For Female Politicians In India, Tolerating Sexist Comments Is Almost Second Nature

Being at the receiving end of blatant sexism comes with the job for the women

As compared to their male counterparts, very few women in India hold public office, and those who do, being at the receiving end of sexist and misogynistic comments comes with the job.

On Thursday, former JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav bodyshamed Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. “Vasundhara ko aaram do, bahut thak gayi hain, bahut moti ho gayi hain, pehli patli thi. (Give rest to Vasundhara. She looks too tired and has gained too much weight. Earlier she was slim,” Yadav said while appealing to voters in Rajasthan, Hindustan Times reported.

Raje has had a political career spanning three decades now, and neither her politics, nor her government’s recent controversies, but it was her weight that Yadav chose to point out and criticise? Wow. When was the last time a male politician was subjected to that by another peer? If this does not propagate the idea that no matter a woman’s stature, if she does not adhere to a man’s notion of the ‘ideal’ female appearance, she’s open for criticism, wonder what is.

This blatant sexism is not just the Rajasthan chief minister’s cross to bear. In February this year, in an ongoing Parliament session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mocked Congress leader Renuka Choudhary’s ‘loud’ laughter. Addressing Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, Modi had said, “Sabhapati Ji meri aapse vinti hai Renuka Ji ko kuch mat kahiye. Ramayan serial ke baad aisi hansi sunne ka saubhagya aaj jaake mila hai.” (Chairman Sir, I request you to not say anything to Renukaji. After Ramayana serial, we have got the privilege of hearing this kind of laughter today).

The leader of this country had then equated a senior Congress leader and a former Union minister with Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister from Ramayan. Who knew ‘locker room’ talk had a place inside the Parliament?

Image courtesy: The Indian Express

Textile minister Smriti Irani has frequently been subjected to unsavoury remarks too, owing to her acting career in the television industry. In 2014, when Irani was the human resource development minister, a Trinamool Congress member had made a condescending comment about her in the Lok Sabha. TMC leader Sultan Ahmed said that he expected Irani to perform well since she had made her name as an ideal daughter-in-law in every household in the country.

This was probably the only time when other female politicians reached across party lines to defend Irani. Congress MPs Ranjeet Ranjan and Sushmita Dev stood up for Irani and told off the TMC leader for referring to the then HRD minister’s acting career.

However, sexism or misogyny is not restricted to women in rival parties as Congress leader Digvijay Singh has proved in 2013 when he called another leader in his party “sau taka tunch maal”. The remarks were directed at Congress leader and former MP Meenakshi Natarajan. He said, “Our party MP, Meenakshi Natarajan, is a Gandhian, simple and an honest leader. She keeps going from place to place in her constituency. I am a seasoned smith of politics. Meenakshi sau tunch maal hai”. Loosely translated translated, “sau tunch maal” means ‘a desirable object’.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

When it comes to politics, the gender gap is something so constant that more-often-than-not we see political mudslinging crossing over to the misogynistic territory, when attacks are directed towards women. If a photo could, in a way, sum up the political gender gap that exists in politics it would be the iconic oath-taking ceremony of Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. While the men made up most of the crowd, the three female politicians were at centre stage – Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati looked alone even in a crowd.