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Indian Prime Minister Gives Backhanded Compliment To Bangladeshi Counterpart


It's India's latest social media battle cry - #DespiteBeingAWoman. It exploded on Twitter after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the phrase referring to the prime minister of Bangladesh. From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy explains the uproar.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Modi's visit to Bangladesh this weekend had the whiff of history. India and its neighbor had just agreed to swap territory - 111 enclaves would go to Bangladesh. The remaining 51 would become part of India. And residents who'd been virtually stateless could now choose where to live and which nationality they preferred. All was well until Sunday when Modi delivered a wide-ranging speech at Dhaka University. Everyone knows what to do in war, he said, but no one knows how to fight terrorism. He then referenced his Bangladeshi counterpart and host, Sheik Hasina.


NARENDRA MODI: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "It is a happy moment for me that the Bangladesh prime minister, in spite of being a woman, is fearlessly declaring zero tolerance towards terrorism. I appreciate her for that," Modi said. Plenty of Indians did not appreciate him for the remark. Overnight, the line ricocheted around Twitter, and the hashtag #DespiteBeingAWoman was born. Swati Chaturvedi tweeted (reading) managed to wake up and eat breakfast #DespiteBeingAWoman.

Seema Goswami’s tweet reads let’s hear it for Indira Gandhi, who #DespiteBeingAWoman, helped liberate Bangladesh. Others simply posted photographs of famous female scientists, sports women and diplomats. Rosa Parks popped up. Modi has cultivated an image that suggests he understands women's issues, condemning sexual crime and female feticide. Anna Vetticad writes on gender issues and sees Modi's latest remark as one in a long line of casual sexist comments by Indian politicians, who, she says, view women as incapable of taking tough decisions.

ANNA VETTICAD: To say despite being a woman is ridiculous coming as a remark from the prime minister of India, which is one of the first countries in the world to have had a woman prime minister. We've had women chief ministers, a president, judges. For a leader from a country like India to say something like that is a huge irony and also a bit of a shame.

MCCARTHY: One that she and others believe Modi needs to explain. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.