Hardik Himanshu Pandya shames Indian cricketing fraternity with sexist comments that has created a national uproar. Image Credit: AP

All-rounder Vijay Shankar and batsman Shubman Gill will replace the suspended K.L. Rahul and Hardik Pandya in India's limited overs team, the Indian cricket board (BCCI) announced.

Rahul and Pandya were suspended pending an investigation into comments they made about women on a TV show earlier this week, which have been condemned as sexist and inappropriate.

KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya. Image Credit: IANS

"With KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya set to return from Australia, the All-India Senior Selection Committee has decided to send all-rounder Vijay Shankar and batsman Shubman Gill as replacements," acting BCCI secretary Amitabh Choudhary said.

We take a look at the controversy and what everybody is saying...

What happened on Koffee with Karan?

International Indian cricketers Hardik Pandya and K.L. Rahul appeared on the January 6 episode of the talk show Koffee with Karan, where Pandya made racist, sexist misogynistic comments against women.

The episode was hosted by Bollywood director Karan Johar, who asked Pandya and Rahul about their personal lives. Pandya spoke about his many sexual encounters and preferences in women. He also mentioned that he has always been very “free” with his parents and told them when he lost his virginity.

Many on Indian social media channels came out to criticise the suspended duo, Hardik Pandya and K.L. Rahul - seen above, for their controversial comments on the television show Koffee with Karan hosted by Bollywood director Karan Johar. Image Credit: Instagram

Johar asked Pandya: "Why don't you ask women's names at nightclubs?" He responded: "I like to watch and observe how they move. I'm little from the Black side so I need to see how they move."

He went on to add further: "At a party my parents asked me acha tera wala kaun sa hai [who are your women]? I said yeh, yeh, yeh [this, this and this] and they were like waah proud of you beta." And the conversation continued in this vein.

There was such strong backlash that the broadcaster Star TV, apparently removed the episode from its online streaming platform, Hotstar. The cricketing fraternity is furious and social media is up in arms, especially in #MeToo context.

The cricketer then apologised on his Twitter @hardikpandya7 and Instagram @hardikpandya93 accounts: “After reflecting on my comments on Koffee with Karan, I would like to apologise to everyone concerned who I may have hurt in any way. Honestly, I got a bit carried away with the nature of the show. In no way did I mean to disrespect or hurt anyone’s sentiments. Respect.

What is this talk show all about? And, seriously, who is Karan Johar?

Koffee with Karan is an Indian celebrity talk show produced by Fazila Allana and Kamna Nirula Menezes. It is hosted by well-known Bollywood director and actor Karan Johar and is the longest running talk show on Indian television. The show first aired in 2004. 

The show aims at getting celebrities to "spill the beans" while having coffee. It is gossip driven and Johar is often seen trying to grill celebrities for answers to scandalous questions. Indian movie stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Amitabh Bachchan have made multiple appearances on the show. Guests are invited in pairs and usually discuss the film industry and upcoming movies.

And a bit about Hardik Pandya and K.L. Rahul...

Pandya is a talented all-rounder, who bats right hand and bowls right hand medium pace. He plays for Baroda in domestic cricket and Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. He studied only till ninth grade and is a school drop-out and focused on cricket. He made his Twenty20 International debut for India against Australia on January 27, 2016 at the age of 22, and his One Day International (ODI) debut on October 16, 2016 was against New Zealand. In his international debut, he won the man of the match award. In the final of the Champions Trophy at the Oval on June 18, 2017 he cracked a 76 runs off 43 balls, lifting India from 54 for 5 against Pakistan but his knock went in vain. His half-century in 32 deliveries broke Adam Glichrist’s record for fastest 50 in an ICC competion.

Left to right: Indian cricketers Lokesh Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik with his wife and Indian squash player Dipika Pallikal during BCCI annual awards in Bengaluru on June 12, 2018. Image Credit: IANS

Rahul is a top order batsman who scored heavily for Karnataka in domestic cricket and impressed everyone through his consistent performance for Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League. He made his debut against Australia in the 2014-15 Test series at Melbourne and in the second Test at Sydney cracked 110 runs for his maiden Test century. In 2016, he made his One Day International (ODI) debut and became the first Indian to score a century against Zimbabwe. He also hit a century in T20 against West Indies in 2016 and became only the third batsman to score a century in all the three formats in international cricket.

Indian cricketer K.L. Rahul made his international debut against Australia in the 2014-15 Test series at Melbourne. Image Credit: IANS

What happened after the show?

People were shocked, including the cricketing fraternity. Pandya and Rahul were suspended by the Board of Control for Cricket in India for misconduct. Following the suspension, the Indian selectors called in all-rounder Vijay Shankar and batsman Shubman Gill for India's Australia and New Zealand tours to replace the duo.

Earlier today, news agency Asian News International (@ANI) tweeted: “The BCCI: Vijay Shankar and Shubman Gill to replace KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya in ODI(One-day International) side. He will be a part of the squad for the ODI series in Australia & the tour to New Zealand. Shubham Gill has been picked for the ODI and T20I series in New Zealand.”

However, BCCI was divided over the quantum of punishment for them. Vinod Rai, the BCCI’s Committee of Administrators (CoA) chief recommended a two match ban for the duo but co-member Diana Edulji recommended suspension till further action. She also warned Rai of a cover-up and feared that CoA might end up getting criticised if Rahul Johri, the CEO of BCCI conducts the preliminary inquiry as Johri himself has been accused of sexual allegations.

After Pandya and Rahul were issued show cause notices by the BCCI last Wednesday, Pandya sent a written response, offering regret for his comments. A copy of Pandya’s letter, which is with the Press Trust of India (PTI), stated: "I made an appearance on the chat show where I have made certain statements without realising that these could be disrespectful and offend sensitivities of viewers for which I am sincerely regretful. I would like to assure you that there was no malice or any sort of ill-intent on my part to offend anyone or portray any section of the society in bad light.” He also vowed never to repeat the behaviour.

What’s next for Pandya and Rahul?

Pandya and Rahul will have to face an inquiry. There are chances that both may miss playing the Indian Premier League if they are suspended for a longer time. There are also chances that the duo may not even be considered for the oncoming World Cup.

What are other Indian cricketers saying?

Veteran Indian spin bowler Harbhajan Singh lashed out at Pandya and Rahul. He said that the suspended duo have put the reputations of cricketers at stake. According to media reports, Singh went on to add that he won’t be comfortable having Pandya or Rahul around his wife and daughter: “I will not travel with these two guys in the bus if my daughter or my wife are travelling in the team bus with me. How would they feel? You are looking at women in only one angle and that is not right.”

Indian spin bowler Harbhajan Singh said that Pandya's comments tarnished the image of the entire Indian cricketing fraternity. Image Credit: IANS

Harbhajan also said that Pandya and Rahul’s comments have tarnished the image of the game and those who play it. “We don’t talk about all this even with our friends and they were talking on public television. Now people might think was Harbhajan Singh like this, was Anil Kumble like this and was Sachin Tendulkar....” Harbhajan questioned: “Pandya has been in the team for how long to talk of the team culture in the manner he did?”

According to the Indian news outlet NDTV, when asked about the suspension, Singh said: “The BCCI did the right thing, and this is also the way forward. This was expected and I am not surprised.”

Indian captain distances himself from the controversy. Image Credit: IANS

Media reports also say that Indian cricket team skipper Virat Kohli distanced himself from the controversy earlier on Friday. He said: “From the Indian cricket team point of view, any inappropriate comments that are made in that scenario are something that we definitely don’t support.” Kohli added that the two players “have understood the magnitude of what’s happened”.

From the Indian cricket team point of view, any inappropriate comments that are made in that scenario are something that we definitely don’t support.

- Virat Kohli, Indian cricket team captain

According to the Indian newspaper, Hindustan Times, former cricketer Nikhil Chopra feels that it is very important for any sportsman who is playing international cricket to be very careful about what he says on any chat show or talk show which is being watched by the masses. He was quoted as saying: “As cricketers, they have to be careful because they are considered role models. You want to send the right sort of message which will be inspirational for the youth.”

Popular Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) tweeted: “It is all very well to issue show-cause notices now to KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya. But I do wish the BCCI spends time in sensitising these young players to life beyond the dressing room; to getting them outside the bubble that is inevitable given the adulation they get.”

Legendary Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar is furious at Pandya's behaviour Image Credit: IANS

Legendary batsman Sunil Gavaskar feels that the duo deserved the punishment. “If you do things that bring your team and the game into disrepute, then you can't be part of the team. Of course, the inquiry will then establish what further action, if at all needed, has to be taken."

Social media reaction to the controversy

Social media users were quick to weigh in on the controversy. Many came out to criticise the suspended duo for their crass comments on television.

Among disappointed fans was tweep @ChaudharyMrinal who posted: “@hardikpandya7 seriously man... I mean who on earth gives this kind of interview on national television… I was [one of your] biggest fans earlier, but, now I have to rethink it... #Disappointed with your thought process.”

Twitter user @RungtaVasudha posted: “... surprising how Indian cricket’s latest star #HardikPandya joined the bandwagon of objectifying women with so much of pride, let alone his misogynist, racist comments on the show.”

Some said these comments stemmed from the fact that Pandya had dropped out of school in grade 9.

A message to Indian parents - Beta Padhao, Beta Bachao (Educate your son to save your son)

- @pratyush_ranjan (Twitter)

@keshavjha25 tweeted: “That’s why parents should ensure basic education for their children... Education... makes us responsible and humble... gives little bit sense to know what to say and what not to. Pandya should have completed his basic education.”

@pratyush_ranjan added: “A message to Indian parents - Beta Padhao, Beta Bachao (Educate your son to save your son).”

Meanwhile, some pointed out that K.L. Rahul was dragged into the controversy for no fault of his own. @TJTAHIR posted: “@hardikpandya7 Your arrogance did this. Because of you poor @klrahul11 Had to suffer. When you are representing a country you should think before you speak because people will judge a country based on your choice of words.”

And like many others @girishasher felt that Indian film director Karan Johar, who is also the host of the talk show should be held equally accountable. He tweeted: “If Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul can be banned from playing for Indian cricket team for their comments on Karan Johar’s show Koffee with Karan, then even Karan Johar’s show should be banned from being televised on Indian Television with immediate effect!”

Tweep @arunrajamani83 posted that there was a reason cricket was called the ‘gentleman’s sport’. “Sachin, Dravid, Kumble, VVS [Laxman] are legends and played and conducted themselves as legends. You become great just not on the field but also outside.”

Many social media users were pleased to see that the incident had sparked a strong reaction in the cricketing community and that necessary and quick action was being taken.

@AneetaMadhavan tweeted: “Good to see the strong response by the cricket authorities of India to sexist comments by top players.”

If sponsors can drop Tiger Woods, who is Hardik Pandya?

The news of Gillette, a leading men’s grooming brand, dropping the troubled Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya from their list of brand ambassadors has not come as a surprise with sections of India Inc. who are established backers of the sport. 

Hardik Pandya has been dropped by his sponsor Gillette Image Credit: IANS

Speaking to Gulf News, Abhijit Sarkar, Head of Corporate Communications and Sports of Sahara Group – who were sponsors of the Indian team for one and a half decades – felt that such behaviour was “unacceptable” from the cricketer and he would have to face the consequences. “With so much money being poured into cricket over the last decade, it seems that the players’ feet are often not on the ground. It’s possibly time for the Indian cricket board to set up a Code of Conduct, which includes sensitizing the players about handling the media,” said Sarkar, who was hands-on in dealing with the Indian team which had the Fab Five of Indian cricket at the peak of their prowess.

Asked if as sponsors of the Indian team, they were brought into disrepute by any of the cricketers, it was an emphatic “no” from the senior spokesperson whose company also owned an IPL franchise for three seasons. “During our sponsorship, the team was involved in two controversies but both were restricted to on-field issues. The first one was in 2001 when Match Referee Mike Denness accused (Sachin) Tendulkar and his teammates of ball-tampering and it led to a full-blown crisis. The second one was the Monkeygate scandal between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds. On both occasions, we had stood firmly behind the team,” he said.

With so much money being poured into cricket over the last decade, it seems that the players’ feet are often not on the ground. It’s possibly time for the Indian cricket board to set up a Code of Conduct, which includes sensitizing the players about handling the media.

- Abhijit Sarkar, Head of Corporate Communications and Sports, Sahara Group

A brand manager of some of the current lot of men and women’s cricketers, Medallin Sports, was also not surprised at the all-rounder being penalised by one of his sponsors. “If sporting icons like Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong can be abandoned by their sponsors for any wrongdoing, then how do you expect Pandya to be spared? The multi-national companies always have a zero tolerance attitude in such cases,” said Varun Chopra, Managing Director of the Delhi-based company.

Explaining his point, Chopra said: “With cricket being a religion in India, the top cricketers are regarded as role models and the endorsement sector looks to leverage on that image. However, if there is any negative vibe that goes out from them, then such consequences are bound to happen.”

Hardik Pandya faces serious action from cricketing board of India Image Credit: IANS