Ten years ago, when I was getting into politics, I was advised that as a woman, I can’t have an impactful political career unless I came from a politically connected family or I was a well-established celebrity or someone with lots of money. But for me, politics was an opportunity to be the change I was seeking. I wanted to break the overwhelmingly negative narratives for women who sought to be equal partners in policy making. So that is how my journey began — I put on hold my entrepreneurial venture and made my family second priority since it was about changing the way women themselves perceive their space in politics and limit their participation in it.
This in no way implies that I have been the only one attempting this, but it is the story of plenty of women who continue to struggle in their individual spaces in politics and have been unable to leverage this space to make their voices heard as a critical and collective mass/effort. I say this at the cost of being criticised — it is because we women in political spaces aren’t a collective voice that we have been continuously denied reservations or kept away from specific policies that encourage us rather than confine us to merely being voters, not leaders.
When the Constituent Assembly framed our Constitution, participation of women in politics was perceived as a natural outcome as it gave the country and every citizen the right to vote and participate in the political sphere. However, with every passing decade of the Republic, women kept getting sidelined and relegated to the fringe. I am happy that many regional parties are willing to change the status quo and many, including mine, have started to address this issue in earnest.
It surprises me when people who do not know enough of the Shiv Sena rush to label it as a misogynist party. The truth is far from that. Of its 91 corporators in Mumbai, 50 are women. Many women were given tickets in the open category seats, the ones not reserved for women. Through its Pratham Ti (Woman First) initiative, the party is not just grooming young women leaders, but giving them equal organisational responsibility along with important tasks. The party’s election manifesto had several women leaders taking the lead in drafting it. Pratham Ti teams, who were also at the forefront of the election campaign, have now been entrusted to reach out to farmers and help address their problems.
While the sad reality is that not many women choose politics as a career choice, it is the responsibility of political parties to chart out a roadmap for those who do.
It is not surprising that it is the woman who is under constant pressure to prove her worth and capability at every rung of her political growth story. She is judged on various parameters, not just internally in her political organisation, but also by political opponents outside of her own party. A woman choosing to fight this head on and move forward in her political role is always assessed as someone who got things too soon, with an implied connection to some godfather or some compromise. It is indeed strange to see two sets of reaction for those who climb the success ladder — one for the man and the other for the woman. For the man, it’s ‘commitment’ that ensures success, but for the woman, it is ‘compromise’!
There are several examples of women politicians being publicly shamed with insinuations on their character — Jaya Prada, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Hema Malini, Vasundhara Raje, J Jayalalithaa, Sonia Gandhi, have all been subjected to this. Powerful women all. Now imagine women who are struggling in their own political spaces.
My political journey has been witnessed by many and spoken about by many, especially on social media platforms, but it is a journey I have traversed on my own terms. I regret not one bit of it. I knew what I signed up for when I chose to undertake this journey — the uncertainties, the ups and downs, the power games, the internal fight for survival, the external persona, the personal becoming public and vice-versa, yes, everything. Nothing comes easy these days except for criticism, memes and sick and judgmental jokes cracked at someone’s expense.
Since I have been the media face, it is natural that many people across the nation were invested in me and I do respect that. I have always maintained that while I have been overwhelmed with the love I have got over the years, I have been equally appalled but not deterred when I have seen people crack cheap jokes just to hit back at me.
I have always wondered if those indulging in personal slander and vulgar memes or jokes about me have paused to think that my 16-year-old tech-savvy son could be seeing those messages or if my 12-year-old daughter could be impacted? Of course my children aren’t the nation’s responsibility, but do pause and think before making that joke on anyone in public life — are you attacking the individual or her idea or her identity or her decisions?
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 17, 2019 under the title ‘My space, my politics.' The writer is a senior Shiv Sena leader
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column: email@example.com