Sexist remarks by politicians in India are dangerously common. But what’s perhaps more dangerous is how they have been accepted in the mainstream as part of the political lexicon without our elected leaders batting an eyelid. On one end, women empowerment is spoken of aggressively from stages and at rallies when election season approaches. On the other, when the coast is clear, politicians run amok making careless statements that risk pulling back women’s issues by miles.
The urgent need is to reform Indian politics in a way that women are seen as equal members of the playing field, which, up to this point, has been largely uneven for them. And yet, they are persisting and pushing for greater representation in politics. But female representation can only do so much for positive change. What we require is an overhaul in the way India and its leaders think – of women and our issues – and for them to view gender beyond vote bank politics.
The following remarks from some politicians this year are proof that our political arena is inherently gender-unequal and that if change has to come, it should begin here.
1. Tirath Singh Rawat
Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat kicked the hornet’s nest when he made an exceedingly misogynistic remark about how women wearing ripped jeans were incapable of imparting ‘good values’ to children. He was attending a workshop in the state in March when his tirade against women’s “bare knees” through ripped jeans found its way to an explanation about the impending “breakdown” of society.
“If this kind of woman goes out in the society to meet people and solve their problems, what kind of message are we giving out to the society, to our kids?” he said, referring to a woman in the said attire who was running an NGO. His remarks had prompted a wave of outrage online, where women began the ‘ripped jeans Twitter‘ trend, proudly flaunting their knees.
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2. Araga Jnanendra
“The girl and her friend must have gone to a deserted place there, they should not have gone there,” said Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra in August this year, following the brutal gangrape of a student in Mysuru. Six men were accused in the case for allegedly raping a woman and assaulting a male friend accompanying her. More here.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, slamming Jnanendra’s statement, said he had directed him to issue a clarification. Another insensitive comment during this time came from state minister Shivaram Hebbar, who said “such incidents of rape happen all the time” and that it was not just under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) they were occurring.
Sexist remarks by politicians that will make your skin crawl & remind you of gender inequality in the field
3. Arun Yadav
In October, Congress minister Arun Yadav made a grossly objectifying comment that compared politician Hema Malini to inflation in the country. “During the Congress rule, inflation was called a ‘dayan’ (witch) and now when the inflation has further gone up, it has become an ‘apsara’, it has become Hema Malini,” he said during an election campaign in Madhya Pradesh.
As per a video of his address that went viral on social media at the time, Yadav proceeds to call opponent party leader Smriti Irani dokri, which means ‘old woman’.
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4. Kailash Vijayvargiya
The heated election season in West Bengal in early 2021 saw a slew of ugly exchanges between politicians, as primary oppositions BJP and Trinamool Congress (TMC) vied for power. The fight ultimately resulted in Mamata Banerjee retaining her CM seat, but not without having been subjected to insults hurled by rivals. No less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself was pulled up for his ‘didi, o didi‘ jeer at rallies, which TMC dubbed a ‘catcall’ insulting Banerjee.
Top BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya, meanwhile, was slammed for a blatantly sexist remark he made about Banerjee, indicating that she would have to go back to cooking in the kitchen following her loss in the elections. Read here.
5. Vijay Wadettiwar
Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut has emerged as controversy’s favourite child in 2021, no doubt, but that simultaneously means she is at the receiving end of endless rebuttals, many of which are often outright misogynistic. Last year, she was called “haramkhor” by Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut amid a public spat between the two. This year, Congress’ Vijay Wadettiwar took on that thread.
“She’s not worthy to make a comment on Mahatma Gandhi. She’s a nachaniya,” Wadettiwar said in November, in response to contentious comments she made on freedom fighters and Indian independence being given in bheek (in alms). Read here.