‘Gungi Gudiya’ Indira to ‘Nachne Wali’ Jaya: Why it’s Not Easy to be a Woman Politician in India

Whether members of the Gandhi family or actor-turned-politicians like Smriti Irani, Hema Malini and Jaya Prada-- women are always at the receiving end of sexual innuendos and jibes at the behest of their male counterparts.

Azam Khan’s crass and distasteful statement about Jaya Prada’s ‘khaki loyalties’ sent a wave of shock and resentment across the country with politicians and women activists coming out to condemn the sexist jibe.

Khan said that Prada’s underclothing was made of Khaki; hence implying that her real loyalties always lay with the BJP. Not only this, Khan’s statement reeked of frustration that the candidate he had introduced to politics, had decided to jump ship and join another party. This is how he decided to vent out his anger; not by defeating her in the elections, but by targeting her for being a woman. Despite the massive backlash following his comments, Khan has still chosen not to apologise.

Jaya Prada has also been called a “nachne-wali” by SP leader Azam Khan in the past. At a poll rally in Rampur, Prada burst into tears alleging that Khan had even attempted an acid attack on her.

These comments by Azam Khan come right at the back of Union Minister Ashwini Choubey stoking controversy while reacting to Rabri Devi's claim that Prashant Kishor had reached out to Lalu Prasad Yadav in jail ahead of the Lok Sabha elections 2019, seeking a JD(U)-RJD merger and asking for Nitish Kumar be declared the joint prime ministerial candidate. He reacted to Rabri Devi’s comment by saying "Rabri Devi ji ko kya kahiyega, vo toh bhabhi ji hain. Main kahunga ki aap ghungat mein hi rahiye toh zyada accha hai (What to say about her, she is our sister-in-law. For her, it is better to remain behind the veil)". His implication: If you are a woman; remain silent.

That women politicians in India are repeatedly targeted for their identity, is hardly a secret. Whether members of the Gandhi family or actor-turned-politicians like Smriti Irani, Hema Malini and Jaya Prada-- women are always at the receiving end of sexual innuendos and jibes at the behest of their male counterparts. The jibes are often on their looks, their clothes-- they are victimised for their gender.

CPM leader Brinda Karat said, “Women are highly vulnerable in politics. It is condemnable and retrograde. This not only weakens our democracy, but also the rights of women politicians. There are no words strong enough to condemn such behaviour. Also, the Election Commission is not sensitised enough to be able to put a stop to such utterances.”

From the times of Indira Gandhi, who was initially targeted for being a ‘gungi gudiya’ (mute doll) by members of the opposition - to imply that she wasn’t good enough to be a Prime Minister - this trend of reinforcing a woman politician’s female identity in a disparaging way continues today with even greater vigour.

In pre-poll election frenzy in 2014, Amar Singh had lashed out at Hema Malini, BJP candidate from Mathura, saying that she was only good to look at and that nobody should vote for her. Malini, in turn, could only say that she was surprised he was saying something like this despite being a good friend.

Even female kin of women politicians have been targeted in the past. Recently, a Twitter user made derogatory comments about Priyanka Chaturvedi’s daughter; the police later arrested him.

Jaya Bachchan was once referred to as ‘nachnewali’ (dancer) by a frustrated Naresh Agarwal who was denied ticket by the Samajwadi Party. Agarwal then joined the BJP, but Sushma Swaraj was quick to condemn his remarks.

Politicians have been particularly scathing against women when they have changed parties. Recently, a Samajwadi Party leader in Uttar Pradesh, Firoz Khan, made a sexually coloured remark against Jaya Prada who recently quit SP to join the BJP by saying, "Rampur ki shaamein rangeen ho jaayengi ab jab chunavi mahual chalega” (Rampur's evenings will turn colourful in this election season).

Continuing his sexist rant, Firoz Khan, in an apparent reference to BJP leader, Sanghamitra Maurya, who at a public rally told party workers not to be intimidated by goons as she will protect them by becoming a bigger "gundi", made an abrasive observation: "Ab koi apne ko gundi bata de, koi naachne ka kaam kare, woh unka apna pesha hai” (someone may call herself a goon, some are into dancing, it's their profession).

Smriti Irani has allegedly been harassed and eve-teased while campaigning on a BJP ticket in Chandni Chowk. Such instances are obviously meant to deter a woman from going out into the field and campaigning.

Just a few days ago, People’s Republican Party leader, Jaideep Kavade, posted a video on the social media saying that the size of Smriti Irani’s bindi is directly proportionate to the number of husbands she has had till now.

It is important to note that the higher a lady climbs up the political ladder, the more are her chances of being at the receiving end of sexual slurs.

Sonia Gandhi and daughter Priyanka are classic examples of being targeted for their gender. As soon as Priyanka was formally appointed as Congress General Secretary, social media went abuzz with misogynist remarks about her. A man, apparently a BJP supporter from Bihar, was even arrested for posting an obscene tweet about Priyanka.

But such slurs are not confined only to supporters. BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya went on record to state that Congress was fielding ‘chocolatey’ faces in the polls since they didn’t have good leaders.

By far the biggest and the most in-your-face case is that of Congress leader and former Union Minister Renuka Chaudhary, who was attacked openly in the Parliament by her opponents and compared to ‘Surpanakha’, Ravan’s sister, for her laughter. This was followed by peals of laughter from the male MPs in the Parliament, who thumped their fists in glee at her humiliation. Not just this. A prominent Union Minister even tweeted a video equating Chaudhary with Surpanakha.

Several questions were later raised on how the party that constantly propagated campaigns about girl child education and welfare, was openly mocking a lady in Parliament.

Shaina NC of BJP said, “Such behaviour shows highly condemnable mindsets. Women need to come out and register complaints and not take this abuse lying down. I was myself targeted on social media with close to 587 derogatory messages, but I went straight to the police who took swift action.”

She elaborated on how guidelines against sexual harassment need to be enacted and enforced inside the Parliament to maintain conducive environment for women politicians, like they are in every workplace.

Recently, she spoke up about political parties not fielding enough female candidates in 2019 polls, and further went on to say that parties were not serious about women empowerment or providing reservation to women in Parliament, a lip service frequently invoked in the past. She was referring to the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, which mandates a 33 per cent reservation for women in Panchayati Raj, an essential move to empower women.

But there are frequent reports of women sarpanchs being intimated and even murdered.

If women are not given a sense of security while they are out campaigning, if they trolled on social media for their gender, if they are attacked for their personal lives and the clothes they wear—then this is is not the India we deserve.