Conversations that I have had with men on feminism and essentially anything related to women being seen as the heroes of their stories have often taken a turn which can be summarised like this—“But we are already there, women are now our equals.” These are all ‘progressive’ men but they never fail to clarify with ‘#notallmen’, a prelude to immediately distancing themselves from any issue that might come up in the course of a conversation. These are men who will tell you that perhaps the reason you feel so strongly is because you don’t know how to take a light joke. Funny, because these are also the men who will follow up with an unrequited remark and then cover it up as something else. Similar to what happened today.
Mr Gavaskar has had a stellar career in cricket. He won the Padma Bhushan, served as the interim President of the BCCI in 2014 and continues to be associated with cricket with his role as a commentator. These are a few of his numerous achievements and in short, he is, like they say, a legend. To be fair, he hasn’t asked anyone to put him on a pedestal but as Indian cricket and the frenzy around it goes, he was put there anyway. So yesterday, it wasn’t really a surprise that many defended an offhand remark made by him in the commentary box. More on that ahead but here’s another thing—having a successful, even legendary career and passing an careless remark aren’t mutually exclusive.
What happened was this: During an IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kings XI Punjab, the former’s captain, Virat Kohli was in bad form. The skipper, who also leads the national team, dropped two catches, both batted by the opposing team’s KL Rahul who went on to score 139 off 69 balls. A good score! Kohli’s time on the batting pitch too didn’t last for long; the cricketer was sent back after scoring a lone run as Kings XI won the match.
Good days and bad days, right? Except that Sunil Gavaskar decided the skipper’s not-so-great form could use a quip. “Ab jo lockdown tha to sirf Anushka ki bowling ki practice ki hai, wo video dekhi hai, usse to Kuch nahi hona hai." Roughly translated to, “During the lockdown, he has just practised to Anushka's bowling, there's a video. But that's not going to be enough.”
Many defended the comment saying Gavaskar was just referencing the video where the couple could be seen playing cricket, others joining in and saying, you guessed it, ‘it was just a lighthearted joke’. He wasn't alone in bringing Sharma into the conversation, a feat that could have been avoided. If you go online, you will find an entire range of trolls making their jokes(?) on the situation. Most of them are aimed at the actress and hold her accountable for Virat Kohli's performance on the pitch.
In whatever context it was meant to be (the former cricketer is yet to issue a statement at the time of writing this feature) the question still remains—Why did he have to drag Anushka Sharma for her husband’s unsatisfactory performance? Because by doing so, he reduces Sharma, an actor, producer and an individual in her own right, to a mere prop—wife to her Indian cricket’s superstar husband when she is the hero of her story. And many stood up to ensure that the point was received.
This is so disgusting. The way they don't forget to bring Anushka whenever he doesn't perform is so filthy. In whatever context he said, this statement cannot be justified. It isn't funny at all. https://t.co/0uJXjaSijl— Anisha (@anishaj16) September 24, 2020
More power to Anushka Sharma for tolerating these sexist human beings 🙏— Akshay (@Kohlify) September 24, 2020
Anushka Sharma getting trolled everytime RCB or Virat fails and never getting the credit when they win or when he plays also continued attacks on Virat when he appreciates her being a part of his life goes to show that a Woman will always be subjected to 3rd class bullying!— Harshit Pachouri (@Kolly_fan) September 24, 2020
Unfortunately, Anushka Sharma is no stranger to incessant trolling. Most of the outrage was directed her way whenever her partner had a bad day on the field. In 2016, Virat Kohli spoke up against it. “She has always only given me positivity,” he wrote on his social media. In 2019, when another former cricketer Farokh Engineer said that members of the selection committee were known to bring tea for the actress, she put out a powerful statement, denouncing that and all former claims that held her responsible for her partner’s performances and professional decisions. “I have led my life, built my career with the utmost dignity and I am not going to compromise that for anything. Maybe, it's hard for some to believe that, because I am a self-made, independent woman who only happens to be the wife of a cricketer. And for the record, I drink coffee,” she wrote.
Anushka Sharma faced the bizarre, often stiff-necked wrath of the Internet trolls as recently as May this year, when Pataal Lok, a show produced by her was released. A BJP party MLA even suggested that Virat Kohli should divorce his wife for her ‘unpatriotic’ sentiments considering he plays for the country. One would think that the trolling, the casual and more often than not, in-your-face sexism would have stopped but even in the current year, as this incident shows, the actress has to spell it out.
And that she did in a recent statement directed at the former cricketer. “I’m sure you can have many other words and sentences in your mind to use to comment on my husband’s performance from last night or are your words only relevant if you use my name in the process? It’s 2020 and things still don’t change for me. When will I stop getting dragged into cricket and stop being used to pass sweeping statements? Respected Mr Gavaskar, you are a legend whose name stands tall in this gentleman’s game. Just wanted to tell you what I felt when I heard you say this,” read part of it.
She is right; Sunil Gavaskar is a cricket legend. And to give credit where it's due, Virat Kohli has numerous stellar performances to his name. For each time that he doesn’t perform well, the internet and the people behind it need to stop holding his partner responsible. His partner has nothing to do with his profession. Women exist for far more than to service men, be blamed for their failures or stand as mere props for the men in their lives, to be highlighted, trolled and vilified as and when required. The trolls will move on to something else by tomorrow, something new but Mr Gavaskar’s statement only embellishes theirs.
As for the “we are already there”, each time a woman has to speak out to elaborate on the underlying misogyny that prevails in our society even today, it's clear that we are not yet “there”, wherever that may be. And if that joke was lost on me, remind me to laugh later.
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