NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indian lawmakers called on Friday for one of their colleagues to be punished for making sexist remarks to the house speaker, the second time he has been in hot water over his treatment of a female colleague.
Azam Khan responded sarcastically when Rama Devi, deputy speaker for the lower house, asked him to look at her as he addressed her during a debate on Thursday.
“I want to look at you so much that you will end up telling me to look away,” Khan responded, in comments Indian media condemned as sexist.
“I like you so much, you are so dear to me that I only wish to gaze into your eyes all the time,” said the 70-year-old representative of the regional Samajwadi Party.
The comments came months after Khan came under fire for remarking on the colour of a former female MP’s underwear, and triggered outraged responses from some rival politicians.
“This parliament passed the sexual harassment at the workplace bill ... we cannot just sit around and be silent spectators,” India’s women’s minister Smriti Irani told the house on Friday.
India’s parliament has a reputation for boisterousness, with the speaker frequently forced to call off daily proceedings as lawmakers loudly heckle each other, or try to press their demands by storming the well of the house.
Just 78 of the 542 seats in India’s lower house are held by women.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav later defended Khan, saying he did not mean any disrespect to Devi, an MP from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Nonetheless, some social media users condemned his remarks and television news channels debated whether he should be suspended.
Khan himself appeared unrepentant.
“Sister, I have had a long political career, it is not possible for me to say anything bad,” he told the speaker after the furore over his original remarks.
Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories