Opinion | Demeaning women is an assault on our politics
Women in Indian politics face a double disadvantage. The first is the difficulty in getting a foot in through the door in a male-dominated arena. Women account for only 12.15% of the outgoing 16th Lok Sabha. The second is facing unacceptable sexist remarks from male colleagues. The latest to face this is Jaya Prada, formerly of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and now a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). SP leader Azam Khan, in an attempt to highlight her new affiliation, referred to her innerwear being khaki, the colour of the RSS uniform.
This is the kind of raw deal that women of calibre, regardless of their political affiliation, are offered in Indian politics. Smriti Irani, despite her achievements, has often been dismissed as a mere television actress. Sharad Yadav felt it was important to discuss former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s weight. Lalu Prasad spoke of how he would make Bihar’s roads as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks. From being described as akin to a sex worker to her gender being questioned, four-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mayawati, has been at the receiving end of a staggering amount of vitriol. Politics needs a quantum increase in women to be genuinely representative. But the viciousness faced by women, who have held their own in what is a highly competitive world, is bound to deter other women who might want to consider politics as a career.
Politics need not have so much to do with gender. A person’s ability to take up a relevant issue and being able to work for the well being of constituents should be the only criteria. After all, men are not judged on their looks or their weight. This lack of respect towards women demonstrates that many male politicians are simply unable to accept women as their equals. It is equally shameful that audiences lap up such insults to women politicians. Witness the laughter when BJP leader, Kailash Vijayvargiya, spoke of Priyanka Gandhi having a “chocolatey” face. When people speak of how India has a woman defence minister and foreign minister, they seem to forget that these women have got there through sheer merit and against all odds. As in certain other professions, that is what should count in politics. To demean women politicians on issues that are irrelevant to the political discourse is repugnant. It is as much an assault on women as it is on our politics.