Shiv Sena minister Gulabrao Patil wanted to reiterate how nice and smooth the roads are in his constituency- Jalgaon. But alas! He couldn’t find a better analogy to drive his point home than a Hindi film actor’s cheeks. This is the second time a political leader has compared good roads to the cheeks of an actor. Clearly, misogyny knows no end in Indian politics.
While addressing a meeting ahead of Bodhwad Nagar Panchayat polls in Jalgaon, the member of the legislative assembly who was elected from this very district said, “Those who have been MLAs for 30 years should come to my constituency and see the roads. If they are not like Hema Malini’s cheeks, then I will resign.”
The water supply and sanitation minister’s comments drew ire from all corners, including Maharashtra State Commission for Women. Chairperson Rupali Chakankar said that the commission has taken note of the comment and if the minister doesn’t apologise, he will face legal action.
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Patil is not the first politician to make such a cringe-worthy comparison. Last month, Rajasthan Minister Rajendra Singh Gudha received huge backlash for saying, “In my constituency, the roads should be made like Katrina Kaif’s cheeks.” Earlier, in 2005, former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav too had notoriously promised to make roads in the state as smooth as Malini’s cheeks.
73-year-old Hema Malini is a veteran actor and a sitting Member of the Parliament, representing the ruling party at the centre- Bharatiya Janata Party. If there is no respite from misogyny for a woman of her stature, what hopes can us ordinary women have? Time and again we rue over the paltry representation of women at higher levels of politics, despite forming almost 50 percent of the country’s electoral pool. But with male politicians spewing such misogyny during rallies, or cracking rape jokes in legislative assemblies, how do we expect voters to ever back women politicians and respect them?
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We cannot overcome the prejudice against women in politics by demanding apologies from sexist male politicians. Now is the time to ask, what do such comments say about these men’s outlook towards women? Do they take women-centric issues seriously, or are they just cradling the carrot of promises that usher in empowerment to be/remain in power? If a man cannot respect a veteran woman in his own field and stoop this low for some claps and hoots during an election rally, is he worth our trust? Are such male politicians worth our vote?
Women voters need to be asking these questions not just to themselves, but to others around them. Political empowerment of women won’t be complete till people in the space know that they cannot get away with misogyny and that respect for the opposite gender is unconditional. However, the onus for encouraging misogyny also falls on us the voters. All the people clapping and cheering when politicians like Patil and Gudha made these misogynistic remarks are equally culpable here. Unless voters stop cheering, will politicians ever learn to mind their tongue?
Views expressed are the author’s own.