Culture

Sexist Attitudes Unite Our Politicians

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina. Credit: PTI Photo

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina. Credit: PTI Photo

Everyone is gunning for Narendra Modi since Monday evening after his speech at University of Dhaka was telecast. Modi’s visit to our neighbouring country is momentous for many reasons diplomatic; his political companion Mamata Bannerjee – who did not ditch him at the last moment, unlike the time she was to accompany Manmohan Singh – is also significant. It is not every day that Mamata shows her support for the BJP or Modi.

When things are going so well and all parties and countries concerned seem pleased – leaving aside the absurdly Punjabi vegetarian menu tweeted out by the MEA – why go put your foot in it? At a speech at Dhaka University, Modi who was speaking as effectively as he always does, gave his critics that one statement that they’d all been waiting for. He decided to extend a compliment to his host, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina. In the world of back-handed compliments, this would win the prize on counts of Creativity and Misogyny. Speaking on terrorism, Modi said, “Khushi ki baat hai, Bangladesh ke pradhan mantri ek mahila hone ke bawajood bhi danke ki chot pe keh rahI hain ki terrorism ke saath mera zero tolerance hai”. Like really? For those who do not speak our rashtriya bhaasha and who will be stoned in the village square in due course, that translates to, “I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism”.

#Despitebeingawoman

Twitter being twitter, and Modi’s critics showing even more online dexterity than his fans for a change, the hashtag #DespiteBeingAWoman was trending in hours. (I’m surprised that trolls haven’t yet blamed Raheel Khurshid of Twitter for this.)

More than being a misogynist, I must give Modi credit for being a brave man. To make this statement in front of Sheikh Hasina, a woman, while being accompanied by Mamata Banerjee, another woman, takes guts.

Since I never want to ever say an unkind word about Modi, I am leaning towards the theory that this was indeed a compliment. Maybe he meant that women are non-confrontational and would never say or do anything to earn the ire of terrorists. Or maybe he meant that women don’t scare easily. I refuse to believe that a man of Modi’s oratory and political prowess did not think before he spoke in front of an international audience. Or weigh his words. But in case it is true that Modi does indeed think that we are the weaker sex, I’d like to point him in the direction of some other non-terrorist and often militant-loving women such as Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and even his party’s bête noire, Indira Gandhi. Not to forget my favourites, Maya Kodnani and Sadhvi Rithamabara. Mamata Banerjee is no putz either, contrary to what Modi seems to think. Her decimation of the CPM aside, Banerjee has proven that she doesn’t need any man backing her to bring a state and a nation to its knees – and not always in a good way.

Lazy mothers feeding Maggi

But is Modi’s comment really so shocking? The rot after all seems to be much deeper. On Saturday, BJP MLA Usha Thakur was quoted as saying, “I don’t know why the mothers have become so lazy (that they feed their kids instant noodles)? Mothers of our generation used to serve homemade food like ‘paratha’, ‘halwa’ and ‘sivaia’ to their children”. Now I’m no fan of eating Maggi Noodles and have written on it being unhealthy, with or without MSG or lead being in it. But to blame its buyers of being “lazy” mothers in one sweeping statement is ridiculous. This comment was bettered when Madhu Kishwar got into the fray. According to Kishwar, in a comment she made to activist Kavita Krishnan, BJP women believe in fresh cooked food for family, as opposed to Maoist women who are anti-family. The corollary being that BJP-supporting women have never bought Maggi noodles.

Before this, Samjawadi party’s Totaram Yadav said that there are two kinds of rape. “One which is forced and another that happens with mutual consent. What can the government do in such mutual consent cases? But people still put the blame on the government. In fact, such incidents cannot be stopped”. Before you could give him a slow clap, Goa’s tourism minister Dilip Parulekar while commenting on the gangrape of two Delhi-based women in Goa said, “The boys are nadaan (naive) and they have small crimes registered against them and this will not happen in the future”.  Making us realise once again that rape isn’t taken too seriously by many in politics. 

Why must women and the female gender be brought into political statements and that too in a derogatory manner? Is it too much to ask our politicians – and academics – to think before they speak? And this misogyny isn’t restricted to just the Right; other parties (don’t forget the ‘painted-dented’ remark by Abhijit Mukherjee or thumka commenter Sanjay Nirupam, both of the Congress) are cut from the same cloth. It’s just that currently BJP and its supporters seem to be providing the misogynist fodder of the day.

While it makes for a lot of funny and sarcastic commentary on social media and other avenues, it’s sad that such statements have now become par for the course. These aren’t the first, they won’t be the last. If the leader of the country makes a sexist comment without flinching or even realisation, can you really expect any of these other commenters to be reprimanded? Or to hold their tongue?

The politics of sexism, it seems, is here to stay for a while – it’s the one unifying bond which our political parties have.