Skip to main content

Jayalalitha is dead. Sexism in Indian politics is alive.

Yesterday, an astute politician and a popular leader, Jayalalitha passed away. There has been a spontaneous outpouring of genuine grief and deep dismay among most Tamilians. 

By all accounts, Jayalalitha had led an extraordinary life. From becoming a film heroine at the age of 16 to being a chief minister at the time of her death, much of Jayalalitha’s journey had been larger than life. She had had to display exemplary courage and tremendous willpower to defeat formidable foes, surmount numerous obstacles and beat impossible odds. Each time she was deemed vanquished, she rose like a phoenix from the ashes, stronger than ever before. And yet many of us are puzzled by her popularity, uncomfortable with the devotion shown to her and scornful of what we consider as the mindless sycophancy that reigns around her.

The underlying source of all this thinly disguised distaste is our deep-rooted and firmly entrenched belief in the inferiority of the woman. In plainer words: sexism and patriarchy. And so we circulate memes making fun of Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee. We cackle at the sartorial choices (Pink salwars) of Mayawati and roll our eyes at the ‘theatrics’ of Mamata Banerjee. We project our women leaders as stupid, illiterate, irrational, despotic drama queens scheming their way to power. With a smirk and a shrug, we proclaim “Little wonder that no one wants to marry them. Who would be able to tolerate their antics?” But it is actually no wonder that they end up looking as remote and bitter women.

And when I repeatedly use the word ‘we’, I refer to the smug, educated class of Indians to which I belong. The ‘illiterate masses’ of India seem to be far wiser. It is they who voted Indira Gandhi to power. It is they who gave Sonia Gandhi a resounding mandate in 2004. It is they who ensured that three of our chief ministers were women. We of course chose to sneer and forward memes on whatsapp.

Politics is the strongest bastion of the male species. It is through politics that the woman is controlled and subjugated. And so the key to power is fiercely guarded and any incursion by a woman is vehemently opposed. It took Indira Gandhi with Nehru for a father and Gandhi as a surname to finally storm the bastion. Even then, she was made the prime minister because of the arrogant sexist assumption that she would remain a ‘goongi gudiya’ (puppet) in the hands of older men. When she went on to assert her independence and led India to victory over Pakistan, she was lauded as the ‘only man in her cabinet’. Such is the role that patriarchal symbolism plays in Indian politics.   

Not everyone has the advantage of a surname and the luxury of a lineage. And thus, the Mayawatis, the Jayalalithas and the Mamata Banerjees are ridiculed and insulted. In her early political career, Jayalalitha was subjected to numerous lewd insults and even hair pulling. In the assembly, the so-called temple of democracy, she was almost disrobed. And so she had to re-brand herself as Amma. She had to de-womanize and de-sexualize herself by wrapping herself in layers of clothing and denying herself any jewellery. This was the only way she could survive, the only way she could protect her dignity and the only she could access power. And for this we call her remote, bitter and a despot. Similarly, both Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati had to undergo this process of desexualisation by branding themselves as ‘Didi’ and ‘Behenji’ respectively. And Mayawati of course had to bear the additional onerous burden of being a dalit.

This post is not to suggest that women leaders are immune to wrong doing or that they are more efficient or less corrupt than male politicians. Women leaders are of course vulnerable to all the trappings of power that their male counterparts succumb to. It is only a plea, asking you to judge them as you would any other politician and not hold them to higher standards. It is only to highlight the struggles that they have faced and the heroic battles that they have waged; to highlight the enormity of their achievements and the magnitude of their accomplishments. They don’t ask for your sympathy, but at least spare them your contempt.

This post is also not about criticizing or shaming the educated class. It is a request to identify and acknowledge the latent sexism still entrenched in our psyche. I do not claim that sexism prevails only among the educated class or that it is only prevalent in India. Far from it. It is merely a passionate plea, asking you to use the advantage of education to eliminate sexism and not promote it.

Each of us thinks that it is the others and not we who are sexist. But it is not just their malice and violence that breeds sexism and sustains patriarchy, it is also our scorn and indifference. Those memes are not funny and neither are they not harmful.  

p.s: When the statues of Jayalalitha are erected across Tamilnadu, as they inevitably will, for once, I will cherish and celebrate idolatry; because for years to come, young girls will have someone to inspire them, someone who was not just a mother and a sister, pious and chaste, but an independent woman who took on the might of patriarchy and the power of sexism. 


Popular posts from this blog

The Ascent to Sandakphu

IndiaHikes - Sandakphu
Man originated somewhere deep in the jungles of Ethiopia. And then, he walked, and walked, and walked; to become, arguably, the most dominant species in the history of the planet. Walking then, is the most natural thing in the world, and as old as the hills themselves. And yet, today, walking is an archaism. We live in the era of Uber and Amazon, of the remote and the elevator; all designed to not just make walking unnecessary but also unfashionable.
Trekking then, inhabits this curious corner of contradiction, natural and unnatural at the very same time. For the first time trekker, this contradiction is all the more magnified; accustomed as he is, to the warm comforts of luxury travel, the lure and excitement of trekking is nonetheless elementary, almost primal even.
As the first timer treks, flat terrain is his friend, all so familiar and so very comforting; if at all, monotony is the only damper. The descent is a trickier beast, with dangers potentially lurk…

Just how much did Sachin mean to us?

Aspiration for success is the single most natural thing in the world. It is not a trait unique to human beings alone; it is the very fundament upon which nature exists. It is what gives rise to evolution and results in life as we know it. And yet there are times, when even before you begin, you not just suspect that you will not succeed, but know that you are doomed to, and, will fail. Nonetheless, you go ahead and do it anyway. Because it is not a choice, but a call to duty; like a mountaineer attempting to scale that one last impossible peak, a surgeon trying to perform the miracle that will not happen or even a letter of infatuation that you know will never be reciprocated. Failure is merely a meaningless by-product.

And so I attempt to put in words, the emotion that cannot be explained but only be felt, the phenomenon that cannot be understood but only be experienced and a love that cannot be rationalized but can only be succumbed and surrendered to. I attempt to both understand …

Mahendra Singh Dhoni - The Gladiatorial Monk

Published on Sports Cafe

A captain is only as good as his team; or so they say. Well, they are fools. Cricket, with its nuances and minute intricacies, with its subtleties and glorious uncertainties elevates Captaincy into an art form of the highest order. From Mike Brearley to Steve Waugh, from Imran Khan to Saurav Ganguly and from Richie Beanaud to Graeme Smith, Cricket is awash with examples of great captains inspiring their players to dredging the deepest of reserves and leading them to conquering the highest of peaks. A Cricket team is greater than the sum of its parts. The difference is the team’s captain. Little wonder then, that they say, in India, the Prime Minister’s job is the 2nd toughest job in the country, after that of the Country’s Cricket Captain; which brings us to MS Dhoni.

I had never been to Ranchi. But then again it is not the sort of place you will often find yourself needing to visit. By all accounts, it is a small city, inconsequential in the larger scheme of th…