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Why Aam Aadmi Party's Kumar Viswas owes an apology to women

Why Aam Aadmi Party's Kumar Viswas owes an apology to women

Viswas called nurses from Kerala dark skinned and indirectly implied that they were ugly.

As far as standup acts go, Aam Aadmi Party leader Kumar Viswas has hit a new and abysmal low with the one in which he trashed nurses from Kerala, called them dark skinned and indirectly implied that they were ugly. The sexist diatribe, part of a show he appeared in in 2008, has triggered a chain of reactions from all over the country.

The old video that surfaced on YouTube and was promptly shared on social networking websites, added to the list of troubles the AAP has found itself courting with its leader and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the middle of an angry sit-in protest in Delhi.

Viswas, a trusted lieutenant of Kejriwal, is clearly an equal opportunity offender. He had shot his mouth off during a 'kavi sammelan' (a literary meet) and was served a notice for making unpleasant jokes about Islam. He was also criticized for hurting the sentiments of Sikhs.

In the video from his past life as a poet and stand-up artiste that has returned to haunt him, Viswas plays to a guffawing crowd, comparing the relative merits of dark-skinned nurses from Kerala and recent ones from North India.

"You sort of pray that they remain your sisters", Viswas is seen telling the crowd. The community of Kerala nurses, there are hundreds of them working across India, have rightfully taken offense to the comment by Viswas.

An Aam Aadmi Party office in MG road was vandalised by two youth Congress workers. Eminent Malayali writer Sara Joseph, who joined AAP last week, said, "Remarks of Vishwas are totally deplorable. I strongly protest it. I expect that the AAP leadership will come out with a clarification on the issue."

The United Nurses Association has issued a legal notice to the AAP leader demanding that he take back his statement and apologise to the entire nurse community.

Protest has erupted in Kochi where AAP's office was vandalized by youth Congress workers.

In the earlier event where Viswas cracked jokes on Muharram processions, forced Kejriwal, worried about the image of his party members, to placate those who took offense to his comments.

"Kumar had told me that he goes for public events as a poet and says many things light-heartedly. But he had apologised for this comment. It is an old case," said Kejriwal while reacting to Janata Dal (United) MLA Shoaib Iqbal's demand that Vishwas should apologise for hurting sentiments of the Shia Muslim community.

There are two things to contend with in Viswas' case. In his defence: First, stand-up comics often take liberty with contentious subjects and are allowed certain latitude with their subjects. Artistes would argue that political correctness would only serve to muzzle creativity. Controversial films won't get made and books won't be written if the artistes had to keep apologising to focus groups.

Second, this was part of Viswas' early life where he made a living off the personality he built on stage. This was before he debuted as a politician. To judge him today (as a politician) by anything he said in the past (as a comedian) would be unfair.

And this is why Viswas still needs to apologise to women.

First, the Aam Aadmi Party, in its much publicized manifesto has clearly defined the steps it would take to combat sexual abuse and harassment. It is probably the only political party to have a three-member committee in place based on Visakha guidelines to protect members from instances of harassment.

In this backdrop, Viswas' comments will inevitably be magnified and seen as a comment on his personal views on women and minority groups. It would influence policy making by the party. Viswas, as a prominent and lively face of the party was unhesitatingly regressive and racist in his comments in 2008. There isn't any proof that he has drastically changed his views in the next 6 years.

Secondly, for all its claim of representing the common man, the AAP should realize that an apology will assuage some of the hurt Viswas caused to the hundreds of thousands of women who try to make an honest living working hard away from home. Trashing one group would amount to trashing all of them across India.

Hopefully AAP will get its act together if it hopes to remain connected to the common man.
first published:January 21, 2014, 17:23 IST