#Opinion

Rashtrapatni Comment Controversy: When Will Politicians Stop Belittling Women?

Rashtrapatni comment controversy
The election of Droupadi Murmu as the second woman and first tribal President of India was both historic and remarkable. But even before we could properly celebrate the victory, sexist slurs against Murmu started making headlines. Congress leader and Lok Sabha member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary referred to Murmu as “Rashtrapatni” and later tried to cover the sexism alleging a ‘slip of the tongue.’ Why do such slip-ups always happen to women in politics though?

Chowdhary’s comment insinuated a ruckus in Lok Sabha between the ruling and the opposition parties. But in a bid to showcase themselves as either apologetic or champions of gender equality, both sides have conveniently pushed the real issue aside. People now are more interested in the political debate over why a Member of Parliament didn’t choose his words carefully, especially while talking about a woman who made history in her country. Why is sexism and patriarchy in politics always brushed under the carpet? Why do political parties look at women’s respect and empowerment only from the perspective of vote bank and positioning in the public gaze? If the ministers who rule our society are sexist, then how can we expect common people to be feminists?

Calling out madam president as Rashtrapatni is both sexist and offensive. It indicates the prominent belief that women are mere tokens of gender diversity in politics and governments. They can be elected on the basis of gender but they are not allowed the freedom to work and own their position. It is usually their husbands who handle their responsibilities.

Instances of politicians hurling sexist slurs

This is not the first time that politicians have propelled sexist comments toward women in their own stream. In May this year, BJP leader Chandrakant Patil, who hails from Maharashtra,  drew a lot of flak when he told Nationalist Congress Party’s Supriya Sule to “go home and cook” while they were engaged in a debate on OBC reservation.

In 2021, Congress politician Arun Yadav compared rising inflation to the “apsara” Hema Malini, saying, “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. In 2020, Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and Indian National Congress (INC) Leader Kamal Nath called BJPs Imarti Devi an ‘item’. Back in 2012, Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam shamed Smriti Irani during a television debate and said, “Aap toh TV pe thumke lagati thi, aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi.” And who can forget Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan’s unfamous “underwear” remark against Jaya Prada. Read about more such incidences here.

Rashtrapatni Comment Controversy: Why is sexism forgivable?

Why are political battles fought on women’s bodies and modesty in our country even today? Most of the time, these sexist politicians escape criticism by offering an apology and people tend to forgive them too. But can the insult and attack on women’s self-respect be erased by a small apology?

Sexism is not constricted to one particular party but widespread across different parties and their leaders. If such is the case, whom should we citizens vote for? When almost every party is notorious for passing sexist comments, which party should we choose to uplift women and achieve gender equality? If we ignore sexism as a harmless flaw in leaders and appoint sexist politicians in power, sexism will never end in our society.

Women leaders deserve respect

Every politician has to work against the tide to retain their position and power. However, male politicians still tend to trivialise their female colleagues and eventually their achievements. Whatever Murmu has achieved today is unparalleled and deserves unconditional respect and applause and she is not alone. Keeping that in mind, we the people need to ensure that male politicians learn to set boundaries for themselves and earn our scorn when they demean women.

There is no place for slipups like the one committed by Chowdhury, especially in places like Lok Sabha where we send elected representatives to shape the course of this country.  Women’s equal rights need to be an integral part of this path and that will only be possible when women have equal representation and respect in the Parliament.

Views expressed are the author’s own.