Don’t be a man: Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi must know India is done with toxic masculinity
Ridiculing and reducing women to weak nonentities is not what India wants out of its politicians in 2019.
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It was a cold December in 2012. A sea of humanity blocked the road leading up to Parliament House.
As water cannons blasted jets of ice-cold water, and police lathis rained down, the crowd remained resilient.
Not taking it anymore: When the Delhi gang-rape and murder happened in 2012. (Source: Reuters)
A 26-year-old woman had been raped in the heart of the national capital and India had finally said ‘enough’.
The woman subsequently died.
Then in the Opposition, the BJP was cooling its heels. As India demanded justice for Nirbhaya, in came the BJP, brandishing 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao'.
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which was then less than a year away, the Congress paid heavily for ignoring half of India's electorate — its women.
Cut to 2019 — now in the Opposition, the Congress has painstakingly tried to project itself as a party championing women’s rights, with its new chief, Rahul Gandhi, going out of his way often to prove how his party and not the ruling BJP is progressive, grounded in the new India of 2019, talking about what young India wants, rather than wrapping everything in hyperbolic nationalism.
Rahul Gandhi's statement with regard to Nirmala Sitharaman shows he too is a sexist. (Source: India Today)
So, when Rahul Gandhi, in his routine rhetoric on the Rafale row, attacked the Prime Minister by using the Defence Minister’s gender, he revealed himself as just another casual sexist male politician.
If Gandhi had criticised Nirmala Sitharaman for the arguments she made in Parliament to defend her government on the Rafale deal, it would have been healthy politicking.
If Rahul Gandhi had accused the Prime Minister of hiding behind his Defence Minister to defend him, while he takes selfies with Bollywood celebrities, it would again be acceptable in the culture of democratic debate.
But to attack the Defence Minister on the ground of her gender is to reduce all of her achievements and reduce her to an archaic idea of a weak, defenceless woman, then use that to attack the Prime Minister.
By doing this, Gandhi has proved he is no better than the Abhijeet Mukherjees and Mulayam Singh Yadavs of Indian politics.
Unfortunately, the patriarchial political discourse does not end here.
Hours after Rahul Gandhi’s sexist spiel in came the Prime Minister, accusing the Congress chief for attacking a woman and hence, insulting all Indian women.
Yes, Mr Prime Minister. India’s women are insulted not because Rahul Gandhi demanded answers of a woman minister but because he reduced the country’s Defence Minister to being just that — a woman.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's own track record on talking about women's issues has not been impeccable. (Source: Reuters)
But the Prime Minister himself is not one to sermonise on this. Less than a year ago, he quite jovially compared Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury’s laughter in Parliament to Surpanakha’s — that too, based on Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayana, Surpanakha being the evil king Ravan’s sister.
An evil witch of a woman with derisive laughter.
But here’s where this sexist political repartee gets outright dirty. Rahul Gandhi then dares the Prime Minister to ‘Be a man!’
It is this toxic masculinity that has led politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav to dismiss rapists as “Boys will be boys” — and get away with it.
With all due respect Modi Ji, in our culture respect for women begins at home. Stop shaking. Be a man and answer my question: Did the Air Force and Defence Ministry object when you bypassed the original Rafale deal?Yes? Or No? #RafaleScam— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 9, 2019
Dragging in patriarchal ideas of gender, using gender to launch political attacks for a few extra laughs and louder claps does not just bring down the level of political discourse, it also leaves these politicians looking like utter hypocrites who have no idea what India in 2019 wants.
You cannot want to empower women via bills on triple talaq — and then use a top minister’s gender for political parleys.
You cannot have a Law Minister talking about women’s empowerment during the quota debate in Parliament — and have MJ Akbar smirking right behind him.
Ridiculing and reducing women to weak nonentities is not what India wants from its politicians.
If the whole country can unite to get stricter rape laws, vote out a government which did nothing to make India safer for women, get a sexual harassment-accused minister to resign, and rally against top cricketers reducing women to sexual objects on national television, then this much is clear: Dear politicians! Cheap, casual sexism and senseless patriarchal dialogue is not what India is buying in 2019.