Misogyny runs deep. Social media has magnified and exposed it
Shishir Tripathi | March 13, 2018
Lalu Prasad Yadav, former chief minister of Bihar, once infamously made a cheek-y remark about Indian film actress Hema Malini. Yadav, during election campaign, had promised he would make “the roads of Patna as smooth as Hema Malini's cheeks”.
That remark might then have been brushed aside as ‘light humour’. Reason for that?
The internet age had still not dawned then and social media, perhaps, was still a stuff of science fiction. There were no ‘news-room-crusaders-anchors’ also, who would ‘take to task’ such misogyny spewing netas.
People had fewer means to communicate their views; hence a strong positioning like ‘it was in a lighter vein’ would have given rest to all arguments and debates.
It stayed merely in the anecdotal narratives that shall pass from generations to generations.
Things have changed now.
So, when the newly inducted member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Naresh Agrawal made a remark that is reflective of not just his thinking but also his politics, many strong voices emerged to admonish Agrawal.
Minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj wrote in a tweet:
Shri Naresh Agarwal has joined Bhartiya Janata Party. He is welcome. However, his comments regarding Jaya Bachhan ji are improper and unacceptable.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) March 12, 2018
Union minister Smriti Irani also condemned Agarwal's statement in a tweet.
My case is in the court of law for 5 years now. But let my battle not be an excuse to humiliate other women. In fact let it be a reminder for us that when a woman’s honour is challenged we stand as one in our condemnation irrespective of our politics. https://t.co/beneLYVHnk— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) March 12, 2018
The kind of power that social media has given to people is immense to cower down the arrogance of those who claims exclusive rights over respect and honour.
This power might be new but the arrogance that it is battling is an old one.
Typing a few right keywords in Google search will fetch hundreds of stories where the ‘political wisdom’ of the Indian politicians lays naked, evoking extreme disgust and sometimes sad humour.
Let us list a few.
In 2001 Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid called critically acclaimed actor Shabana Azmi “nachne gane wali tawaif” (nautch girls who sings and dance).
In 2012, during a news debate in which Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam was placed on the back foot by the sharp arguments of Irani, he remarked, “You think you are a political analyst. Till yesterday, you were dancing on television and today you have become a politician.”
In 2016 BJP leader Dayashankar Singh remarks on Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) created a huge uproar. Singh in presser said, “Mayawati is breaking the dream of Kanshi Ram into pieces. Mayawati is selling tickets like a prostitute. She gives tickets for Rs one crore and if there is someone who can give Rs 2 crore than she sells it for Rs 2 crore within an hour. If someone is ready to give Rs 3 crore by the evening, she gives the ticket to him.”
Now in 2018 things seems to have changed little. Denied Rajya Sabha seat by Samajwadi Party (SP) former SP-BSP-Congress member Naresh Agrawal, now inducted in BJP said in a press conference, “I was equated with those working in films... I was rejected for those who dance in films, work in films [a reference to Jaya Bachchan]. I found it improper.”
In a damage control exercise BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra immediately distanced his party from Agrawal's remarks against, saying that the BJP respects people from all fields and welcomes them in politics.
While distancing itself from controversies will not reap dividends, it is an obvious and logical political move. It is, in long run, the most ineffective tool of demotivating and dissuading such comments.
The fact remains that in all the above cases nothing much happened to those who in the most casual manner tried to disgrace the achievements of the women – who just through their hard work, grit and dedication excelled in their fields largely dominated by men.
Dayashankar Singh was suspended but the suspension was revoked in no time, his wife was given an assembly ticket and is a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government. A defamation case against Nirupam filed by Irani is in court for five years. He still serves as Congress member. Agrawal have been welcomed with open arms in the ruling party. And Lalu Prasad still remains the affable politico-comedian whose misogyny is ignored because of his intelligently-crafted rural moorings.
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