Naresh Agarwal’s distasteful jibe against Jaya Bachchan reinforces our belief that in India politicians can stoop beyond conceivable levels of sexism, to stay relevant. Miffed at losing his Rajya Sabha re-nomination to Bachchan, Agrawal said he was pitted against a ‘Naachney Wali’, someone who used to dance in movies. The Rajya Sabha MP, whose term ends on 2nd April, said, “My status has been equated with women who work in films. For somebody who used to dance in films, act in films, I was denied a (Rajya Sabha) ticket. I did not find it appropriate. Nobody found it appropriate.”
Would Agarwal have sung a different tune, had he been ditched for a male actor?
The politician’s statement not only reeks of misogyny, it showcases commonplace bias towards females especially actors.
Agarwal used the words “women who dance in films” as if it is an insult of the lowest kind. Both male and female actors dance in Bollywood films. But Agarwal makes it sounds like a lowly job in the context of women. As if somehow its okay for men to dance in front of the camera. It never tarnishes a man’s reputation or brands him brazenly.
It is enraging that he made such a comment about an actor like Jaya Bachchan. Agarwal reduced the achievements of a Padma Shri awardee, an FTII gold medallist and an actor known for her subtle portrayals, to dancing in Bollywood films.
The intent here is clear. Agarwal thinks that he has a moral and social high ground over a “heroine”. Her professional finesse or the respect she has gained for her contribution to Indian cinema means nothing to him. It is so easy to take shots at women in our country and belittle their achievements. We all choose to ignore such comments, let them pass. The result is that politicians continually target female politicians with sexist jibes.
This isn’t the first incidence where a politician got away after making such derogatory remarks about a female politician.
In 2012, Sanjay Nirupam allegedly took a shot at Smriti Irani during a television debate by saying, ‘Till some time ago you were dancing on the TV screens and now you have become an election analyst.’ While Irani filed a case against Nirupam, it hasn’t deterred other politicians from taking a moral high ground and insulting female actors turned politicians.
Both our society and political system harbour men who thrive on controversy and mudslinging. As usual women pay a higher cost, because most jibes target their reputation. Our inherent misogyny lets male politicians run smear campaigns and mock female politicians on national television. Such statements never bring any social, political or legal repercussions. This is simply because somewhere deep down a large chunk of our society still views the profession of acting, especially for women, as a shameless and crass one.
Hence, we all bear some responsibility if a man like Agarwal is sitting in our Rajya Sabha, despite repeated strikes. Even if his new party boots him out, he will find another outfit which will provide him refuge. So, while we have learned to point at sexism in our country, we are yet to learn how to get rid of it. Things will only go from bad to worse if we allow such male politicians to flourish without facing the consequences of their words.
Picture Credit : SKJ Bollywood
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.