The smear pamphlet that AAP claims is circulating in Delhi about their East Delhi candidate Atishi Marlena has sent political social media into tizzy. Accusations, defensive statements and hashtags are flying across the digital space as everyone is busy speculating who could have written this despicable pamphlet. Was it distributed by her rival candidate? Is it her own party’s conspiracy to garner sympathy votes? Or is it some third party miscreant trying to heat up Delhi politics, which is already past its boiling point? All we can do is speculate with a dose of ‘allegedly’ and ‘apparently’. While it is important to discuss who could have circulated such a demeaning pamphlet, we must also discuss its contents.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • A smear pamphlet of Atishi Marlena is being circulated in Delhi, calling her a “prostitute”.
  • Rather than who is circulating it, we must ask ourselves why is it so common in our country to slander women.
  • Anyone can discredit women politicians not because they are incapable, but because it is easy and effective to sexually shame them.
  • Every time a woman rises to power across fields, she faces an attack on her dignity.

While it is important to discuss who could have circulated such a demeaning pamphlet, we must also discuss its contents.

No matter who wrote and circulated it, the fact remains that a female politician is called a “very good example of mixed breed”, on basis of her parentage and marriage. It is said that she was caught “red handed” having sex with a colleague in her days as a primary school teacher. That a leader from her own party is “keeping her as his keep” and she is blatantly referred to as a prostitute more than once.

However, the debacle of this pamphlet didn’t end with Marlena being reduced to tears. A BJP politician has also questioned why her husband isn’t seen campaigning with her? Because no matter what a woman manages to accomplish, she is nothing without a man’s identity pinned on her. Husbands, fathers, brothers, they are all used to define women, their own greatness and achievements being deftly shoved side by patriarchy.

Would anyone have written such a letter about a male politician? Gender plays an important role in this attempt to assassinate her character, because it stems from misogyny.

This slandering of Marlena’s character matters because this is a woman politician we are talking about. Would anyone have written such a letter about a male politician? Gender plays an important role in this attempt to assassinate her character, because it stems from misogyny. A woman leader can be discredited in this country not because she lacks leadership skills or is corrupt, but simply because anyone can besmirch her character, and the general public will indeed lap it up.

It isn’t the first time we have heard misogynist comments during this election season, with mentions of women politicians’ undergarments galore. While one is praying for this headache called campaigning just to be done with, the pattern of taking digs which are sexual in nature, shows how deep sexism runs in our society. The political desperation has left it exposed and it may go underground, once the Lok Sabha elections are over. But it will continue to course through our country’s veins.

The pamphlet calls Marlena a “prostitute” and we sit by and rather discuss who could have sent such a letter, over how could anyone send it. What are we doing to enable such levels of misogyny in politics?

Every time a woman stands up to claim success, whether in politics or any other field, she will have to face this innate misogyny where her rivals will attack her dignity rather than question her capabilities. And then we ask why don’t many women venture into politics? Attacking their morality is just too easy and comes with zero consequences. The pamphlet calls Marlena a “prostitute” and we sit by and rather discuss who could have sent such a letter, over how could anyone send it. What are we doing to enable such levels of misogyny in politics? Why can a woman’s identity so easily be tainted with sexual shaming even in 2019? Why must she have the backing or her husband to be taken as serious contender in the elections?

These are the questions which matter more in the longer run. Our neglect has led us to the day where such a pamphlet could be circulated so openly. The elections will soon be over and these pamphlets will be forgotten as we will find something else to speculate about. But if we continue to overlook slandering of women politicians furthermore, god knows what future elections hold for us.

Picture Credit: PTI/Atul Yadav

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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