Culture of abuse and misogyny in Indian politics: A Reality Check
Its no secret that a culture of verbal abuse and misogyny prevails in Indian politics, rather shamelessly. We, the voters, have learnt to live with it. In fact, it won’t be a stretch to say that if the politician is a woman, we almost expect her to be subjected to sexist remarks. Women from across the political spectrum are subjected to the crass misogyny that passes for discourse in Indian politics, from Mamata Banerjee to Smriti Irani, there is hardly a woman politician who hasn’t been targeted. For some, its overt, in the form of public abuse by other leaders, mostly opposition but sometimes even from their own party, while for others, its covert, in the form of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances and sometimes even requests for sexual favours. If you are a woman who wants a career in politics, you have to deal with this, is the underlying message. And well, everyone deals with it in different ways. Of course women aren’t the only targets and men are subjected to verbal abuse as well. If one was to receive a paisa for every abuse hurled their way, I suspect PM Narendra Modi would be the richest man in the world, but lets not digress.
In the recent past, two prominent cases of sexist verbal abuse in Indian politics have come to light. First was, Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani being subjected to everything from crass, vulgar innuendos by Assam Congress leader to plain-old-sexist statements by journalists and media houses (Telegraph editorial headlines (1 and 2), controversial journalist known for her sexism in the Twitterverse, Rajyasree). Second incident was the shameful comment by UP BJP Vice-President Dayashankar Singh on Dalit leader Mayawati, calling her worse than a prostitute, for which he was expelled from the party and is now facing arrest.
What is notably perplexing is the impunity with which politicians do it, and the confusing morality of those who defend it when the offender is one of their own or the target is on the opposition side. Take the case of Smriti Irani here, when Telegraph came out with the obviously sexist headlines against her, most journalists who fancy themselves as feminists, remained silent. Priyanka Chaturvedi, controversial Congress spokesperson and recently self-anointed crusader for online misogyny, went one step further and defended the Telegraph headlines as “not-sexist” (even though such an article would never have been written for a male politician). It is notable that Priyanka Chaturvedi, once endorsed the term “Hate Hags” for women supporters of Modi. You’d think that’s the limit, but you’d be wrong. Self-styled feminist, Barkha Dutt went even further. She wrote an opinion piece acquiescing that even though Smriti was a victim of misogyny, she herself is to be blamed and shamed for the fate that had befallen her. Smriti, she argued, has never stood by other victims of sexism and therefore, had it coming. Even though Barkha is known for her subtle use of conjunctions & innuendos to do the blaming and shaming (eg: Curious use of “but” to subtly say Charlie Hebdo had it coming https://twitter.com/BDUTT/status/553434821821595649), this author didn’t expect this from her.
This isn’t the first foray of journalists, who fancy themselves as feminists, into defending misogyny. Not only have they defended molestors and paedophiles, just because they happened to be part of the coterie, they’ve even launched full-frontal attacks on the rape-victims.
Now fast forward to the second case, Mayawati. Not only did all prominent news channels devote their primetime to debating the sexist comments of the ex-BJP VP, newspapers made their front page headlines, there were nation wide protests organized by BSP, a very heated Parliament debate which led to an apology from the Home Minister, but also the offender, Dayashankar Singh was expelled from the party and an FIR registered against him. All of this was perfectly justified, until BSP leaders took to the streets of Lucknow and started abusing the wife and 12-year old daughter of Dayashankar Singh in extremely crass and vulgar language. And guess, what Mayawati defending the attacks on Dayashankar’s female relatives! Misogynist statements from BSP aren’t anything new. Founder of BSP, Kanshi Ram, had once used the same language against the owner of Dainik Jagran when the paper published an unfavorable news against BSP. What is unacceptable is that despite being a woman, BSP Supremo chose to defend the same misogyny when it was directed at someone other than herself.
When it comes to treating women as easy targets, no party has their hands clean. There have been several cases where BJP leaders have used some extremely crass language to attack their opponents and have been pulled up for the same. Often rightly so. Some in the BJP, like Madhya Pradesh Minister, Babulal Gaur despite being repeat offenders, haven’t been punished. But are the “non-Right Wing” politicians “better” in this regard as they claim to be? Hardly.
After listening to the grandstanding by quite a few non-RW leaders on primetime debates about the culture of abuse in Right-Wing on the Dayashankar Singh abuse case, this author decided to search instances of “non-Right Wing” politicians resorting to abuse.
Please note, due to the sheer volume of the results of this seemingly innocuous query, I’ve limited my search to
a) only major parties, national or regional
b) only MLAs, MPs or prominent leaders
c) only verbal abuse (have not covered accusations of rape, murder, sexual harassment etc).
d) have included results where targets are either male or female
This by no means is a complete list since this author was only able to search what was electronically available in the two languages known to her, English and Hindi. This author is sure there are instances that were covered in regional media but never made their way to English ones. If you think we’ve missed something, please feel free to tweet the references to us (@neha_aks) or use the comments section below. So here is what we found.
Ironically, many of the leaders who feature in this list, claim to be defenders of women’s rights and give long sermons about decency in public life but forget to lead by example.
- Smriti Irani illegitimate wife of Narendra Modi: Assam Cong leader, Nilamoni Sen Deka, hits a new low in Indian politics http://www.india.com/news/india/smriti-irani-illegitimate-wife-of-narendra-modi-assam-congress-leader-hits-a-new-low-in-indian-politics-818541/
- UP Congress leader and ex-President Rita Bahuguna Joshi abusing Mayawati, asking what price do people need to pay to rape her https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o95x50Wi7nw
- Madhya Pradesh Congress leader abusing villagers who came to protest: https://t.co/txpSHRJplu
- Racist TN Congress chief EVKS Elangovan mocks PM Modi’s dark looks and is bowled over by the fair beauty of the Gandhis: https://t.co/7XqQ2HhNbH
- When AAP activist was molested by AAP leader, Party Chief and Delhi CM told her to “compromise”. She killed herself: https://t.co/ujq7vZHVkx
- Congress veteran Digvijay Singh called his colleague “Tunch maal”, which is a colloquial sir for loose woman: https://t.co/kvi7DNQo7w
- CPM leader from Kerala declared on Facebook that some women in Congress, strip for male colleagues to get election tickets: https://t.co/l193M0fmx7
- Dalit man alleges senior Congress leader & Delhi unit chief Ajay Maken abused and threatened to kill his son if he came anywhere near AICC: https://t.co/qPBZIaUm0H
- Congress Kerala unit’s official Twitter handle shames a victim because she filed a case against Kerala ex-CM Oommen Chandy for sexual harassment. Calls her, “Woman with loose morality”. The tweet has been deleted, screenshot available here: https://twitter.com/neha_aks/status/755807943573069824
- TN Congress Chief EVKS Elangovan uses a vulgar remark linking TN CM Jayalalitha and PM Modi: https://t.co/H6ghFDFHBe
- Journalist-cum-Congress leader Amaresh Mishra, who used to attend national TV debates as Congress representative from UP, was so abusive towards supporters of other political parties on Twitter, that his twitter account got suspended. He was later arrested for threatening to kill Narendra Modi. Some specimen of his tweets are storified here: https://t.co/PzROrJbEJn
- Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia makes Modi the target of his directed abuse, comments on his personal life, calls him a failed husband: https://t.co/K5nCMoEMPx
- Suave Cong leader and ex-Cabinet minister in the UP Mani Shankar Aiyar declares Modi is a snake, scorpion & a dirty man https://t.co/weGZRRc4XA
- Congress MP Soma Ganda Patel uses a casteist slur against OBC Narendra Modi who is of Ghanchi caste https://t.co/NuHdSkaT3N
- Another suave Congress leader & ex-Union Minister, IITian Jairam Ramesh likened PM Modi to the mythological demon, Bhasmasur https://t.co/E1TJfqZaTk
- Seasoned Congress leader & ex-union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad uses casteist slur against Modi,calls him “Gangu Teli”https://t.co/KgJKrW3VDH
- Then Union Minister and Senior Cong leader Beni Prasad Verma declares Modi is a man-eater (aadamkhor) https://t.co/HpRBuM86cS
- Congress senior leader Beni Prasad Verma calls Modi a “RSS goon” and Rajnath Singh his “slave” https://t.co/rfIR1bkDWs
- Repeat offended Beni Prasad Verma, calls Modi an “animal who needs to be controlled w a whip” https://t.co/QfDpX1lzjY
- Veteran Kerala CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan calls Narendra Modi a “slaughterer” https://t.co/36JRyhqaUw
- Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia compares PM Modi to medieval tyrant Aurangzeb: https://t.co/tE2Jp2XrqM (His party has since started considering Aurangzeb a secular icon, but we’re going to assume he didn’t mean it as a compliment)
- NC leader and alliance partner of Indira Gandhi, Farooq Abdullah, calls Narendra Modi, a “dictator”: https://t.co/ZF2xN3x0ZT
- Congress President Sonia Gandhi, calls Modi, “Maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death): https://t.co/fG9uMMtHmq
- Congress spokesperson who became a crusader against online misogyny, Priyanka Chaturvedi, found the term “hate hags” coined by Outlook magazine for women supporters of Modi, a perfect term to describe vocal women who disagreed with her politics. This tweet too has been deleted, however, a screenshot can be found here: https://twitter.com/neha_aks/status/755825619632398341
- Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal said he would ask his “boys” to go and rape CPM women members: https://t.co/MdeRVoMpKd
- UP Congress leader Sriprakash Jaiwal declared “cricket victories are like old wives, not as fun as they used to be” https://t.co/S1ViNSziOK
- Rajasthan Congress leader & ex-NCW chief Mamta Sharma had some advise for women: “Do not be offended when called “sexy”” https://t.co/nqMxfezPtL
- Rajasthan Congress leader and ex-NCW chief Mamta Sharma advises women to dress ‘carefully’ to avoid molestation https://t.co/1IVS5fCZAY
- Senior Congress leader Abhijit Mukherjee declared the Nirbhaya protests were done by “dented painted” women https://t.co/HrqlHxegTo
- Congress leader, ex-CM of Delhi and UP CM hopeful Sheila Dixit reacted to a journalist’s rape and murder by saying, “women should not be too adventurous” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Soumya-murder-CM-remark-has-city-fuming/articleshow/3553662.cms
- Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav declared that since “rural women are ugly, wont benefit from Women’s Reservation Bill” https://t.co/6Aqm70PPMF
- Samajwadi Messiah Mulayam Singh says rapists should not be hanged because “boys make mistakes” https://t.co/Q55kD1PonE
- National President of JDU and veteran MP Sharad Yadav: “South women are dark but they are as beautiful as their bodies…We don’t see it here. They know dance” https://t.co/vzYdyk5WHj – He repeatedly refused to apologize for his remarks, claiming they weren’t racist or sexist.
- When discussing Bill on stalking, National President of JDU and veteran MP Sharad Yadav said, “Who among us here have not followed women?” https://t.co/VfHeTSkvqu
- Lalu Prasad Yadav, another prominent Samajwadi, declared he will make Bihar’s roads as smooth as Hema’s cheeks https://t.co/FQhNbAC0Pv
- When Mayawati accused Mulayam’s men for a failed rape attempt, Mulayam defended himself with “Is she so pretty tht anyone wud want to rape her”? https://t.co/X0xANb0ZGS
- Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav made a personal jibe at Mayawati saying he doesn’t know if he should call her Mrs or Miss https://t.co/3YNJiTssaA
- Lohiyaite JDU leader Ali Anwar said “Good Smriti Irani has been made textile minister, it will help her cover body” https://t.co/DCrnAHQpGs
- Lalu Prasad Yadav: “Hema has turned 70, why is BJP calling her now?” Followed by a vulgar sexual colloquial slur https://t.co/cknIm1Bwpu
- Another Lohiyaite, Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Yadav questions Mayawati’s character, her relations with Kanshi Ram & calls her mad https://t.co/jN6v1Be3x2
- Racist AAP leader Kumar Vishwas: “In olden days, nurses used to come from Kerala, they were black-yellowish, so one wud instantly call them sister. One would pray to God that they turn out to be sister only” https://t.co/DjeGucoCit
- Sexist AAP leader, Kumar Vishwas, on Sania Mirza: “She wasn’t able to play any field properly, so decided to try out in another. We’re sad that she collected fame from India but husband from Pakistan” https://t.co/yeMp6Fcj1b
- Congress leader Vyalar Ravi, when questioned about molestation charges against PJ Kurien, asked the reporter if she had a similar experience (molestation) with Kurien. https://t.co/v0IIIwqQHf
- TMC leader Abdul Rezzak Mollah calls Rupa Ganguly, a real-life Draupadi. Says he knows the length of the cigarette she smokes and who she lives with https://t.co/TQfLQteH4h
- TMC leader & WB Minority Dev & Finance Corp chairman Abu Mondal allegedly abused & hit a toll plaza worker with shoe https://t.co/QAxkTKyOJc
- Veteran Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam calls Smriti Irani “thumkewali” on live tv: http://youtu.be/Ndk-HN1UpEw
- CPM MP Anil Basu: She (Mamata Banerjee) shud’ve been pulled by hair, dragged home to Kalighat & given a lesson for blocking a national highway https://t.co/DLfPuOLZ9Q
- CPM’s Subhas Chakraborty on Mamata’s Maa-Mati-Manush slogan: “She is an infertile woman;wht does she know about Maa? https://t.co/DLfPuOLZ9Q
- CPM’s Anil Biswas used the phrase “Jomero Aruchi” for Mamata which means even the devil won’t touch her https://t.co/DLfPuOLZ9Q
- CPM’s Anil Basu on Mamata Banerjee: “Which bhatar (male patron) is funding her?” while making a reference to Sonagachi sex workers https://t.co/xsMQgo7dVy
- TMC MLA Wilson Chapramari threatens to set DM & senior officials ablaze if they didnt obey his orders https://t.co/yIMwf3sfqz
- TMC leader Anwar Khan says “hit the EC (Election Commission) on its face with shoes” https://t.co/8rIcIE2QXP
- Suave Cong MP Tharoor calls Modi “bleeder” (incorrect usage of the term) & therefore clarified meaning as “someone who bleeds the nation” https://t.co/NqVYPKtQrp
- TRS Chief KCR said he would drag Sonia Gandhi and then CM Reddy “the the bazaar” if they didnt create Telangana https://t.co/KVrLLKZEP6
- TMC chief Mamata Banerjee threatens Amit Shah & makes obscene references about bamboos and backsides. https://t.co/R35LeUjtPs
- CPM leader Anisur Rehman asks Mamata B what her fee would be considering she gave Rs 20,000 to rape victim http://toi.in/9DivEa/a18cg
- NCP Veteran leader & ex-Dy CM Ajit Pawar asked if he should urinate in dams to fill them up, when asked abt drought situation in Maharashtra https://t.co/fLi6DTvYB9
- TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee asked if Jadavpur students were protesting due to ban of liquor and drugs in campus https://t.co/Gkt9nOgVUM
- AAP Leader and Cabinet Minister of Delhi, Kapil Misra made a vulgar innuendo about Modi & Smriti Irani. Now deleted. Screenshot can be found here: https://twitter.com/neha_aks/status/756139816220237824
- AAP chief & Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal declared the PM of India is a coward and a psychopath (with incorrect spelling) http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Modi-a-coward-and-a-psychopath-Arvind-Kejriwal-following-CBI-raid/articleshow/50181493.cms
- BSP’s Naseemuddin Siddiqui wanted expelled BJP VP Dayashankar Singh’s wife&daughter be “presented” (vulgar innuendo) https://t.co/eEURG9NNc1
- Dayashankar Singh is an ‘illegitimate child’, says BSP MLA Usha Choudhary https://t.co/H5jMv2pEAk
- BSP Chandigarh Unit chief Jannat Jahan announces reward of Rs 50 lakh for Daya Shankar Singh’s tongue https://t.co/SSTVX3pFFP
- Congress leader and ex-Union minister of women and child development, Renuka Chowdhary, calls female Cabinet minister in Modi Govt, Harsimrat Kaur Badal , “kachra” (garbage) http://zeenews.india.com/news/india/ugly-spat-in-parliament-renuka-chaudhary-calls-harsimrat-kaur-kachra-know-what-happened_1910553.html
This article first appeared in OpIndia