Atishi Marlena has joined the rapidly growing list of female politicians who have been at the receiving end of sexism during this election season. A pamphlet whose origins have become a matter of controversy across the country has found its way to the media, in which AAP’s East Delhi candidate Marlena is called a prostitute. She is a prostitute. Think for once that if she wins, you will have to go to a prostitute for help or some work, it reads. However this isn’t an isolated incident of a misogynist dig at a woman politician recently. The attacks in front of camera, on paper or during political rallies are getting sexual and personal by each passing day. We haven’t witnessed such sexist regression of politics in our country ever before. With politicians trying to win over women voters with lucrative promises of empowerment, one wonders which side of their dialogue we should believe in.
- Sexist and demeaning comments have overtaken the political narrative this election season.
- Women politicians have been called prostitutes, and shamed for their undergarments and clothes.
- Is there a level beyond which political discourse in India won’t stoop despite all the desperation?
- Political parties are busy pitching us empowerment, failing to censor their own party members.
With politicians trying to win over women voters with lucrative promises of empowerment, one wonders which side of their dialogue should we believe in.
Just in April this year, SP politician Azam Khan took a dig at BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate Jaya Prada during a rally, saying, “What is the difference between you and me? People of Rampur, people of Uttar Pradesh and the people of India. It took you 17 years to understand her true face. But I realised in 17 days… that she wears khakhi underwear.”
In March BJP MLA Surendra Narayan Singh said the following regarding BSP chief Mayawati, “Mayawati gets facial done every day. She has no right to say anything about our leaders. Her hair has turned grey but she colours them to look young. She has turned 60 but still her hair is black.” Then there was the jibe at Congress politician Priyanka Gandhi from BJP MP Harish Dwivedi, “Everyone knows that when Priyanka Gandhi is in Delhi, she wears jeans and top but dons saree and sindoor when she comes to the constituencies.”
In fact, Gandhi’s entry into politics opened the flood gate of sexist remarks, and Dwivedi wasn’t the only one to regurgitate misogyny. When BJP leader from MP, Kailash Vijayvargiya commented that the rival party was fielding “chocolaty faces” as it didn’t have strong leaders to contest in the Lok Sabaha elections, Congress leader Sajjan Singh Verma retaliated by saying, “It is unfortunate that BJP has a few rough faces which are disliked by everyone within the party. They have Hema Malini who keeps performing dance across the country in an attempt to garner votes.”
Can we keep entertaining their innate sexism on grounds desperation and the election heat?
The focus, when it comes to women in politics, is on their sexuality, clothes, skin colour, age, beauty and even undergarments. It is not on their politics or their capabilities as a leader. And all Indian voters have been doing is watching mutely as our own leaders, whom we intend to elect, dissect women’s dignity so openly, all the while making lofty promises of empowerment. Do their promises mean anything at all? Can we keep entertaining their unrepressed sexism on grounds of desperation and the election heat? Isn’t there any level beyond which they shouldn’t stoop when it comes to taking digs at rival female politicians?
If anything, the 2019 elections have taught us how desperation and aggression make for a legitimate reason in our country, to cross moral boundaries. You know the ethics of politics are lost in this country when women get called prostitutes and remarks are made about their undergarments so publicly, without any serious repercussions. The commentary may come to a pause after we are done with the elections. But that won’t mean sexism will cease to exist in Indian politics. Thus, we need to pay attention about every word coming out of our politicians’ lips and not be blinded by the promises they are making.
Do their promises stem from genuine concern or sheer greed for power? Why are political parties failing to censor speech of their leaders? And what kind of progress can we expect from them, when they can’t even command those in their ranks to respect women. We must keep asking these questions long after we are done with the voting process.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.