Prime Minister Imran Khan called PPP Chairperson ‘sahiba’ before leaving the country for China but he has left in his wake a controversy that hasn’t died out yet.
Whether it was a slip of the tongue as some ministers have claimed or an inconsequential quip, the premier’s remarks have sparked a debate in the country on politically correct language and sexism.
PTI MNA Aamir Liaquat thinks the premier’s remark was a term of endearment. “Sahiba is such a beautiful term and full of love,” Liaquat said on SAMAA TV’s morning show Naya Din on Friday.
PM Khan made the remark while addressing a rally in Wana. “I, unlike Bilawal Bhutto sahiba, didn’t come to power become of nepotism. I wasn’t handed over a party because of my mother. I worked my way to the top,” he said.
Liaquat said leaders make slips of the tongue and we should not make a big deal out of it. “Bilawal is not that important that we should proceed to discuss this,” he claimed.
“If the remark hurts someone, I am ready to apologize on PM Khan’s behalf,” he added. My leader is a kindhearted person, he said. “I love my captain. He does not think about himself, but only for the people’s benefit.”
However, former PPP MPA Sharmila Farooqi doesn’t think the premier’s motives were altruistic. The comment was misogynistic and disrespected women, she told SAMAA TV. Imran Khan’s remarks about Bilawal has made him lose all respect from the people, she added. “You cannot show yourself as superior by calling someone inferior,” Farooqi said.
PM Khan has disgraced his own family by using a feminine word for Bilawal, she said. “When men want to insult other men, they call them feminine,” she said. “He did not just insult women, he disrespected himself too,” she added.
She conceded that the premier is an inspirational personality and many people look up to him. It does not suit him to make such remarks and it is an upsetting trend in politics, she added. She said women are demeaned by the men of our country who call them inferior.
“You can criticize someone’s work and their policies, but by showing such misogyny, he has degraded himself,” she said. She compared Bilawal’s comments and said he does not target the premier’s personality traits but instead criticizes his work.
A religious scholar, Mufti Zubair, also weighed in on the topic and said Islam does not allow people to insult each other. “You should preserve your tongue and use it with caution,” he said.
He said such an act is haram and that our leaders have forgotten their cultural values. He raised the concern that the younger generation is being adversely affected by such values. “This is against Islam and we need to prohibit people from using such language,” he added.
The mufti said people adopt the language of their leaders, but all our children are learning is fahashi (immodesty).
Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed spoke about the controversy at a press conference on Thursday and asked what difference it made. “There are many people who don’t use the gendered terms correctly,” Rasheed remarked. He said that there was “no problem with it” even if it wasn’t a slip of the tongue. “People don’t need to take it so seriously.”
The PPP chairperson addressed the premier’s remarks by using the same language as him. He used the gendered term of ‘samajhna’ [your understanding of something] to refer to the premier. “Khan sahib samajhti hai..” he said while speaking to media on Thursday. ‘Samajhti’ is used for women while ‘samajhta’ for men.
Bilawal remarked that if PM Khan thought he was insulting someone, then it was only himself. “We all know how he came to power. He should respect his seat.”
He said that if any person refers to a man as a woman, then nothing will happen to the man. “But what message does it give to the women of the country? Our PM thinks that being a woman in an insult,” he added.