Temperatures are soaring in the east ahead of the 2021 Bengal Assembly Election, which primarily pits the state’s current ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As it happens, in the heat of things, some have deemed it appropriate to throw misogynistic remarks at the state’s incumbent and currently India’s only female Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. BJP’s Kailash Vijayvargiya took a jibe at her, saying that when she loses the upcoming election, she shall have to return to cooking in the kitchen. Vijayvargiya’s comment is receiving harsh criticism, which, in my opinion, is well-deserved. It yet again proves that in the so-called “dirty game” of politics, anything goes today. Even misogyny.
Banerjee’s photo is from Ballavpur village where she had made a stop in December 2020. TMC leaders were quick to slam Vijayvargiya for his offensive, retorting that it is highly misogynistic, and reinforces the age-old social norm of tying women to kitchens. Actor-politician Nusrat Jahan said the BJP leader had “crossed the mark by insulting every single woman who cooks, provides for families & has aspirations.”
See her tweet below:
Shri @KailashOnline's comments are OUTRIGHT MISOGYNISTIC! @BJP4India crossed the mark by insulting every single woman who cooks, provides for families & has aspirations.@MamataOfficial is the only female CM in India at present & once again, BJP targets & abuses her.#Shameful https://t.co/5ZIetH6qPC
— Nusrat Jahan Ruhi (@nusratchirps) January 2, 2021
Are We Still Uncomfortable With The Idea Of Women In Politics?
Politics has long been marketed as a playing field where players are expected to “toughen up” and take whatever comes. But should this gimmick act as a cover for marginalising a community? Why must it pardon sexist prejudices that endanger women’s role in the public space? Vijayvargiya may have served up his wisecrack as a hopeful prediction of his party’s win. But didn’t the way he did it attempt to mock cooking as a feminine chore? Why are politicians like him hell-bent on pulling the discourse back when there is an urgent need to push it forward?
Additionally, what is the issue in women managing both their domestic and public worlds simultaneously? Aren’t the male politicians with families doing it too? Do their household chores ever become a point of contention in the political world?
In 2019, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan was in the news for directing a highly objectionable remark at BJP’s Jaya Prada. He had reportedly said, “It took you 17 years to understand her true face. But I realised in 17 days… that she wears khakhi underwear.” It was a shocking comment, which had drawn criticism from all quarters. But it has been known to happen before, even if in lesser degrees. Offensives were thrown around when Mayawati came to power and are routinely directed at Sonia Gandhi. Most recently, it came to BJP’s Imarti Devi when Congress leader Kamal Nath called her an “item.”
How Women Are Discriminated Against In Politics
It is hard to miss that women in politics bear the added burden of their gender, aside from the tactical and political expertise expected of them in the field. They are seen first as women and then as politicians. This barrier does not impose on men who have reigned the majority of Indian politics for decades now. Moreover, India, with 14.3 percent women representation in Parliament, is far below the global average of women in politics.
The headway women have made in the political arena, then, is despite their gender and are moving forward in hope that the terms and conditions of gender in politics will be levelled for all. With these contexts in mind, one can see how shameful Vijayvargiya’s remark is, since, in a way, it attempts at building back the barrier displacing women from the public, “testosterone-heavy” space of politics.
Views expressed are the author’s own.