The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

India’s Modi just delivered the world’s worst compliment

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on June 6. Modi arrived in Dhaka for a two-day state visit to Bangladesh. (Rafiqur Rahman/Reuters)

Many Indians woke up Monday to a surge of outrage on Twitter and Facebook against their prime minister, Narendra Modi. It revolved around the words “despite being a woman.”

The hashtag #DespiteBeingAWoman was triggered by Modi’s praise for his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, on Sunday during a state visit to Bangladesh.

“I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism,” Modi said in a speech Sunday at Dhaka University.

It is not uncommon for Indian politicians — and Modi’s colleagues in his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — to make sexist and misogynistic remarks. But since he was elected to the nation’s highest post a year ago, Modi has carefully constructed a pro-woman image. During an Independence Day speech last year, he spoke about rising sexual assaults on women and accused Indian parents of not raising their sons well. He has promoted programs against female feticide and discrimination against female children in Indian families.

But Sunday’s gaffe created a stir. Overnight, the hashtag gained ground.

“Even though the remark was meant to be a gesture of praise, social-media users interpreted it as an insult to women around the world,” wrote news portal “Twitter started buzzing with tweets attached with pictures of women achievers of India; scientists from the Indian Space Research Organization, foreign ministers, sportswomen and more.”

Here is a sample:

Bangladesh and India sealed a pact to swap territories, which will finally allow tens of thousands of people living in border enclaves to choose their nationali (Video: AFP)