Didi, Behenji, Tai, Amma…these are some of the many words used for and by female politicians while campaigning during election seasons. The MLA/MP who seems barely approachable during her tenure suddenly presents herself at your doorsteps as a relative. It isn’t just female politicians though, but men too adopt words like Appa, bhaiyyaji, bhai etc to seem more relatable and approachable to the electorate during the election season. However when you look closely, you see how it is almost a custom in our country to desexualise politicians. As if it is essential that we see our leaders are brothers, sisters, mothers or father figures.
- It is almost a custom in our country to desexualise politicians.
- Where else in the world have you seen a female leader proclaim to be like an elder sister?
- For women politicians. this desexualisation acts as a shield which protects them from objectification.
Only in our sanskari country is it essential that politicians project themselves to us as relatives, especially women.
Where else in the world would you come across political banners which proclaim a certain female leader to be like an elder sister? Or promising to care for you just as your mother does? Have you ever heard of any leader outside of India projecting herself as a sister of the electorate. Only in our sanskari country is it essential that politicians project themselves to us as relatives, especially women. She must be the feet-touching beti, didi who wears saree, the bahu who covers her head with a pallu, the amma who exudes warmth.
In a way all these are tropes used to lead us into believing that our leaders care for us and if we give them a chance, they will look after us as if we are their family. The sentiment behind this projection does nothing but take our attention from the real issues. Must we vote for a didi or a bhaiyya simply because they promise to protect or take care of use? Just why does the electorate always see its leaders as brother, sisters, mothers or father? Why do we ever not see our leaders as someone’s partners. Surely most of these women have husbands and vice versa.
A healthy marriage or love life India is the most underappreciated relationship.
This is because the family centric infrastructure of our country still sees marriage as a relationship which runs in the background like a code, to keep the family running. A healthy marriage or love life is the most underappreciated relationship in Indian society. We sing parivarik ballads about a mother or sister or brother or father or a son or daughter’s love. The love between a couple however belongs in their bedroom and not in our drawing rooms. The relationship which keeps a home together – a marriage, still remains an invisible glue in most Indian families. Which is why we seldom see Indian leaders proudly hold their spouse’s hands during political rallies. Remember Barack Obama campaigning with Michelle Obama during his presidential campaign? Remember how they held hands and presented themselves as a couple to the electorate? This is just one of the many examples, which comes to mind when one compares how leaders project themselves in our country versus others.
It is unfair how politicians have to disown their sexuality, marriage and love life to an extent during election campaigning.
Also, for women politicians in specific, who are fighting elections in a society as biased as ours, which rarely misses an opportunity to objectify women, this desexualisation becomes a boon of a kind. It protects them to an extent from slandering and vulgarity. It helps them reach out to voters from the opposite gender, who are told to see her not as just a woman but as a didi or a mother. They are able to keep the focus on their politics, which could have easily slipped to their clothes, their bodies, their faces etc. I won’t say that doesn’t happen, but desexualisation does give female politicians a shield to protect themselves.
It is unfair how politicians have to disown their sexuality, marriage and love life to an extent during election campaigning. But if we want to change that, we will have to become a society where women do not have to hide behind tags like didi or amma to be taken seriously.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.