Today my best friend’s daughter, Akira, turns one. I wonder about the world she will grow into. Will it be a world any less patriarchal? Will she not have to worry about whatever personal choices she makes? Will she be afraid to be called ambitious, aggressive or too strong and independent, or will all these be things of the past, of her mother’s and masi’s (aunt’s) generation?
While storming out the of the Parliamentary Ethics Committee, where she was in the witness stand, with five other Opposition members from the committee, All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mahua Moitra presented a feisty picture.
Instead of backing down, she has backed up her claims. While accepting that she did share her Member of Parliament (MP) login credentials, she has asked – how is that a crime, for there aren’t any rules prohibiting her or other MPs from not sharing their login details. She has claimed that it’s a routine practice for MPs to share logins for others to type in the questions, but not without her approval first via a one time password.
In a masterful display, she even carried with her the bag of ‘super luxurious’ goods she has a allegedly received in an ‘cash for query’ scam, while claiming that a) there was no cash; and b) the goods she received was in a friendly capacity. She has gone on to claim that it’s a badly done hit-job, an orchestrated attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to stop her from raising questions on Adani and exposing the alleged Modi-Adani nexus.
Now, while the truth of the whole episode will emerge in due time, and one is free to take sides, her statement of having been disrobed (albeit figuratively) ‘vastraharan’, by a dogged line of questioning by the committee chairperson, meant to outrage her modesty, raises some serious questions and gives us much to reflect on.
For one, drawing a parallel between Draupadi’s ‘cheerharan/vastraharan’ (disrobing) may sound like an excellent analogy – while being a deliberate nudge to potential news headlines – suggestive also of the sharpening divide between us versus them, before the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections, there is more to it than meets the eye.
What hasn’t changed since Mahabharat days, remarkably and concerningly, is the solitude of the woman in frame. While there was one Draupadi who garnered all the attention with other female characters essentially staying on the fringes as the Mahabharat unfolded, it’s not very different now – with Moitra doing all the batting and the fielding seemingly ‘alone
While some are calling her the ‘bengal tigress’, what lies hidden in the analogy is the fact that tigers, especially bengal tigers, are known to live alone. So while TMC or other official parties haven’t come out openly in her support, it’s time for women all across India to show that today’s Draupadi will not stand alone. That she will have the support of sisterhood and even brotherhood pouring in for her, across party lines and ideally across ideology lines, for isn’t ‘respect for women’ the tagline of most political parties in one form or the other
Asking an MP about ‘who she calls late in the night?’ or making innuendos about her character in an ethics committee discussion is absolutely abominable and cannot be allowed to stand.
No, it’s not about women playing a victim card, but simply a chance to address the elephant in the room and not just the tigress (pun intended). Women in politics in India have long been beaten with a characteristic ‘toolkit’, one that involves questioning their character, never their policies; branding her as too loud or aggressive or ambitious; questioning the personal choices she makes (what she wears, or who she dates etc.).
We have got to say enough!
And it should be said loud and clear by women – all women, who care, not just TMC women but also Congress women and BJP women and non-political or apolitical women.
Women in India need to proclaim that we cannot let women be taken down by shutting us up with a handbook that should ideally be a remnant of the past. We need to announce our own Women’s Manifesto, which needs to be hung on every door, every office wall, every twitter account and it can go like this. Repeat after me:
- Women have the right to be as bold, aggressive and ambitious as men do.
- Women have the right to choose to be or not to be – someone’s wife, girlfriend, friend; fashionable or not; wear make up or not; be single or not; work or not; have babies or not ; wear hijab or not, just as men do.
- Women have the right to stay out late – whether for parties or for meetings or with friends, just as men do.
- Women have the right to question – societal norms, governance policies, financial decisions (including Adani), just as men do.
- Women have the right to do all things otherwise legal for men – to pray, to follow their beliefs, to smoke or drink or break taboos, just as men do.
- Women have the right to sit cross-legged or not, wear jeans or skirts, take last names or not, just as men do.
- Women have the right to ask for a rise in pay, a rise in position, a share in property, for what’s their due, just as men do.
- Women have the right to do nothing, and stand aimlessly on roads, in parks, outside homes, just as men do.
- Women have the right to be noisy, to cry or laugh, to shout or to be silent, to have their privacy respected and do whatever they want in their private time, just as men do.
- Women have a right to call out bullshit, wherever they see it, just like men do.
Recently, while calling for immediate implementation of the Women Reservation Act, Priyanka Gandhi asked why women are still slaves, and made a passionate appeal that we have to see ourselves beyond the repressive system that has been pressed upon us for generations.
We cannot see more women be hanged by public opinion, through a distorted, vilified, systemic attack on them. Also, the time for mere tokenism on women issues is over. We have to let it be known in Maya Angelou’s inspiring words that we will rise, and that we shall rise together.
More power to Mahua Moitra. Know that you are not alone! And for those of you reading, speak up. For today it’s her, tomorrow it will be one of us.
Avani Bansal is a lawyer in the Supreme Court and a member of the Congress party.