Culture of abuse and misogyny in Indian politics: A Reality Check

It is no secret that a culture of verbal abuse and misogyny prevails in Indian politics, rather shamelessly so. We, the voters, have learnt to live with it.Women from across the political spectrum are subjected to the crass misogyny that passes for discourse in Indian politics, from Mamata Banerjee to Smriti Irani, there is hardly a woman politician who hasn’t been targeted.

For some, its overt, in the form of public abuse by other leaders, mostly opposition but sometimes even from their own party, while for others, its covert, in the form of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances and sometimes even requests for sexual favours. If you are a woman who wants a career in politics, you have to deal with this, is the underlying message. Of course women aren’t the only targets and men are subjected to verbal abuse as well. If one was to receive a paisa for every abuse hurled their way, I suspect PM Narendra Modi would be the richest man in the world, but lets not digress.

In the recent past, two prominent cases of sexist verbal abuse in Indian politics have come to light. First was, Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani being subjected to everything from vulgar innuendos by Assam Congress leader to plain-old-sexist/body-shaming statements by journalists and media houses [Telegraph editorial headlines (1 and 2), controversial journalist known for her sexism in the Twitterverse, Rajyasree’s new low] Second incident was the shameful comment by UP BJP Vice-President Dayashankar Singh on Dalit leader Mayawati, calling her worse than a prostitute, for which he was expelled from the party and is now facing arrest.

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What is notably perplexing is the impunity with which politicians do it, and the confusing morality of those who defend it when the offender is one of their own or the target is on the opposition side. Take the case of Smriti Irani here, when Telegraph came out with the obviously sexist headlines against her, most journalists who fancy themselves as feminists, remained silent. Priyanka Chaturvedi, controversial Congress spokesperson and recently self-anointed crusader for online misogyny, went one step further and defended the Telegraph headlines as “not-sexist” (even though such an article would never have been written for a male politician). It is notable that this is not out of character for Priyanka Chaturvedi to endorse sexism against women who don’t agree with her politics as not too long ago, she found the term “Hate Hags” for women supporters of Modi, as “perfect

You’d think that’s the limit, but you’d be wrong. Self-styled feminist, Barkha Dutt went even further. Smriti, she argued, has never stood by other victims of sexism and therefore, she herself is to be blamed and shamed for the fate that had befallen her. Even though Barkha is known for her subtle  use of conjunctions & innuendos to do the blaming and shaming (e.g. Curious use of “but” to subtly say Charlie Hebdo had it coming ), this author didn’t expect this from her.

This isn’t the first foray of journalists, who fancy themselves as feminists, into defending misogyny. Not only have they defended molesters and paedophiles, just because they happened to be part of the coterie, they’ve even launched full-frontal attacks on the rape-victims. Outlook magazine and Telegraph seem to be competing amongst each other to see who can hit the misogynistic abyss sooner, but the sexism dripping from even seemingly innocuous pieces, often by female writers like Saba Naqvi, is quite too transparent I’m afraid.

Now lets take a look at the recent case, when prominent Dalit leader Mayawati was abused. Not only did all prominent news channels devote their primetime to debating the sexist comments of the ex-BJP VP, newspapers made their front page headlines. There were nationwide protests organized by BSP, a very heated Parliament debate which led to an apology from the Home Minister, and the offender, Dayashankar Singh was expelled from the party and a FIR registered against him.

All of this was perfectly justified, until BSP leaders took to the streets of Lucknow and started abusing the wife and 12-year old daughter of Dayashankar Singh in extremely disgusting language. In Rajya Sabha, Mayawati, gave a very eloquent speech about need for decency in public life. “It is a battle of ideas, where one should never stoop down to disgusting levels”, she said. Decency would dictate that, having gone through what she did, Mayawati would condemn the attacks by her party members, but lo and behold, she instead defended the attacks on Dayashankar’s female relatives!

Misogynist statements from BSP aren’t anything new. Founder of BSP, Kanshi Ram, had once used the same language against the owner of Dainik Jagran when the paper published an unfavorable news against BSP. What is unacceptable is that despite being a woman, BSP Supremo chose to defend the same misogyny when it was directed at someone other than herself. It was only when Dayashankar Singh’s wife stood her ground, and fought for her daughter, with the BJP backing her, did BSP call off the nationwide protests they had initiated on the remarks.

When it comes to treating women as easy targets, no party has their hands clean. There have been several cases where BJP leaders have used some extremely despicable language to attack their opponents and have been pulled up for the same. Often rightly so. However, some leaders, like Madhya Pradesh Minister Babulal Gaur despite being repeat offenders, haven’t been punished. But are the “non-Right Wing” politicians “better” in this regard as they claim to be? Hardly.

After listening to the grandstanding by quite a few non-RW leaders on primetime debates about the culture of abuse in Right-Wing, on several occasions, this author decided to search instances of “non-Right Wing” politicians resorting to abuse.

Please note, due to the sheer volume of the results of this seemingly innocuous query, I’ve limited my search to:

  • only major parties, national or regional
  • only MLAs, MPs or prominent leaders
  • only verbal abuse (have not covered accusations of rape, murder, sexual harassment etc).
  • have included results where targets are female

This by no means is a complete list since this author was only able to search what was electronically available in the two languages known to her, English and Hindi. This author is sure there are instances that were covered in regional media but never made their way to English ones. If you think we’ve missed something, please feel free to tweet the references to me (@neha_aks) or use the comments section below. So here is what we found.

Ironically, many of the leaders who feature in this list, claim to be defenders of women’s rights and give long sermons about decency in public life, but fail to lead by example:

  1. Smriti Irani is illegitimate wife of Narendra Modi: Assam Cong leader Nilamoni Sen Deka hits a new low in Indian politics.
  2. UP Congress leader and ex-President Rita Bahuguna Joshi asks what price do people need to pay to rape Mayawati, since she pays Rs 25,000 as compensation to rape victims
  3. When AAP activist was molested by AAP leader, Party Chief and Delhi CM told her to “compromise”. The activist later killed herself
  4. CPM leader from Kerala declared on Facebook that some women in Congress, strip for male colleagues to get election tickets
  5. Congress Kerala unit’s official Twitter handle shames a victim because she filed a case against Kerala ex-CM Oommen Chandy for sexual harassment. Calls her, “Woman with loose morality”. The tweet has been deleted, screenshot available here.
  6. TN Congress Chief EVKS Elangovan uses a vulgar remark linking TN CM Jayalalitha and PM Modi.
  7. Journalist-cum-Congress leader Amaresh Mishra, who used to attend national TV debates as Congress representative from UP, was so abusive towards supporters of other political parties on Twitter, that his twitter account got suspended. He was later arrested for threatening to kill Narendra Modi. Some specimen of his tweets are storified here.
  8.  Congress spokesperson who became a crusader against online misogyny, Priyanka Chaturvedi, found the term “hate hags” coined by Outlook magazine for women supporters of Modi, a perfect term to describe vocal women who disagreed with her politics. This tweet too has been deleted, however, a screenshot can be found here.
  9. Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal said he would ask his “boys” to go and rape CPM women members.
  10. Congress leader, ex-CM of Delhi and UP CM hopeful Sheila Dixit reacted to a journalist’s rape and murder by saying, “women should not be too adventurous”.
  11. Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav declared that since “rural women are ugly, they won’t benefit from Women’s Reservation Bill”.
  12. National President of JD-U and veteran MP Sharad Yadav said that ‘South (Indian) women are drak but they are beautiful as their bodies are well developed.. we don’t see it here.. they know dance”. He repeatedly refused to apologize for his remarks, claiming they weren’t racist or sexist.
  13. When discussing Bill on stalking, National President of JDU and veteran MP Sharad Yadav said, “Who among us here have not followed women?”
  14. When Mayawati accused Mulayam’s men for a failed rape attempt, Mulayam defended himself with “Is she so pretty that any would want to rape her?”
  15. Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav made a personal jibe at Mayawati saying he doesn’t know if he should call her Mrs or Miss.
  16. Lohiyaite JDU leader Ali Anwar said, “Good Smriti Irani has been made Textiles Minister, it will help her cover her body.”
  17. Another Lohiyaite, Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Yadav questions Mayawati’s character, her relationship with Kanshi Ram, and calls her mad.
  18. Sexist AAP leader, Kumar Vishwas, on Sania Mirza: “She wasn’t able to play any field properly, so decided to try out in another. We’re sad that she collected fame from India but husband from Pakistan.”
  19. Congress leader Vyalar Ravi, when questioned about molestation charges against PJ Kurien, asked the reporter if she had a similar experience (molestation) with Kurien.
  20. TMC leader Abdul Rezzak Mollah calls Rupa Ganguly, a real-life Draupadi. Says he knows the length of the cigarette she smokes and who she lives with.
  21. CPM MP Anil Basu: She (Mamata Banerjee) should have been pulled by hair, dragged home to Kalighat & given a lesson for blocking a national highway.
  22. CPM’s Subhas Chakraborty on Mamata’s Maa-Maat-Manush slogan: “She is an infertile woman; what does she know about Maa?”
  23. CPM’s Anil Biswas used the phrase “Jomero Aruchi” for Mamata which means “even the devil won’t touch her.
  24. CPM’s Anil Basu on Mamata Banerjee: “Which bhatar (male patron) is funding her?” while making a reference to Sonagachi sex workers.
  25. TRS Chief KCR said he would drag Sonia Gandhi “to the bazaar” if Telangana was not created.
  26. CPM leader Anisur Rehman asks Mamata what her fee would be considering she gave Rs 20,000 to rape victim.
  27. AAP Leader and Cabinet Minister of Delhi, Kapil Misra made a vulgar innuendo about Modi & Smriti Irani. Now deleted. Screenshot can be found here.
  28. BSP’s Naseemuddin Siddiqui wanted expelled BJP VP Dayashankar Singh’s wife and daughter be “presented” (vulgar innuendo).
  29. Congress leader and ex-Union minister of women and child development, Renuka Chowdhary, calls female Cabinet minister in Modi Govt, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, “kachra” (garbage).

And just as a side note, here are some times when even the male politicians had to face puerile language:

  1. Racist TN Congress chief EVKS Elangovan mocks PM Modi’s dark looks and is bowled over by the fair beauty of the Gandhis.
  2. Dalit man alleged senior Congress leader & Delhi unit chief Ajay Maken abused and threatened to kill his son if he came anywhere near AICC.
  3. Dayashankar Singh is an ‘illegitimate child’, says BSP MLA Usha Choudhary.
  4. BSP Chandigarh Unit chief Jannat Jahan announces reward of Rs 50 lakh for Daya Shankar Singh’s tongue.
  5. Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia makes Modi the target of his directed abuse, comments on his personal life, calls him a failed husband.
  6. “Suave” Congress leader and ex-Cabinet Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar declared Modi is a snake, scorpion and a dirty man.
  7. Congress MP Soma Ganda Patel uses a casteist slur against OBC Narendra Modi who is of Ghanchi caste against OBC Narendra Modi who is of Ghanchi caste
  8. Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Congress leader and former union minister, uses casteist slur against Modi, calls him “Gangu Teli”.
  9. Then Union Minister and Senior Cong leader Beni Prasad Verma declares Modi is a man-eater (aadamkhor).
  10. Congress senior leader Beni Prasad Verma calls Modi a “RSS goon” and Rajnath Singh his “slave”.
  11. Repeat offender Beni Prasad Verma, calls Modi an “animal who needs to be controlled with a whip”.
  12. Veteran Kerala CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan calls Narendra Modi a “slaughterer”.
  13. Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia compares PM Modi to medieval tyrant Aurangzeb: (His party has since started considering Aurangzeb a secular icon, but we’re going to assume he didn’t mean it as a compliment)
  14. NC leader and alliance partner of Indira Gandhi, Farooq Abdullah, calls Narendra Modi, a “dictator”.
  15. Congress President Sonia Gandhi, calls Modi, “Maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death).
  16. Suave Cong MP Tharoor calls Modi  “bleeder” (incorrect usage of the term) & therefore clarified meaning as “someone who bleeds the nation”.
  17. UP Congress leader Sriprakash Jaiwal declared that “cricket victories are like old wives, not as fun as they used to be.”
  18. TMC chief Mamata Banerjee threatens Amit Shah & makes obscene references about bamboos and backsides.

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