The mood has changed, misogynists better behave - Hindustan Times
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The mood has changed, misogynists better behave

Mar 29, 2024 11:38 PM IST

Political parties now recognise women's power as voters. It is then up to them to signal their displeasure and intolerance for verbal abuse.

Candidate lists are trickling in, and seat-sharing configurations are being hammered out, but you can already smell it, that unmistakable stench of misogyny and sexism.

Political parties now recognise women's power as voters. (PTI PHOTO.)
Political parties now recognise women's power as voters. (PTI PHOTO.)

The announcement of actor Kangana Ranaut as the BJP candidate from Mandi did not surprise political watchers. Ranaut is open in her admiration for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party and has considerable clout on X with 2.9 million followers.

Her tweets have, unfortunately, been less-than-exemplary; for instance when she called fellow actor Urmila Matondkar, a Congress candidate in 2019, a ‘soft porn actor’. Regardless, every person who believes in common decency took umbrage at an absolutely vile comment that came from the social media handle of Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate.

Shrinate has denied making the comment, and has deleted it. It was taken from a parody account, she said; moreover, many people have access to her social media accounts and it could have been any of them. It’s a poor excuse. Surely a party spokesperson should vet posts before they are uploaded.

Women in public life have been easy targets since the time Indira Gandhi was dismissed as a goongi gudiya, or dumb doll, in 1967 by clueless old men who were proved laughably wrong.

But nearly 60 years later, trash talk about women, including from women themselves, continues. Party this is because it makes for juicy clickbait-y headlines. But mainly it’s because there are no serious consequences, apart from a 24-hour outrage cycle, to calling the president of a political party a ‘Jersey cow’ or the wife, now deceased, of a political opponent a “ 50 crore ki girlfriend”. When the leadership flags off the race to abuse and denigrate, it’s a greasy pole downward. The rank and file just follow.

This abuse of women cuts across party lines. In 2014, Congress spokesman Sanjay Nirupam used gutter language for Smriti Irani on national television while she was talking about the 2012 Gujarat election results. She slapped defamation charges, then won the elections and became a powerful minister. Nirupam continued in state politics and everyone moved on from that story.

A morphed photo of Gul Panag hit X even before the Aam Aadmi Party had officially declared her its candidate from Chandigarh. Altered photographs of Jaya Prada were plastered all over Rampur in the 2009 Uttar Pradesh assembly allegedly at the behest of the Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan. Zero consequences.

Violence, including psychological violence, is a deterrent to more women participating in public life. A 2014 UN Women study of women politicians in India, Pakistan and Nepal found that 60% of women don’t participate because of fear of violence.

Thankfully, it’s 2024 and there is a new mood. The Bill to earmark 33% seats for women was passed in Parliament amidst eloquent speeches from all parties on empowering our mothers and sisters. It’s another matter that we don’t know when reservation will kick in but nari shakti as a slogan has caught on.

On Wednesday, the Election Commission issued notice to Shrinate, and, for good measure, to BJP lawmaker Dilip Ghosh as well for making derogatory remarks from a public platform against West Bengal (and India’s lone woman) chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Meanwhile, some are searching for significance in the fact that Supriya Shrinate’s name was left out of the Maharajganj seat in Uttar Pradesh. Is this a message from the Congress or is this just a canny decision to not field a candidate who lost the last time around? It’s hard to say.

But one thing is clear, political parties now recognise women's power as voters. It is then up to us to signal our displeasure and intolerance for verbal abuse. It is on us to say enough.

Unfortunately, when every other party seems to be an offender, just how and who do you call out?

Namita Bhandare writes on gender. The views expressed are personal

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