Can 2019 normalise personal lives of women politicians?
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Can 2019 normalise personal lives of women politicians?

I hope it will, and women politicians committing themself to public life does not mean that they give up on their personal life altogether

columns Updated: Jan 06, 2019 16:41 IST
It is almost as though a woman politician in India is not permitted to have a normal family life or indeed interests other than her profession. Do we know, barring a very few, what interests our women politicians have?(PTI)

Politics will dominate this year’s discourse and, hopefully with that, the role of women in this arena. That women voters have become a force to reckon with is a sign that things will change for the better. Of course, there will be usual lament that there are not enough women in politics and what can be done to bring more into the fold. But, we should also look at why women perhaps don’t want to come into politics. Unlike many other professions, it requires extreme sacrifices for women to make it to the top, or so it would appear.

A British woman politician like Margaret Thatcher or for that matter German chancellor Angela Merkel were considered iron ladies but they had and were seen to have perfectly normal family lives. Their power was not diminished by the fact that they had spouses who would appear in public with them and had views of their own.

But how often have you seen that in India? It is almost as though a woman politician is not permitted to have a normal family life or indeed interests other than her profession. Do we know, barring a very few, what interests our women politicians have? We did know a bit about Indira Gandhi, but that information came in dribs and drabs over a long career. We saw glimpses of her family but little else to suggest a gentler side of her while she was alive.

Similarly, our women politicians don’t seem to want to or are not encouraged to speak of their families or other interests while in office. Occasionally, we hear that one or the other has a vast saree collection or some such thing but nothing of any consequence. If they do speak of their families, or show some concern for them, howsoever misplaced, they are treated with a certain amount of condescension. Which explains why years ago, when Rabri Devi was installed in office after Lalu had to give up office, an entire article in a leading weekly was devoted to how quickly she could chop a cabbage. While she did not come into office on her own merit, surely the chief minister of a state like Bihar deserved a little more consideration than to be dismissed as someone who had no talent outside the kitchen. At least the reporter concerned could have asked her a few tough questions. The late J Jayalalithaa displayed a gentle side of herself in her affection for her foster son. But as soon as he was thought to be flawed, she was expected to and she did, give up all ties with him. A male politician in a similar situation would not have been expected to renounce all family ties for a tainted relative.

It is as though women politicians become less effective and powerful if they deign to be human. This is possibly one reason why women don’t want to come into such positions of power. The price is far too high even if you do get there. If a woman politician shows any affection for her child, that is thought of as a sign of weakness, a vulnerability which might lead her to take faulty decisions.

They have to dress in as conservative a manner as possible. Jayalalithaa in her voluminous cape, Mamata Banerjee in her careless couture, Mayawati in her uniform salwar kameez, Sonia Gandhi in her trademark handloom sarees. There was shock when Priya Dutt turned up in Parliament in trousers, and this in a country where the majority of the population is below 35. Even the younger politicians like Smriti Irani are rarely seen with their families or talk about them. If this was changed, and I hope it will, politics will become a little more like other professions where you can be terrific at your work but also enjoy other pursuits and your family life. The very thought of having to be bereft of all family life and other interests is likely to put off many women.

I hope 2019 will normalise politics and committing yourself to public life does not mean that you give up on your personal life altogether if you are a woman. Maybe the women politicians we have and who are easily recognisable should show the public that it is possible to be an effective representative of the people and still be as normal as you and I.

lalita.panicker@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Jan 06, 2019 16:41 IST