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Lok Sabha action looms on Azam Khan sexist remark

The entire Lok Sabha on Friday condemned Samajwadi Party MP Azam Khan’s sexist remark against BJP member Rama Devi

By Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi

  • Published 27.07.19, 2:11 AM
  • Updated 27.07.19, 2:12 AM
Azam Khan
Azam Khan PTI

The entire Lok Sabha on Friday condemned Samajwadi Party MP Azam Khan’s sexist remark against BJP member Rama Devi, which he had made on Thursday while she was occupying the chair.

Speaker Om Birla later met the leaders of all the parties and decided to ask Azam to tender an unconditional apology, sources said.

On Friday evening, the Speaker’s office asked Azam to appear before Birla on Monday and apologise in the House, PTI reported.

It quoted sources as saying that if Azam failed to apologise, a unanimous resolution authorising the Speaker to take “exemplary action” against him was likely to be passed.

Earlier in the House, Opposition members had joined in the BJP demand for punishment, voiced by senior ministers such as Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Pralhad Joshi.

Normally the matter would have been referred to the parliamentary ethics committee, but it has not been formed yet. The BJP members said the Speaker was well within his rights to act.

Samajwadi members including Azam, member from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, were absent when the matter was taken up during Zero Hour.

Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury tried to put the controversy in perspective by recalling BJP members’ past comments about Sonia Gandhi, but angry ruling party members, particularly the women MPs, shouted him down. They demanded a unanimous condemnation of Azam.

Sitharaman, the defence minister, was livid at what she saw as a Congress attempt at a qualified criticism of Azam’s remark.

“To politicise an issue related to women is outrageous. We have to stand together, so why the hesitation in some? Why the dilemma? Why add riders?” she said.

The Congress members gave up in the face of the uproar.

Referring to Azam’s comments, which have been expunged from the records, Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal said: “Yesterday was the darkest day in Parliament.”

Some members aired the traditional view that women were respected as sisters and mothers, and any insult to them was therefore unpardonable.

With the Opposition members joining in the condemnation of Azam’s comments, the House appeared to be sending out a reassuring message to ordinary women who have been facing harassment, discrimination and even violence every day.

Irani was perhaps the most eloquent, saying: “This is a blot on all legislators, including men. We cannot remain silent spectators to it. We have to speak in one voice that this is unacceptable.”

She added: “The entire nation watched yesterday what happened. This House passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill. I appeal to all to speak in one voice. You cannot misbehave with a woman and get away with it by just dramatising it.”

The 70-year-old Rama Devi, member from Sheohar in Bihar, asserted that Azam had no right to stay in Parliament.

“He must apologise; he has never respected women. We all know what he had said about Jaya Prada. I will request the Speaker to dismiss him,” she said.

Khan had tried to pacify her on Thursday, saying: “You are my sister, bahut pyari behen (beloved sister). I have had a long political career; it is not possible for me to say anything bad. If there is a single un-parliamentary word in what I said, then I declare my resignation from Parliament.”

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