It’s not a new phenomenon. Unbridled rhetoric is a part and parcel of politics, and social media helps the cup of dissent and rage runneth over. What is also not new is the misogynist nature of Indian society. With Rahul Gandhi facing brickbats for his sexist comment in Jaipur on Wednesday, where he rebuked the Prime Minister for asking “a mahila (woman)” to protect him, twitter is raging. It highlights a deeper disconnect that the political brass has been accused of innumerable times... where public discourse has no code of conduct. Leader of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti is justified in feeling disappointed at this constant rhetoric that sees men as guardians, and their courage as a benchmark for women to follow. She had tweeted, “As a woman, feel deeply disappointed when misogynist comments are normalised in our political discourse. Be a man/ man up/ stop behaving like a woman — such phrases reek of blatant sexism. Ironical since Indira ji was referred to “as the only man in the cabinet.”
Former CM of J&K, Omar Abdullah also retweeted her comment with a tongue-in-cheek comment, “Well said @MehboobaMufti. You can add ‘are you wearing bangles?’ ‘I’m not wearing bangles’ to that list of comments that should have no place in our normal discourse.”
Oft-repeated misogynist remarks might be the culprit, yet under its garb is an ideology that requires a drastic rethink. “I think while we should certainly condemn political leaders and other celebrities in public life making misogynist comments, we should also treat the first-time offenders with empathy... After all, they are victims too, of the patriarchal mindset of centuries and generations. Hence, they should be treated like children in need of training, and parties should establish mandatory workshops for such leaders. Parties should also treat such utterances as ‘anti-party activities’ because such leaders are indeed hurting and defaming their parties,” says Shanthala Damle, BBMP campaign in-charge and State Co-Convener, AAP Karnataka.
According to a sociologist, politicians, when lacking in matters worth discussing, many hide behind such discourse as a last ditch attempt. Public discourse needs to be more grounded in truth and progressive thinking. And instead of shooting the messenger, universal misogyny should be at gun point. Author Rosalyn D’mello feels that one needs to take a step back and address where such ideologies stem from. “We are looking at it as an isolated incident which it is not. If you were to examine it, the way politics has been run in our country is at the origin of where such thinking comes from. Indian politics is very patriarchal in format, and through decades we have all come to accept it as status quo. So much so that the reaction becomes normalised. That is why we need feminism.
And our leaders need to understand feminism and empathise. What is the purpose and point of equality if understanding the other is non-existent? These are questions we need to be asking. Why are we giving men so much importance? This masculine notion that headlines rhetoric needs to be addressed. We have to radically re-imagine what the possibilities of such a change would be.”
NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma had also tweeted, asking for an explanation, “The statement was pathetic, sexist & misogynist. That’s why we’ve sent him a notice. He has to explain what does he mean when he is trying to talk low of women.”
Predictably though, the harangue on social media continues. How can one change the state of play in a country where such comments are woven deeply into the mindset? “The rhetoric in politics has fallen to a new low. Personal attacks are taking centre stage. Ideals and ideologies are taking a back seat. Public discourse has to be issue-related, instead of what is becoming a norm today — making it about religion, caste, provoking emotions. The real issue of development and empowerment has been replaced, and respecting different strata of society is wanning. People have forgotten that to get Independence, millions of people sacrificed everything — their land, personal lives, relationships and some women even sold their mangalsutras and gold. All for the sake of giving Independence to our country. We should remember this, and emulate the same and treasure the fights and sacrifices those before us have made. And leave behind a better future for generations. Instead of being self-centred which many tall leaders are guilty of,” says Suraj MN Hegde, Coordinator Project Shakti Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee....