Fall From Glory: Have Women Like Chanda Kochhar, Chitra Ramkrishna Let Women Down?

Chitra Ramkrishna Controversy
Who do girls look up to when they seek out role models? It is the feminist pathbreakers, the lone leaders, the global game-changers who stand out as icons. Women who dared to dream and made it happen. Women who raced past patriarchal limits to rub shoulders with the best of the best in each industry. These are the public figures we idolise, shaping our ambitions that take inspiration from them.

Chanda Kochhar and Chitra Ramkrishna were two such women. “Were,” because now they are the kind of leaders no woman wants to turn into.

Former Managing Director and CEO of India’s National Stock Exchange Chitra Ramkrishna’s house was raided by the Income Tax department, after Securities and Exchange Board of India, the regulatory body for securities and commodity market in the country accused her of misgovernance and corruption. SEBI alleged that Ramkrishna was running NSE under the influence of a Himalayan sage with whom she had shared sensitive internal information about the organisation.

This bizarre saga involving a yogi with mystical power reduced Ramkrishna’s image as one of the most influential Indian women in the finance sector into rubble within a matter of days. However, this wasn’t the first time a female icon had left us questioning whom we put on a pedestal.

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Crushing the glass ceiling in an industry dominated by men, Chanda Kochhar made history in 2009 as the CEO of ICICI Bank, when she became the first woman to head a major Indian bank. The tower came crumbling down between 2018 and 2019 when she was one of multiple people accused of money laundering.

Chitra Ramkrishna Controversy: betrayal or misplaced idolisation

The legacies of these two women, which could have been roadmaps for the millions of Indian women who deserve and are seeking success, have been tainted by the serious allegations levelled against them. If true, the allegations indicate these two power-women hoodwinked a whole country.

However, it is not just the integrity of their public roles they have betrayed, but also the faith of the Indian womankind.

Girls growing up in our country have just a handful of role models to look up to, when it comes to fields like business, science or leadership that have long histories of favouring men over women.

So when Kocchar’s face was splashed across newspapers and magazines, hailing her as the face of women empowerment in India, it was almost impossible for any girl dreaming of a future in finance to not be compelled to idolise her. With women still in minority in boardrooms or as heads of large businesses, who else will our girls look up to, if not those who have been there and done that?

Women like Kochhar and Ramkrishna are, more than anything, live examples of dreaming big and achieving bigger. Their success in their respective fields showed the country that gender is never a limitation. Women can achieve as much, and more, than their male counterparts even in industries that are traditionally male-driven.

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Besides, it was not a one-way street, these women too presented themselves as game-changers, speaking on empowerment, embracing their gender and revelling in their own contribution to women empowerment in the country. They were names of numerous lists, felicitated, adorned and most importantly, given a mic to speak up for the rest of us, demand equality and voice opinion.

With their failure people who thought leadership isn’t women’s forte have found a “valid reason” to rub it into our faces.

Kochar and Ramkrisha’s failure is not just their own, it is a setback to numerous women who took their success as a stepping stone that was going to elevate the entire gender.

But then again, we have to ask, did these women ask to be put on a pedestal? Wasn’t the mic shoved into their hands by the eager Indian media who wanted to capitalise on the lack of role models for Indian women? Must a woman be hailed as a good leader, an icon, simply because she is the first in her gender to reach a milestone, no matter the method used? Did these women want to inspire other women in their work in the first place, or did they embrace a feminist identity as and when it came to them, simply because it suited them?

Kochhar and Ramkrishna are cautionary tales for women in India to think twice before putting their faith in leaders of their gender. A woman cannot be led to command respect and cult status because she managed to claim the corporate ladder. Women, like male leaders, should be put under the microscope, their success thoroughly analysed, before we start telling our daughters to see them as role models. Otherwise, we are setting every woman up for either failure or heartbreak.

Views expressed are author’s own