Today’s facepalm? The Arun Yadav Hema Malini remark. Surface-level data would suggest women have made strides, as far as representation goes, in the field of politics by assuming greater roles of leadership. But a closer examination will reveal the reality is far different than what meets the eye. Though women politicians are making their voices heard at grassroots, local and national levels, they are unfairly disadvantaged when political oppositions launch attacks.
The language in the Indian political arena, which is largely dominated by male leaders, is deeply sexist. A recent exhibit comes from Arun Yadav, head of Madhya Pradesh Congress, who allegedly compared the inflation in the country to actor-politician Hema Malini, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“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 while campaigning in Khandwa for the upcoming by-elections. A video of his speech was shared by BJP, which took a shot at Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi who, these past days, has rallied extensively for girl power. Earlier this week, she announced her party would reserve 40 percent seats for women in the Uttar Pradesh elections next year.
So has the glass ceiling in politics truly been broken? Does emancipation stop at representation, without true, respectful assimilation? Will the participation of women in politics alone warrant their longevity in the field without assurance of an equal footing?
Will this state of affairs discourage more women from joining politics or persuade them to enter in droves and change things?
प्रियंका गांधी कहती फिर रही हैं कि – "मैं लड़की हूँ, लड़ूंगी"
मध्यप्रदेश के कांग्रेसी नेता के दुष्कर्मी बेटे से तो आप लड़ नहीं पाईं, क्या महिलाओं पर भद्दी टिप्पणी करने वाले कांग्रेसी नेता अरूण यादव से लड़ेंगी? या फिर वही दोगलापन?
देश जानना चाहता है! pic.twitter.com/O2Qwua0GcW
— BJP MadhyaPradesh (@BJP4MP) October 20, 2021
Arun Yadav Hema Malini Remark: What Women In Politics Have To Fight Against
Politics wasn’t and won’t ever be clean. Tasteless barbs, snarky jibes, below-the-belt remarks will always pervade takedowns of competing parties. But women politicians are doubly jeopardised. In addition to facing an onslaught of crudely worded enmity that even men in the profession do, women have to armour themselves up to aggressive misogyny as well.
With or without election seasons, the handful of women in Indian politics are perennially at the risk of objectification and casual sexism by male counterparts.
In January this year ahead of the crucial West Bengal elections, BJP’s Kailash Vijayvargiya, in what he thought was a clever swipe, tweeted that Trinamool’s Mamata Banerjee would have to return to cooking in the kitchens soon, hinting at her election loss. Read here. Then last year in October, Congress leader Kamal Nath called BJP member Imarti Devi an “item.” There is also Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan, who before a massive rally in 2020, thought it suitable to make references to BJP leader Jaya Prada’s “underwear.”
What will drive change in Indian politics? Can it rest on a mere calling out of the odd politician each time they are sexist? Is their language not the same as what a large portion of the rest of the population, steeped in patriarchy, uses routinely? So is the gender violence in our language isolated to the profession of politics or does it need an overhaul across fields?
Views expressed are the author’s own.