West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee addresses an election rally from a wheelchair ahead of the state assembly election, in Balrampur on 15 March 2021 | ANI
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee addresses an election rally from a wheelchair ahead of the state assembly election, in Balrampur on 15 March 2021 | ANI


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The latest barrage of sexist moral policing by Indian politicians reveal that a woman voter shouldn’t expect anything other than tokenism from her leaders. How to drape a saree, what kind of jeans to wear and what size should a bindi be of are not women’s decisions but of their leaders.

It starts with clothes and ends at rape blaming and shaming. The way men talk about the women of this country shows the pressing need for reservation for women in Parliament — a Bill stuck since 2008, even though it had the BJP’s backing when it wasn’t in power.

How can people who think less of us represent us fairly?

Thanks to Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, ripped jeans are in fashion again. The CM’s comments have put the spotlight back on the typical Indian politician’s mindset towards women.

Rawat also earned a reprimand of sorts from his party colleague Smriti Irani who said politicians have no business talking about how people dress. A rare occurrence of a BJP leader saying anything against her party member and a sitting CM.


Also read: Women don’t care for Delhi’s reduced drinking age — they still have to pay high morality tax


Male politicians against female politicians

Rawat’s problems with ripped jeans weren’t the first or the most problematic remark made by an Indian politician, and they definitely won’t be the last. Recently, BJP West Bengal Chief Dilip Ghosh appointed himself as the ‘chief of women’s voice club’ when he justified his remarks on the way West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee drapes her saree.

At an election rally in Purulia, West Bengal, Ghosh had said, “she is wearing saree with one leg covered but kept another open for viewing. Haven’t seen anyone draping a saree in such a way. If she has to display her leg for viewing, she can very well wear Bermuda shorts. That will help to have a better view.” Banerjee’s one leg is fractured and the ‘revealing’ leg that Ghosh talks about is draped in bandage.

In an interview to CNN News 18, Ghosh said he made the remark because women of West Bengal take offence to this.

Women politicians often come under attack by their male counterparts. Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is often the butt of jokes for her apparent ‘drinking habits‘. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati was often subjected to slurs for simply being a Dalit. Politicians such as BJP’s Om Prakash Singh and Sadhna Singh have attacked Mayawati for her ‘looks’ and the way she ‘dresses’.

Smriti Irani has been constantly body shamed, and her personal life targeted. Congress ally Jaydeep Kawade had once said Irani’s bindi keeps getting bigger with the number of husbands she changes.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is often criticised for ‘having a temper’, a judgement not reserved for any male politician. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had dubbed her ‘Nirbala‘.

When male politicians don’t spare even the most powerful women of the country, what can we expect them to do about the average citizen?


Also read: Ripped jeans aren’t just fashion for Indian women. No wonder CM Rawat is worried


They justify rape

“We can understand if a woman gets sexually abused once. But if it gets repeated, then any woman with self-esteem would either commit suicide or try to prevent such a thing from happening again,” this is how KPCC President Mullapally Ramchandran proposed to stop recurring instances of sexual assault, in November 2020.

On Hathras, BJP MLA Surendra Singh had said that ‘incidents’ like these can only be stopped if daughters are taught good values.

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BJP leader Ranjeet Shrivastava also had an unwarranted hot take on girls being raped in fields: “ladki ne ladke ko bulaya hoga bajre ke khet mein kyunki prem prasangata jaisi baatein social media pe aur TV pe sab jagah aa chuki hain… Pakad li gayi hongi, aksar yehi hota hai kheton mein…” (the girl must have called the boy to the farm, they’re all aware of romance through TV and social media. She must have been caught… this is what happens in farms).

There are a slew of these pukeworthy comments that cannot be all included in one article. But Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s comment — ‘boys will be boys, they make mistakes’ — while opposing capital punishment in rape cases takes the trophy home.


Also read: I’m a Taylor Swift fan and I don’t need male approval to enjoy her music


The ‘women-friendly’ but patriarchal laws

So how do we expect rape-justifying women-hating upper caste men to draw up progressive, feminist legislation? We cannot.

Some of the laws Parliament has passed in recent years, which appear liberal on face, like the Transgender Persons Act or the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021, actually take agency away from women.

While the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 does bring reforms to the MTP Act 1971 by increasing the upper limit of legal abortions to 24 weeks, it still doesn’t completely empower women to make a choice to end her pregnancy on her own.

The Transgender Persons’ (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 is opposed by the transgender community because it holds prejudices a cisgender person will not be able to see through. It requires a District Magistrate to certify a person as transgender after sex assignment surgery (what kind hasn’t been specified) has been carried out. This violates the Supreme Court’s mandate of right to self-determination of one’s gender.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship scheme empowering women — ‘Ujjawala’ Yojana — that provides subsidised LPG cylinders not only assumes that women belong to the ‘chulha chokha’ but also fails to provide the same women the recurring subsidy on cylinders.

Only an adequate representation of women in Parliament can ensure progressive legislation for half the population of the country.

Views are personal.

Edited by Anurag Chaubey

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