Op-Ed: Selective outrage does no credit to Odisha

“I was asked to write about the Oriyas (Odias). What is there to write about these poor chaps?
Ever since they got a thrashing at the hands of Ashoka in the battle of Kalinga, they have been a dejected lot. Now all they have with them are a lot of pots (Patras), big pots (Mahapatras) and supposedly intelligent kings (Patnaiks). And of course they have Lord Jaggannath (sic), to whom they pray every day for revenge on the abominable Biharis.”

This is what retired Supreme Court judge Justice Markandeya Katju had said about Odisha, Odias and Lord Jagannath, their presiding deity, in October 2016. It was as offensive a comment as anything that Abhijit Iyer-Mitra has said on the same topics. As if ridiculing the state and its history and culture wasn’t bad enough, the learned judge even made fun of ‘Patras’ and ‘Mohapatras’. But all it took for Katju to put the controversy behind him was an apology of an apology. Here is what he said in the apology: “I said I had written my post in a lighter vein. However, if Odia people are feeling hurt, I apologise. I had no intention to hurt their feelings, and was only joking, just as I had joked about Biharis, Tamilians, etc.” No case was registered against him. No team of Odisha Police rushed to Delhi to arrest him. And no Privileges Committee of the Assembly summoned him.

A month and half later, comedian Pappu Pom Pom also got away with an apology and having ink thrown on his face for a comment on Lord Jagannath that most Odias found offensive. Puri police, which acted with remarkable alacrity in the Jay Panda/Iyer-Mitra cases, did not consider arresting him even though an FIR had been lodged against him at the Town police station by Jagannath Sena and a few other organisations.

Iyer-Mitra, however, enjoyed no such luck. His repeated apologies – first in the media, then in his communication to the Privileges Committee and finally in person before the Committee – did not stop police from going ahead with his arrest on Tuesday. Nor did it stop those outraged by his comments from gloating over his arrest, dubbing it ‘just desserts’.

What explains the different responses in the largely similar cases? Why did the law not ‘take its course’ in the Justice Katju and Papu cases, as it did in Iyer’s case? Was it because the ‘long arm’ of law was not long enough to book a retired Supreme Court judge? Why was Iyer’s apology not considered adequate amends not to proceed against him as was done in Katju’s case when both of them said they had made the comments in zest? And why was Papu’s apology acceptable, but not Iyer’s? Was it because he is an Odia while Iyer-Mitra is not?

The answer to all these questions, I dare say, lies in politics. It is easy to see that Iyer-Mitra inadvertently became collateral damage in the ruling BJD’s fight against Panda with his stupid tweets on various aspects of Odisha, its history and its culture. Quick to realise the sensitivities of the case, the BJD pounced on this heaven-sent opportunity to get the Assembly on its side. And in Papu’s case, the fact that he was a member of the ruling party ensured that there was no police action against him.

But what about Odias at large? Do they really believe Odia pride has now been ‘restored’ with the arrest of Iyer-Mitra? Does the whole episode enhance the glory of the land in the eyes of the rest of the country – or show us as vengeful, mean and petty minded? I, for one, would rather go with Utkal Bharat President Kharavela Swain, who has said – and got attacked for it – that the unqualified apology by Iyer-Mitra should have been adequate punishment for the transgressions of the Delhi based ‘defence analyst’.

In striking contrast to the state-wide outrage over la affaire Iyer-Mitra, there has been a deafening silence over far more offensive and abominable comments made in an editorial in leading Odia newspaper ‘Samaja’ last Sunday that condemns the #MeToo movement, terms those behind it as ‘baaraanganaa’ (prostitutes) and even taunts them to send ‘their younger blood relatives’ to the perpetrators to get favours since their old bodies don’t attract men anymore!

While the editorial “Me Too Mahamari” (The Me Too Epidemic), published under the ‘Benga Kahe’ Benguli Lo’ column in the Sunday edition of ‘Samaja’ on October 20, was shocking, what is even more shocking is the fact that it has largely gone unprotested even three days after it appeared save a few stray comments on social media. Mysteriously, women’s rights activists, who hit the streets at the slightest provocation, do not appear to have been outraged by the most sexist, regressive and offensive editorial that condemns one half of mankind. No women’s organisation has marched in rally, staged a demonstration in front of Gopabandhu Bhavan or bothered to file a complaint with the State Commission for Women’ in this regard. Nor has the Commission considered it a fit enough case to take suo moto notice of. The reasons for this absence of outrage can only be speculated on. But it does show us as hypocrites.

Selective outrage does no credit to Odisha.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)