by more cringe-inducing answers. Celebrities on the show typically conceal more than they reveal. Pandya chose the opposite. Result? Woeful insights on observing women's movements and bragging about sexual escapades narrated in a manner that sounded crass (sample this, when asked by a family member on who he'd been engaged in an encounter with, he boasts, "all of them").
The content and tone of the responses were enough to inspire reams of articles devouring into the 'toxic masculinity'. To have that dissected and criticised in a post-#MeToo world perhaps wouldn't be misplaced had the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) not decided to play the conscience keeper. Pandya and Rahul have not only been suspended, they stand to face an inquiry on the misconduct - the candour and coarseness exuded on Koffee With Karan. Meanwhile, Pandya has already lost his Gillette endorsement deal. Hotstar, the online platform that hosts episodes of Koffee With Karan has already dropped the controversial episode. All this amid a severe social media backlash. By now, Pandya and Rahul would agree that a lot can happen over Koffee.
It's not uncommon to see sportsmen as role models. Stories of their perseverance, combined with their achievements on the field, catapults them into champions of something more than just the sport itself - they become champions of certain moral values. In offering a tell-all, Pandya may have broken that cardinal rule of political correctness. In suspending Pandya and Rahul, the BCCI may have just reinforced those textbook virtues. The ironies are aplenty. When things heated up after the episode aired, Pandya had apologised. He was sent a show cause notice signed by CEO Rahul Johri, who had found himself amid allegations of harassment (an unnamed BCCI official is quoted in an article in Hindustan Times saying, "To get Johri to sign a notice to be sent to someone for an act that disrespects women is like engaging Mahmud of Ghazni to head a task force on peace."). Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli, who routinely uses sexist expletives on the field, has pointed out that the team does not share the players' views. Senior players like Harbhajan Singh have lambasted the duo for putting other cricketers' reputations at stake ("We don't talk about all this even with our friends and they were talking on public television. Now people might think, was Harbhajan Singh like this, was Anil Kumble like this and was Sachin Tendulkar like this," Harbhajan told a publication in India). Johar, in the meantime, has maintained a studied silence on the issue, even as his provocative line of questioning is being scrutinised.
Seeing the controversy unfold over the past few days in Indian media also begs a question - what has really stood violated here? Morality or propriety? In making an example of Hardik Pandya and K.L. Rahul, the BCCI may not necessarily be standing up for women's rights, it may as well be reinforcing its own prescribed codes of conduct. Had any woman Pandya liaised with come up with an allegation of sexual misconduct, the BCCI would have been right in proceeding with a stringent action. It would also have been well within its rights to criticise the statements. After all, here you had a cricketer - a potential braggart - boasting about his escapades on a show. But to have that criticism translate into a suspension seems avoidable. Also problematic is the fact that more people seem to be offended by the candour rather than the coarseness. Interestingly, some of the highest voted comments on Reddit suggest a disappointment over Pandya choosing to talk about his private life in public instead of keeping it private. In other words, had Pandya continued to live his fantasies but politely dodged Johar's questions on the show, he would have kept his mantle of a hero intact, and Rahul wouldn't have had to pay for his spectatorship.
Black and whites don't always fit into a world that is essentially grey. In the past decade, it has not really been uncommon to see many a woman anchor - many of whom belong to entertainment industries and are brought in the matches to up the glamour quotient - being routinely objectified for the male gaze. If gender has to be a talking point in this world, it also has to account for these issues.
We live at a time when gender sensitivity is non-negotiable. If it is our right to call out the sexism served on a platter, it is also our responsibility to understand context and determine the course of action accordingly. Pandya's statement has been rightly called out for male entitlement, but BCCI's policing too reeks of conservatism. Should two promising careers of flawed men suffer because of thoughtless remarks? In India, we love a moral high ground. Must it come at the cost of our truest, most imperfect self?