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Who Really is Brazil's 'Sexist' and 'Homophobic' Jair Bolsonaro, India's Republic Day Chief Guest?

Image credit: Reuters

Image credit: Reuters

If his views on women and queer community appear outrageous, his views on indigenous people and immigrants tip the scale further.

India's guest on its 71st Republic Day celebrations would be none other than the controversial President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro who has time and again been in the spotlight for controversial statements and policy decisions.

With the annual celebration around the corner, India is geared toward welcoming Bolsonaro, the third Brazilian head of state to attend Republic Day celebrations in India.

Unlike his former counterparts, however, the invitation to Bolsonaro, which was sent out in November itself after an informal meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bolsonaro on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, has miffed many including activists, journalists and social media users.

And perhaps they have good reason to be alarmed as Bolsonaro hardly inspires confidence. The far-right leader came to power in January 2019 after his Alliance for Brazil party defeated the leftist Workers' Party (PT) in an upset that set off a chain of protests for and against his victory.

While his supporters see Bolsonaro as the man who will deliver Brazil's dwindling economy from its worst-ever recession and unemployment crisis in a century, his detractors have been vocal in reminding the world of the various other shades of the leader - sexism, misogyny, homophobia, hypermasculinity and aggression, climate-change denial and a rigid disdain for the rights of indigenous people.

So much sexism

Bolsonaro has made no bones to hide his attitude toward women or even soften it in order to fit in. Some of the comments he has made about women are well, appalling. In 2014 when he was a Congressman, Bolsonaro had told opposition's Maria do Rosario, "I wouldn't rape you because you're not worthy of it. Stay here and listen." The former military man was speaking inside the national legislature and was responding to Rosario's attack on the human rights violations that took place during the US-backed military dictatorship in Brazil from 164 to 1985 including torture and rape.

He later repeated the comments to a newspaper, adding that he would not rape Rosario because she was "ugly".

And this is not the only time when Bolsonaro's misogyny has been on display. During a speech in 2017, he flippantly declared, "I have five children. Four are men, and then in a moment of weakness the fifth came out a girl".

Racist and Homophobic

Not just sexist, Bolsonaro has also been public with his outright offensive views regarding the LGBTQ community. In 2011, Bolsonaro had said he would be "incapable of loving a homosexual son" adding that he would rather his son died in a car accident that showed up with some bloke with a moustache.

In 2002, he declared, "I won’t fight against it nor discriminate, but if I see two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up". The statement came after then Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso came out in support of gay rights and marriage.

Just last year in April, Bolsonaro was suspect in raising fears of violence against the LGBTQ community in Brazil when he said the South American nation should become a "gay tourism paradise".

If his views on women and queer community appear outrageous, his views on indigenous people and immigrants tip the scale further.

Quilombos are native Brazilian settlements run by quilombolas, who are descendants of rebel slaves from colonial Brazil. In a 2017 interview, this is how Bolsonaro described the people after visiting them: "I visited a quilombo and the least heavy afro-descendant weighed seven arrobas (approximately 104 kg). They do nothing! They are not even good for procreation."

The man who in 1999 openly claimed to be "in favour of torture" also called refugees "scum of the earth" showing up in Brazil n 2015.

Leaders of indigenous people recently claimed that the "government threats and hate speech" had encouraged violence against Amazon communities and demanded punishment for the murder of indigenous leaders, AFP reported last week.

No friend of the environment

Ever since Bolsonaro took up office, his tenure has been marred with protests, especially from indigenous people, lawyers and human rights activists who question his development policies and schemes atthe cost of the environment.

“Bolsonaro has a very strong anti-environmental discourse, and I have zero doubt that his discourse will direct policy,” says Scott Mainwaring, an expert on Brazil at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, told National Geographic in an October 2018 interview. “The government is (not) going to want to tell landowners not to chop down this part of the forest because it’s on indigenous land. It doesn’t seem there will be any major effort to protect the Amazon.”

His recent pledge to open up the Amazon to mining companies has been called tantamount to "genocide" by indigenous leaders. Last week, Reuters reported that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon had risen by 85% in 2019 compared to the previous year. The data, released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), is yet another evidence that highlights the fallout of the relaxation of Brazil's environmental protection policies.

Yet another system of measuring deforestation data is PRODES. The numbers it released in November last year showed deforestation rose to its highest in over a decade in 2019, jumping 30% from 2018 to 9,762 square km.

Why Bolsonaro?

To those who have followed India's relations with Brazil, the invitations should not come as a surprise. India and Brazil have traditionally shared bilateral ties, thanks to a shared history of colonial repression and subsequent independence. Mahatma Gandhi, who was in Brazil for a considerable period of time and is considered an important (and controversial) figure in Brazil's history of racism, is a known and often revered leader in Brazil.

In terms of trade, India's ties with Brazil are cushy. In 2018, India was the 10 biggest importer of goods from Brazil as well as its 11th biggest exporter. Bilateral trade between the two countries in the same year amounted to $7.57 billion following a dip in figures due to Brazilian recession.