“What’s with politicians demeaning women in their speeches to get some brownie points in a sexist landscape?” singer Sona Mohapatra recently said while criticising Congress’s Rahul Gandhi over his remarks about actor Aishwarya Rai regarding the Ram Temple ‘Pran Pratishtha’ event. Now, another actor, Kangana Ranaut, has come under sexist attack after she was fielded by the BJP from Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi, triggering a political firestorm.

The election season has begun and if the above instances are anything to go by, it has put to rest any claims that sexism in politics is a thing of the past. Despite parties acknowledging “women’s power or naari shakti” as a factor in elections, politics remains a battleground where women are often subjected to sexism and gender-based stereotypes.

The latest purported remarks by Congress’s Supriya Shrinate targeting Ranaut only buttress the fact that sexism and misogyny continue to pervade India’s political landscape even in the 21st century.

“The biggest challenge before a woman politician is character assassination. It reflects the larger psyche of the society,” author-journalist Nidhi Sharma had previously told IndiaToday.in.

kangana ranaut row
BJP president JP Nadda and the party’s candidate from Mandi Kangana Ranaut in New Delhi (PTI)

KANGANA RANAUT-SUPRIYA SHRINATE IN ‘QUEEN-SIZED’ ROW

Kya bhav chal raha hai Mandi mein?” a post was made from Shrinate’s Instagram handle along with a picture of Ranaut in a corset. The post, implying sex work, was quickly deleted as the BJP pounced upon the Congress to demand Shrinate’s sacking.

The Congress leader, on the backfoot just weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, clarified that the remark was posted by somebody who had access to her social media accounts.

Kangana Ranaut, known for her outspokenness, shot back. “If a young man gets ticket, his ideology is attacked, if a young woman gets ticket, her sexuality is attacked… every woman deserves her dignity,” she said.

kangana ranaut row

Just days ago, Rahul Gandhi faced the wrath of netizens and the BJP after he, while attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Ram Temple event, allegedly made a demeaning remark on Aishwarya Rai.

The Congress leader reportedly accused Aishwarya Rai of dancing at the event and Amitabh Bachchan doing ‘bhangra’ while questioning the absence of people from Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

“Did you see the ‘pran pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple? Was there a single OBC face? There was Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, and Narendra Modi,” Gandhi said.

The sexist remarks by Gandhi and Shrinate have given the BJP a stick to beat the Congress with for “insulting women” ahead of an election where women voters will have a huge say in selecting the next regime.

DILIP GHOSH’S ‘FATHER’ JAB AT MAMATA INVITES BJP WRATH

However, such below the belt remarks are not just limited to the opposition. Leaders of the ruling BJP, too, have stirred controversy by making crass remarks, and even misbehaving with women.

This week, veteran BJP leader Dilip Ghosh, a motormouth, received a show-cause notice from the party leadership after he asked Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to “identify her own father”.

“When Didi (Mamata Banerjee) goes to Goa, she calls herself the daughter of Goa. When she goes to Tripura, she says she is the daughter of Tripura. She should first identify her own father…,” Ghosh said a media briefing. The former Bengal BJP chief had also stoked a row during the 2021 Assembly polls after he advised Mamata to wear “bermudas” following her leg injury.

Last year, former BJP Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi faced backlash for allegedly touching a woman journalist and repeating the same gesture after she pushed his hand away twice during a media address. Even though Gopi tendered an apology, saying that his gesture was a “fatherly affection”, the journalist initiated a legal action against the BJP leader.

The run-up to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly election also witnessed sexist and misogynist remarks, with the most notable being that of BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya.

Speaking at a religious event in Indore, Vijayvargiya, not averse to controversial statements, said that women in “bad clothes look like ‘Surpanakha'”, a reference to the sister of demon King Ravana in the epic Ramayana.

“We see goddesses in women. But (with) the kind of bad dresses the girls wear and move around, they do not embody goddesses but look like Surpanakha. God has given you a good and beautiful body… dress well, friends,” the veteran BJP leader said.

Interestingly, Congress’s Supriya Shrinate had then said the BJP had no respect for women and that was why “so many BJP legislators” were facing “criminal charges due to offences against women”.

Supriya Sule sexist remark
Baramati NCP MP Supriya Sule faced sexist remarks from Maharashtra BJP chief in 2022 (PTI)

WOMEN POLITICIANS TARGET OF SEXISM, MISOGYNY IN POLL SEASON

There have also been instances when women politicians have faced misogynistic remarks, and were subjected to character assassination merely for expressing their political views.

“If you don’t understand politics, go home and cook,” Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil told Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Supriya Sule amid a war of words between the two parties over reservations for OBC (Other Backward Class) in Maharashtra.

BJP Lok Sabha MP Smriti Irani was also a victim of sexist remarks from Congress leader Ajay Rai, whose “latkas” and “jhatkas” jibe at her had set off a huge row.

When asked about Rahul Gandhi contesting from Amethi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Rai had said the constituency would “remain the seat of the Gandhi family” as Irani only “comes, shows latka-jhatka, and leaves”.

In fact, research by Amnesty International India has found that “abusive” and “problematic” tweets against women politicians tend to increase during polls.

In the three months during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, an analysis of more than 1,14,000 tweets sent to 95 women politicians, found that nearly 14% of the tweets were abusive in nature. This meant that each woman politician received 113 derogatory tweets every day.

The 2019 general elections saw unprecedented personal attacks and verbal volleys against women politicians.

From Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan’s “khakhi underwear” remark against then BJP’s Rampur candidate Jaya Prada, Priyanka Gandhi being called “Pappu ki pappi”, to stating that BJP made Hema Malini “dance” to get votes, elections and politicians indulging in crass misogyny and sexism have always gone hand in hand.

In the past, attacks on the opposition used to involve remarks on ideology, government policies, or corrupt practices. However, in the modern political landscape, sexism and misogynistic salvos seem to be the “new normal”.

Published By:

Abhishek De

Published On:

Mar 27, 2024

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