While Indians – and particularly the insufferable Bengalis – were celebrating Abhijit Banerjee’s Nobel Prize for Economics, an old article written by the Nobel Laureate surfaced which shows that he has some rather problematic views on sex and rape.
The article was written in October 2012 for Hindustan Times, after West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had sparked fury by stating that ‘free interaction between men and women and PDA, were responsible for rising rape cases in the country.
The view was even more problematic given Banerjee is one of the country’s most prominent female politicians, and her view of ingrained patriarchy in no way helps victims and takes away the blame from the actual perpetrator.
In an article for HT in 2012, he wrote: “I don’t always agree with Mamata Banerjee but I don’t see what’s so bizarre (as the headline of the India Blooms news story reporting on her statement insists) about her suggestion that the recent rash of rapes in India has something to do with public displays of intimacy far more graphic than the one that so upset me.
There are few forces more powerful than sexual desire and few forms of inequality more palpable than inequality of access to sex: all the rich guys, to a first approximation, get all the pretty girls, at least if pretty is what Bollywood (or Hollywood) tells us it should be.”
He went to write: “Having that inequality being thrown at your face, day in and day out, by a language of the body that leaves little to the imagination, cannot possibly be pleasant if you happen to be on the wrong side of that divide.”
While explicitly arguing that he wasn’t ‘defending rape’, he wrote: “But it highlights the fact that there are more forms of inequality to worry about than just money.”
Banerjee, who won his Nobel with two others including his wife Esther Duflo, goes on wonder how society could ‘reduce inequality of access to sex’.
He wrote: “What are we doing as a society to reduce inequality of access to sex? I don’t mean publicly provided brothels — though those are not unknown in history — but just the right to a normal conjugal life. If you are poor in urban India or even middle class and 25, you have be very lucky to have a room of your own in the family home, let alone a separate apartment that you can call your own.”
He goes on to wonder how the millions of young men are going to react to their ‘coevals go by with their wives and girlfriends, holding hands or cuddling, fortunate because their parents were rich enough that they had a place to go to and be intimate with each other’.
Unsurprisingly, Banerjee’s piece never ponders about women at all, as if their sexual desires or consent has no bearing at all. On the other hand, his argument about the ‘inequality of access to sex’, sounds terribly like the arguments found on incel reddit threads in which ‘involuntary celibates’ believe that women own men sex and that it’s a fundamental right.
Perhaps the key takeaway is that no matter how far a man has reached or studied, the deeply ingrained views of misogyny and patriarchy are cultural mores that don’t always go away.