Governance · Politics

Why Indian Politics needs a Feminist Makeover

For a very long time, we’ve been privy to the constant irresponsibility of the political class towards gender and sexuality issues. And the re-election of individuals who refuse to move forward with time and propagate sentiments that most of us would consider to be too orthodox is in itself a point against progressive social development. It’s not just the caste, communal and religious agendas that need to go, it’s also the sexism that is inherent with the type of thinking such leaders possess.

Discontented from all the senselessness that seems to consume our country’s politics when it comes to issues that make them squirm because they want a conformist society rather than a free one, I believe that a feminist overhaul of our political system is an imminent need.  The attitude of our current crop of leaders needs to change and change fast for any little progress to take place.

This does not suggest flooding the government with women or pushing only women-centric agendas, but making it a more gender friendly place with both men and women leaders taking a clear stand on equality of all people and doing away with sexism that has been running through the system for all these years.

I have too many reasons to count for wanting a more feminist society that is liberal and does not encourage sexism.  But the following incidents describing the prevalent sexist & backward culture in our politics are enraging enough to start a political makeover now.

  1. Causes of and Preventive measures for rape 101.

“…to uphold the tradition of our Indian culture, I would earnestly appeal to all my sisters, daughters and girls to dress in a dignified manner.”

TDP MP M Murli Mohan made this remark during a parliamentary debate on atrocities against women and children yesterday.

While his comment may make a lot of us red with fury, the attending parliamentarians chose not to protest or even comment on this sexist statement which yet again puts the blame on women for rapes in India. Do they agree with Mohan’s statement? Possibly. But if they don’t, why wouldn’t they speak out? Either scenario is a disturbing one for me. A parliament that comprises of men and women who want women to take responsibility for the crimes committed against them or a parliament that believes in being silent spectators to irresponsible statements against women are both not ideal for the progress of women in India.

Yesterday’s incident is a live example of the misogynist undercurrents in our political system, but it’s certainly not the first time we’ve heard such remarks.

From wanting to marry off women at a young age, to blaming chowmein and western culture, our political leaders have the best advice for women and the most mind boggling excuses for the rising number of sexual assault incidents in India. To top it all, we have voted rape accused and such criminals into our state and national legislature. And expecting them to understand, let alone improve the status of women is nothing short of a distant fantasy.

After the Nirbhaya case, the then Delhi CM Sheila Dixit said that since the rape happened in a private bus, not on a DTC [public service/Delhi Transport Corporation] bus, neither she nor the Delhi government is responsible for it.

“Just because India achieved freedom at midnight does not mean that women can venture out after dark.  Although it (Delhi gang-rape) was a minor incident, Soniaji made it a point to meet the protesters when they called on her”.

Mr. Botsa Satyanarayana, the Andhra Pradesh Congress Chief’s nonchalance towards the brutal Delhi gang rape case gives me the chills. He has some very sound advice for us women who have lost their way in this big bad world; stop venturing out at night and be responsible, not like rapes happen during day time. When will we understand that sexual assault ONLY happens with women who are reckless and roaming out at night, don’t they know it’s their job not to get raped? Women I tell you!

Moral policing and loose sexist statements constitute everything that is wrong with our political class when it comes to building an equal society.

  1. Women in Politics? They aren’t competent enough.

Not even women politicians have escaped from their sexist commentary. Ex MP Sanjay Nirupam’s reference to Smriti Irani, a BJP MP as a “thumkewali” during a television debate sparked outrage but apart from a short lived public outrage, not much was done to deter similar comments in future.

It’s not our imagination that women in politics are having a hard time dealing with everyday sexism. A study by the UN titled ‘Violence against Women in Politics’ revealed the rampant sexism that is second nature to Indian politics. It said that women from all parties in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi were victims of gender violence. Where in most cases, the perpetrators were men within their party, and fear prevented women from participating as contestants and voters.

Fear of exploitation, public ridicule and the “women don’t belong in politics” ideology are largely responsible for the reluctance of women to participate in public life.

The women’s reservation bill which was supposed to be the parliament’s effort to get more women to participate in the law making process has been gathering dust for years. But this too has not escaped the shrewd observations of well meaning politicians who fear women will take away their power.

“I don’t like to say this, but they (those elected due to women’s quota) would be the women like wives and daughters of officers and businessmen, the kind who get whistled at.”

Samajwadi Party’s supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, believes that the Women’s Reservation Bill will attract modern women who would apparently run a conspiracy against all male MPs to oust them forever. Well with people like Yadav in politics, we don’t need to worry about any woman trying to overthrow the male populace of our legislatures. You’ve made sure women stay where “they ought to be”.

And JDU leader Sharad Yadav had a similar theory for opposing the Women’s Bill, who said that the bill would only benefit the well-off in the cities, describing well-off women as, ‘‘par kati auratein’ (women with short hair).

Now, let me make it clear that I am not a huge fan of reservation for women in the legislature. Equal opportunity should be at the candidature level where women get the chance to stand for elections and win or lose on their own merit. But the blatant characterization of modern women as uncultured and spoilt is not acceptable as a logical argument for rejecting reservation.

  1. Sex Education and Premarital Sex. They will destroy us.

Sex education has long been a controversial topic and our politicians believe that introducing it freely will only serve to pollute our students’ minds.

Earlier this year, in an interview to The New York Times, the Union Health Minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that promoting the use of condoms ‘sends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexual relationship, but as long as you’re using a condom, it’s fine’ and that “The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms.”

Premarital sex is an even more sensitive subject and one that has extreme reactions from our law makers. Abu Azmi in an interview stated clearly that, women who have physical relations with men consensual or not should be given the death penalty. He even went on to add that even rape victims should be punished.

  1. LGBT Rights. What’s that?

The re-criminalization of homosexuality in a recent Supreme Court judgment has pushed the fight for equal status to this community back to square one. Many of our leaders have been extremely ambiguous about their stand but some have been more vocal in expressing their disapproval of this “unnatural activity” which is supposedly against our culture.

One such leader, the president of the Hindu nationalist BJP, Rajnath Singh, told Kolkata’s The Telegraph newspaper that it supported keeping Section 377 in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision. “We believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act and cannot be supported,” he said.

We keep justifying against things we don’t want with our culture and tradition. This same culture that was so liberal in ancient times has now been reduced to a conservative garb to mask our insecurities and quash the freedom of people who they believe don’t have a right to be free.

Final Remarks

We are tired of being victims of patriarchy, tired of women being objectified and men being forced to conform to a high standard of manliness, tired of the taboo we attach to homosexuals, transsexuals and so many other people who are constantly victimized for being different and most of all, we are done with all of these being reinforced by our politicians through their reckless statements and in many cases, their work.

It is time to give our leaders a lesson on gender, sex and everything else they label taboo before we can even begin to create a more liberal political system that does not leave room for conservative thinking and impositions. Conventionalism as we can see is not going to get us anywhere pleasant.

About the Author

riddhimaRiddhima Sharma

A patriot and hopeful change maker, Riddhima is a believer in the power of women to change the world. She has studied Political Science with special reference to the feminist movement, feminist theory and the position of women in Indian politics. She is currently pursuing Law and hopes to specialize in women related laws and work with an organization in a related field. She enjoys public speaking and is not afraid to speak her mind. Sharma is a quick learner and is keen to gain new experiences especially in the areas of public policy, politics and strategy

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