Sonia Gandhi slur prompts call for penalties against ‘racist’ politicians

Updated 02 April 2015
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Sonia Gandhi slur prompts call for penalties against ‘racist’ politicians

NEW DELHI: Indian politicians who make bigoted comments should be punished by their parties, activists said on Thursday, after a government minister became the latest parliamentarian to be accused of racism and sexism.
Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Giriraj Singh has under fire for remarks made in reference to Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of the opposition Congress Party and widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1989.
“If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian lady, someone not white-skinned, would the Congress have accepted her as its leader?” Singh said during an off-the-record meeting with reporters, which was secretly filmed and broadcast on Thursday.
The comments sparked outrage among Congress supporters who clashed with police in the capital on Thursday outside the headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the dominant party in the coalition government.
Nigeria’s High Commissioner O.B. Okongor said the remarks were “unacceptable,” while Gandhi said she would not react to people with a “narrow mindset.”
Singh has apologized and the BJP has attempted to end the controversy by condemning the comments, but activists say political parties need to act against bigotry.
“These kinds of derogatory remarks are being made every day. The politician apologizes and then the matter is forgotten. It’s unconstitutional and promotes values which are destructive to the lives of women and girls,” said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. “Political parties should have a basic code of conduct which can subscribe some kind of penalty.”
Sexist slurs made by politicians across India’s political landscape are commonplace, yet few result in punishment.
On Tuesday, local media reported the most senior official of the coastal state of Goa as telling striking nurses not to protest in the sun as it would make them darker and ruin their marriage prospects.
Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar has denied the reports.
Last month, Sharad Yadav, president of the Janata Dal United Party, was slammed for commenting on women’s bodies and skin color during a debate in Parliament on an insurance bill.


Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

Updated 1 min 7 sec ago
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Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

  • 15 ambassadors will join Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway in a country setting.
  • The three-day retreat will begin on Friday.

United Nations, United States: After a week of bitter acrimony over Syria, UN Security Council ambassadors are heading to a farmhouse in southern Sweden for a retreat to try to break the deadlock over how to end the war.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley and her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia will be among the 15 ambassadors joining Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway in a country setting.
The three-day retreat beginning Friday comes after one of the council’s most divisive periods, with the United States and Russia split over the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma that lead to military action by Washington and its allies against Syria.
The council met five times on Syria last week including on Tuesday when Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution setting up a chemical weapons probe while two other proposed measures failed to pass.
The Russia-US rivalry prompted Guterres to declare that the Cold War was “back with a vengeance.”
Asked whether he expected awkward moments during the Swedish retreat, Nebenzia told reporters: “I will see how they feel about dealing with me after all that happened.”
“It’s not news to anyone that the council is divided on Syria,” said Sweden’s Deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau. “There is some need for humility and patience at this moment.”
The council will be staying at Backakra, the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, who was the United Nations’ second secretary-general.
The residence located on the southern tip of Sweden, far from Stockholm, is a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy, said Skau.
“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.
The annual brainstorming session usually takes place in upstate New York, but Sweden, which is a non-permanent council member, offered to host this year’s gathering.
Guterres had told council members that the focus of the meeting would be his plan for a “surge of diplomacy” to address conflicts worldwide, but the council’s deadlock over Syria is emerging as the top priority.