Misogyny and Indian Politics
The fiery Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, in a spout of indignation, hit back at her Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who had called for the sacking of one of her party members over a sexist row,
“I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever. The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House, he needs a mirror.“
The fact that we got our first woman Prime Minister even before our colonisers, doesn’t dilute the fact that Indian politics is male dominated despite woman politicos featuring among the powerhouse political players in our country – Sonia Gandhi (the 4th most powerful woman in the world), Sushma Swaraj, Meira Kumar, Shiela Dixit, Mamata Bannerjee, Mayawati, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, and Jayalalithaa. Hence it was really nobody’s surprise when Sanjay Nirupam insulted Smriti Irani taunting about her profession. In the recent past we have seen a lot of politicians being leaky mouthed and uttering comments which puts common sense to shame. Some include Mr. Narendra Modi also in this list, attributing his misogyny to the now infamous “50 Crore girlfriend”.
The larger question one would want to ask is that when can we say that somebody is unnecessarily using the gender card to play the victim and when has an actual case of sexism occurred. Where shall we draw the line? After all we live in a society which is supposed to treat women like ‘Devi’ and yet have a propensity for acting in a way opposite to the concept.
A notion of equality, which is the basis for modern feminism – classified often as a western philosophy – demands equal treatment towards men and women. So, if I am paying a man Rs.5 for something I should pay the same amount, for the same work to a woman also. That is the concept, to put it in a slightly oversimplified way. Hence if equality applies in issues of rewards, I have often wondered why the same equality doesn’t apply in case of penalty too.
Anyone who raises the question runs the risk of being perceived a chauvinist, especially in a society such as ours where theoretically, we are to give extreme respect to women to the point of being irritatingly patronising. I read, as a kid, that this was how Gandhi-ji differed in his approach to women. I distinctly remember the chapter where in, it was opined that reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others patronized women but it was only Gandhi, who, among the mass leaders, treated the Indian woman like a worthy companion waiting to be given the recognition she deserves. One can dispute and disagree.
The idea I am trying to convey is that the Indian concept of women equality has been a flawed one from the beginning. Either the patronisation in the name of equality will be sickening else the Indian woman would be confined to her fixed role, as that of a good “house wife”. A third kind of attitude is that of sycophancy and extreme adoration. But this is different from the rest of the two. I will explain how.
Let us consider the first instance – excessively sickening patronisation. I cannot find a more recent example that the “50 Crore Girl Friend” incident. The point to be understood is that Mrs. Sunanda Pushkar has a personality that is distinct from Mr. Shashi Tharoor. She was first introduced as an associate of Mr. Tharoor and a Director of the Dubai-based real estate company Tecom. Even though, her present fame and position is due to her being his wife, she became a public person when the scam broke out. She was neither any poor old lady from the streets nor a public persona known for her yeomen service rendered to the society. She was a possible accomplice in a scam which caused Mr. Tharoor his ministership.
Hence when Modi is attacking her, and giving an adjective of a 50 Crore Girl Friend, it would have been only normal to treat the comment just like the way it would have been treated had Modi called Vadra a “50 Billion Damaad” or something to that effect. They are related to top politicians, and their activities have caused enormous troubles to these powerful relatives. So to sit and lament over the fact that Modi defined her using this utterly horrible phrase, and this shows how low class Modi is and that Modi’s behaviour reeks of misogyny, is ridiculous because he treated the Tharoor issue in exactly the same way as any politician any where would have done, had he/she known that a leader and his family were involved in a scam which caused this minister his job.
Perhaps this unnecessary patronisation is the same reason why many voices were raised asking Kanimozhi to be freed from the jail because she is a woman and a mother, as if that seals the issue. But there will still be people who will be more than ready to take a train to some place a thousand kilometers away and get slapped. These people would fight tooth and nail to prove that the phrase “girl friend” was used with an innuendo. It is your problem if you treat phrases with imaginary insinuations. Even I can suggest that when Rahul Gandhi spoke about Pink Elephants he was not talking about the statues, but Mayawati herself!
If there are basic rules as to how a man is supposed to deal with a woman opponent just because she is a woman, it is difficult to realise them as legitimate. Of course, the basic question of morality comes under the umbrella of graceful political discourse automatically. Just like the way you can’t say that a male leader is less of a man, and hence less of a leader, because he hasn’t been able to produce an heir, you can’t say that a female leader is characterless because of her “apparently” colourful past. One can treat his female opponent only the way he would have responded if he were arguing with a male opponent.
Men can’t be expected to make special allowances by toning down the arguments because he is dealing with a woman. If you are that kind of a person who feels that women deserve special treatment because she is a woman, it’s against what many of the feminists and anti-misogynists apparently believe in – equality. Hence, if you want equality please train your mind to be treated equal. But , if it’s your opinion that men should be overtly courteous to women, no matter what, then don’t blame people who have an archaic notion of how women are supposed to behave , since you are no less a part of that archaic society who believe that men are supposed to behave in a particular way.
If you are accepting one and not ready accept the other you are a hypocrite and that in turn makes the whole argument invalid, because hypocrites will somehow find an argument to fit their point. It’s a waste of time talking with such people. To now cry foul and talk of sexism is absolute hogwash and unnecessary patronisation. You know it, I know it, but you will never agree with it because bashing Modi is more important.
Coming to the second instance, the Smriti Irani – Sanjay Nirupam episode is a perfect example where in Mr. Nirupam actually derides her by uttering uncharitable remarks. I hear some people apportioning the blame equally to both of them, saying that it was Mrs. Irani who started getting personal by saying that people like Sanjay Nirupam, who desert the mother organisation, are a true blot on the country and since she provoked him, she should also be ready to bear the brunt. After all, two can play the same game. Assuming that Nirupam is a man of extremely stupendous standards and that he lost his cool only because Mrs. Irani drew in the RSS issue, even then what Nirupam showcased was a brutal stereotyping of women. Many feel that actresses are women of questionable background, bimbos, with no job other than to be accessories to skin show. Hence we saw Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari shouting at Shabana Azmi calling her a dancing prostitute. We see people loathing Khushboo, treating her with a restrained contempt. But people forget that even in USA they make film actors Presidents and Governors. Back at home, even N. T. Rama Rao and M. G. Ramachandran have become Chief Ministers.
Even average screen playwrights like K. Karunanidhi has made it big and branched out into franchisees in Tamil politics. It is from the same field that Jayalalithaa has arrived and has been ruling with efficiencies and inefficiencies only similar to any other male Chief Minister from a conventionally politically background. But yet there is a disdain, certain amount of derision when women from this industry make it big. Note, that this has not often been seen against men from the same background, despite these heroes being excruciatingly inefficient and uninspiring politicians.
Recently a Muslim woman leader Aasifa Khan shifted her alliance from Congress to BJP in Gujarat. People were quick to accuse her of betrayal and opportunism. But her reasons were sound. She felt that Gujarat Congress is not doing anything development oriented neither to the Gujarati Muslims, nor to Gujarat as a whole. And everyone knows how hopeless and lacklustre the Congress is in Gujarat and that what she has said is not without substance. Such ideological shifts from inactivity to activity, from nadir to zenith, are something that needs to be acknowledged.
But sadly such incidents of changing alliances due to staunch convictions are rarely seen in India. On the other hand, deserters in Indian politics, have been usually nothing more than petty opportunists. There is no solid ground as to why anyone shifts from one party to another. If there is K. R. Gowriamma in Kerala who is with LDF one day and with UDF the other, on one side, there is Sharad Pawar on the other side, who after having started his party as a protest against Sonia, has now sunk to the level of dispelling a founding member to please the same Sonia and her Presidential nominee.
Hence Sanjay Nirupam is not exactly in a great position to counter his ideological shift. (On a lighter vein,for a man whose Wikipedia account appears to have been written by himself, as pointed out by @pierrefitter, it’s too difficult to take him seriously). One could argue that Mrs. Irani need not have brought the issue of deserting RSS into the conversation, but surely she doesn’t deserve to be stereotyped as a bimbo or worse, caricatured as a person who shakes her hips for money.
And that exactly, is why, I assert that, Sanjay Nirupam is a misogynist, Narendra Modi is not, Pushkar took advantage of the sickening Indian Patronisation, and that Irani was subjected to the cruel stereotyping of Indian misogynists.
A third type of attitude towards the women is deification. Be it Indira, Jayalalithaa, Raje, Mamata, Mayawati or Sonia there are always a set of people who deify these leaders beyond boundaries of reasons. But this is not reserved to the women leaders alone. The same happens to men also including Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, MGR, NTR, and more recently Narendra Modi. So, this is something we can be contented with, at the least, that, if we have decided to be creepy fanboys and fangirls of politicians, we will become one, no matter what the sex of the leader is. And the admirable thing is that these leaders have almost never played the gender card for sympathy, unlike a teary eyed Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Primaries. We Indians tend to respect the Indian women leaders no matter we despise them or adore them. Perhaps it is the tacit knowledge that if a woman has become a leader despite all the misogyny, she must be terrific after all.
(Image Courtesy- Jagran Post)