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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Uttarakhand CM’s ‘ripped jeans’ comment: How sexism is rampant in Indian politics

The Indian political scenario has been laden with sexism from almost the beginning. Here's proof of what politicians have commented or remarked on women.

Newly-appointed Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat on Tuesday claimed that women who wore ripped jeans would set a bad example for children. Rawat recounted a conversation with a woman while speaking at a workshop organised by the Commission for Protection of Child Rights in Dehradun. The chief minister said he met the woman, who was travelling with her children, on an aeroplane. “She was sitting next to me so I spoke to her,” Rawat said, according to a video tweeted by ANI. And this sadly is not the first time an Indian politician has made sexist remarks about women in the country. They seem to have a penchant for making incredibly sexist and misogynistic comments against women and more so on women leaders or the ones in politics. We have seen over the years how sexism is rampant in Indian politics. And how it is not even a surprise anymore.

The Uttarakhand CM continued, “She was wearing gumboots and her jeans were torn at the knees. She told me that she runs a non-governmental organisation,” he said. “She runs an NGO, her knees are visible, she moves around in the society and kids are with her. What values will she give [to the children]?”
Rawat said that kids learn values at home, and emulate adults. “What we do, our kids follow,” he said, according to news reports. “A child who is taught the right culture at home, no matter how modern he becomes, will never fail in life,” Rawat claimed that a bad example was being set for children at home. “Kyanchi se sanskaar [culture by scissors] – showing bare knees, wearing ripped denim and looking like rich kids…these are the values being given now,” he said, according to The Times of India. “Where is this coming from, if not at home? What is the fault of teachers or schools? Where am I taking my son, showing his knees and in tattered jeans? Girls are no less, showing their knees.” The Uttarakhand chief minister claimed that all this is a result of a “mad race” for westernisation. “The western world follows us, doing yoga, covering their body properly,” Rawat was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “And we run towards nudity.” Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Minister Ganesh Joshi added to the controversy by claiming that women should focus on their families. “Women talk about all things they want to do in life, but the most important thing for them is to look after their family and children,” he was quoted as saying.

He is not the first politician to do so. The Indian political scenario has been laden with sexism from almost the beginning. Here are a few other instances of political leaders commenting on their women counterparts or even women of the country in general — proof of how sexism is rampant in Indian politics.

In 2016, BJP’s Uttar Pradesh vice-president Dayashankar Singh compared Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati with a prostitute. “Even a prostitute fulfils her commitment to a man after she is paid. But Mayawati, such a big leader in UP, sells party tickets to anyone who pays her the highest amount. If someone gives her Rs 1 crore for a ticket, she will give it to the other person who is offering Rs 2 crore,” Singh told reporters, repeatedly using the word “vaishya” in Hindi. Following a social media backlash and a tense Rajya Sabha session, BJP had sacked Singh from his post.

In 2014, in the run-up to elections in the state, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed capital punishment for rape, saying “ladke ladke hain, galti ho jati hai (boys will be boys, mistakes can be made).” Speaking at a rally in Moradabad, he said, “Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain. Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phasi di jayegi? (First girls become friends with boys. Then when they have differences between them, girls level rape charges. Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape?).”

PRP leader and Congress ally Jaydeep Kawade had once said “Smriti Irani sits beside Gadkari and talks about changing the Constitution. Let me tell you a thing about Smriti Irani. She wears a big bindi on her forehead and someone told me that when a woman changes her husbands frequently, the size of her bindi keeps growing.”

BJP’s Gopal Shetty went on the offensive by claiming that actor Urmila Matondkar was chosen by the party solely on the basis of her looks. “Urmila ji has been brought to politics because she is a celebrity and because she is a celebrity, she has been brought due to how she looks, why anyone would feel bad about it, there’s no reason… She is a bholi bhali ladki who is zero in politics.”

Mulayam Singh could be called a repeat offender when it comes to sexist remarks about women. In 2012, while objecting to the Women’s Reservation Bill Mulayam claimed it will be of no use to women from rural areas. “Bade ghar ki ladkiyan aur mahilaaon ko fayda milega. Humari gaon ki gareeb mahilaaon ko nahin. Akarshak nahi hoti… bas itna kahoonga, zyada nahi. (The Women’s Reservation Bill will only benefit rich and urban women. Our poor and rural women are not attractive… I will not say beyond this),” he said at a gathering in Barabanki.

All of these incidents only point to the message being conveyed to women that in politics, one has to behave and look a certain way when they belong to a certain gender — not men of course. If you are married you must take your husband’s last name, must always adorn the sindoor and be in her ‘sanskaari’ attire. This holds true for all women in the country. Ask any woman politician why they confine themselves to these norms and the answer is that it is what is expected of them and it’s “safe.” The political reality of women and female political leaders in India pretty much is a mirror-image of the actual reality and everyday outrage is definitely not a solution.

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