For Indian politicians sexism is a lived reality everyday, with some lying on the perpetrating end of it and some standing tall at the receiving end. The latter, in almost all cases, constitutes of women. Despite the expanding diversity of Indian politics, ratios are patriarchally lopsided in favour of cisgender, heterosexual men.
Representation of women in politics is low still, despite the many firsts they have continued to mark in positions of power over the years. As per the 2021 Global Gender Gap Index released by the World Economic Forum, India slipped 28 places in gender equality – a trend contributed to in part by a big slide in political participation of women in the country. Data suggests women ministers decreased to 9.1 percent over the year from approximately 23 percent in 2019.
Can such a setting then offer a safe, level-playing field to women?
Evidently not all the time. The political atmosphere in India, instead of cleaning itself, continues to get foggier with sexist narratives taking precedence on the field. Women in important public seats more often than not have to face the issue of male counterparts not seeing beyond their gender.
But these derogatory outbursts don’t go ignored by the women at whom they are aimed. Our women in politics know to respond with strength and grace, for all the women and young girls looking up to them as inspirations of equality and dreams.
Indian Politicians Sexism: A Masterclass From These Women On How To Tackle
Earlier this year in February, a male journalist on television asked Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi if she knew how to cook. With a smile, pat came her reply to the vividly gendered question, “Why is that you don’t ask male politicians this question?”
“My father was the Chief Minister. Why didn’t you ask him?” she further asked. The 30-second clip of her winning response to the journalist had gone viral, with the internet upvoting the way she challenged casual sexism women politicians have to encounter on the job.
இதை ஏன் நீங்க எந்த ஆண்கள் கிட்டையும் கேக்கறதில்ல.
நீங்க MP, பெரிய கட்சித் பொறுப்பு ல இருக்கீங்க. அதான் சமைப்பீங்களா னு .
— Aghila Devi (@aghiladevi) February 12, 2021
2. Mahua Moitra
Trinamool Congress’ star orator Mahua Moitra took on no less than the Prime Minister of India himself this year when election season in West Bengal heated up. In his back-and-forth with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was looking to retain her seat for a third term, PM Narendra Modi popularised the refrain ‘didiiii… o didi,” which many locally deemed to be nothing short of a catcall.
Moitra strongly, and extensively, led the arguments against the PM’s tone of mockery questioning the kind of sexism such jibes promoted against women.
#TrendingTonight | "How is it okay for the Prime Minister to taunt a sitting Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) in the cheapest way possible?": TMC MP Mahua Moitra hits out at PM Modi #WestBengalPolls pic.twitter.com/xZQHpmAV76
— NDTV (@ndtv) April 1, 2021
3. Vasundhara Raje
When repeat offender Sharad Yadav, former Janata Dal leader, at a 2018 rally in Rajasthan said, “Vasundhara ko aaram do, bahut thak gayi hain, bahut moti ho gayi hain, pehle patli thi,” Vasundhara Raje did not take his remarks lying down.
The former Chief Minister of Rajasthan and one of the most prominent female faces in the political arena tackled his sexist body-shaming head-on, with intelligent composure. Noting how he had “insulted” her and all women, she said, “To set an example for future it’s important that EC takes cognisance of this kind of language.”
#Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje on Sharad Yadav's remark 'Vasundhara (Raje) ko aaram do, thak gayi hain, bahut moti ho gayi hain': To set an example for future it's important that EC takes cognisance of this kind of language. I actually feel insulted&I think even women are insulted pic.twitter.com/dNCO0QLTDX
— ANI (@ANI) December 7, 2018
4. Priyanka Gandhi
From being called “just a chocolatey face” to being questioned over her sartorial choices, Priyanka Gandhi, constantly in the public eye, is routinely at the receiving end of sexist attacks from both top leaders as well as netizens on social media. However, her sharpest defence of women and their choices came when LDF leader Joice George was accused of making problematic statements this year during the Kerala election.
Her brother (Rahul) “only goes to colleges where there are girls,” he had said, ‘warning’ the girls. On his “sexist remark about women,” Gandhi retorted, “You don’t tell us what to wear and whom to love.”
5. Jaya Prada
One of the most infamously crass moments of sexism in Indian politics occurred back in 2019 when Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan at a rally in Rampur hit below-the-belt for remarks reportedly directed at former party colleague and new BJP inductee Jaya Prada. “It took you 17 years to understand her true face. But I realised in 17 days… that she wears khaki underwear,” he told the crowd.
Women across the political spectrum had condemned Khan’s remark and an FIR was registered against him in UP. Prada had hit back strongly saying, “He shouldn’t be allowed to contest elections. Because if this man wins, what will happen to democracy? There’ll be no place for women in society… You think that I’ll get scared and leave Rampur? But I won’t leave.”
मुलायम भाई – आप पितामह हैं समाजवादी पार्टी के. आपके सामने रामपुर में द्रौपदी का चीर हरण हो रहा हैं. आप भीष्म की तरह मौन साधने की गलती मत करिये. @yadavakhilesh Smt.Jaya Bhaduri, Mrs.Dimple Yadav.pic.twitter.com/FNO5fM4Hkc
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) April 15, 2019
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