The incident took place during the Times LitFest held in Delhi on Sunday and the panel included journalists Barkha Dutt and Faye D'Souza. Singh, who has been an open critic about #MeToo in the past went on to call it an 'elitist' movement that grew out of an imitation of the west. She also said that in India, women had to face worse problems like 'widespread savagery and barbarism' which were more pressing problems.
However,it was when they started talking about sexual harassment that things got out of hand and Singh went on to make a comment about D'Souza's clothes.
"Look at you, you're dressed like a man," Singh said, much to the chagrin of D'Souza who immediately erupted along with Dutt as well as the audience at the insensitive comment. After the backlash, Singh apologised for it and said that she was "obviously joking".
However, a video clip of the discussion went viral on social media with many attacking Singh for her 'joke'.
Singh responded on Twitter with her clarification, stating that it was no longer possible to make jokes in front of feminists. she also added that the controversy stole attention from her real point which was the relevance of movements like #MeToo in India.
It was a joke. But, it’s clear that it is no longer possible to make jokes in front of feminists. When she got upset I apologised immediately. Why don’t you say that in your caption too? It’s bad journalism to cherry pick facts. https://t.co/EC2RppOOTg— Tavleen Singh (@tavleen_singh) December 2, 2018
What saddens me is that the real point of the conversation was lost. The real point is whether MeToo is relevant in a country where we are dealing with savagery towards women and little girls. Not just patriarchy. https://t.co/NCMIezubkZ— Tavleen Singh (@tavleen_singh) December 3, 2018
However, Twitter wasn't having it.
You aren't the first one to come up with the women-cant-take-a-joke defense for sexism.— Vidya (@VidyaKrishnan) December 2, 2018
Your joke wasn’t funny. It was offensive. The defensiveness & the apology that wasn’t really an apology is just making this worse.
I sincerely request journalists and organisations to boycott @tavleen_singh and not give her a platform to air her delusional, bigoted and sexist remarks anymore. She's not worth it and we all know on whose payroll she is— Neerja Gogoi (@NeerjaGogoi) December 1, 2018
When litfests invite Tavleen Singh to these debates and give her a voice on #MeToo panels after her horrid victim blaming, you're doing it because you want the fight and the drama. https://t.co/7fqsco5OtX— Nikita Deshpande ️ (@deepblueruin) December 2, 2018
don't you think 2018 is too late to realize that tavleen singh is no better than madhu kishwar.— Rafale Gandhi (@RoflGandhi_) December 2, 2018
Mr @tavleen_singh, Sir, you simply course corrected it after @BDUTT and @fayedsouza 's reaction. It wasn't a joke. Sir, Faye will wear whatever she wants to wear. And so will Barkha. And women will be whiney if they want to be whiney. :) They will be themselves.— harish iyer (@hiyer) December 2, 2018
It's not a joke when only you find it funny. It's definitely not a joke when you have to explain it so much.— Rohini Mohan (@rohini_mohan) December 2, 2018
That indeed was funny... No, not Tavleen Singh's comment on Faye being dressed like a man...— Gp Capt Christopher (Retd) (@bcchristopher) December 3, 2018
What is funny is that Tavleen thought it was a joke https://t.co/2A8mBT3mtp
I think it’s time she should be respectfully retired from the public space.— Gul (@Gulz41) December 2, 2018
Tavleen was joking? I had no idea pic.twitter.com/c9jChbnr33— Old Monk (@0ldm0nk84) December 2, 2018
However, Singh's followers defended her, claiming that the other panelists blew the debate out of proportion.
Dear @tavleen_singh ji you don't have to justify again on Twitter.we totally understand what you say and people who don't want to understand won't agree with you.— Robin (@Robin28514258) December 3, 2018
Tavleenji ,once again, you rocked in this debate .Awesome.— Karthik venkatramani (@Karthikvenkatr5) December 2, 2018
I have lived in Amsterdam for few years, so I do understand that men do need lots of women. But in our country obviously the culture is different.A man will be labelled as a psycho if he tries to hit upon many women.
She made issue out of proportion.She should have carried on with subject but she got up and childishly talking about herself— Rakesh Mishra (@RakeshMmishra) December 3, 2018
U cracked a joke and apologised quickly. Pseudo-feminists used it as a lever to avoid meaningful debate. Let them run with their agenda. We know u well, Tavleen ji.— Rational Wanderer (@RationalWander1) December 3, 2018