Monobina Gupta: Of misogyny and Indian politicians

Narendra Modi's attack on Sunanda Tharoor indicates a deep-rooted malaise
By now this sordid narrative of misogyny is well documented. Few will dispute that misogyny, through the ages, has remained a sinister marker of much of the world's mainstream philosophy, politics and culture. India is no exception to that rule. The high priests reigning over realms of lofty ideas and mundane governance have done themselves less than proud with their public disdain and patronising condescension for women. Put forth sometimes as nuggets of profound wisdom, at others as political weaponry, these anti-women diatribes have become 'legitimate and respectable' conversation at the high table. Often they have passed unnoticed, but during unpredictable and fractious times as these, the terrible utterances are ratcheted up and dissected the way they deserve to be. We, however, can only be thankful for that much-needed critical attention, however brief its span.

At the same time it's impossible to look away from the larger underlying problem: that patriarchy and corruption are the two running threads holding together today's fragile political class which is fractured down the middle. Nothing perhaps corroborates that argument better than the fate of two apparently jinxed legislations: women's reservation and Lokpal bills. Given the anatomy of the political class, these two pieces of legislation, generating much heat and dust among political parties, were doomed from the outset. Burying the hatchet wasn't really difficult for parties when there was so much to protect. Male bonding ran as deep as the bonding of mutually scratching backs on matters of dubious economic transactions.

For now let's take the case of misogyny. The roots of latent or pronounced misogyny are as embedded in ancient religion (Manusmriti for instance), as they are in philosophy (classical Greek thought had little place for women), or modern political campaigns. Which brings us to the subject at hand: Narendra Modi. Like many of his ilk, the Gujarat chief minister too has unfailingly stayed true to the stout tradition of masculinity. A torch-bearer of this woman-hating culture, the irrepressible BJP chief minister has made a sport of targeting his opponents - Sonia Gandhi or Sunanda Tharoor - in a language that can easily be defined as unabashedly sexist, if not outright misogynist. Modi, like his compatriots from every other party, has turned this crude word-play into an 'acceptable' political and electoral language.

So, the chief minister never fights shy of taking digs at Sonia for 'not knowing how to run a kitchen'; or throwing barbs at the newly-appointed minister, Shashi Tharoor, for his 'Rs 50 crore girlfriend'. Picking up Modi's cue BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has said, "For an international love guru like Tharoor, a ministry of love affairs should be created." Earlier Modi had tried presenting malnourishment among Gujarat's poor as a fad among 'figure-conscious' middle-class girls.

The rapid descent into a no-holds-barred sexist political habitat is easy enough when there's such tacit complicity all around. The protests, if heard at all in the corridors of power, sound superficial, especially when the rule of this game is to wait for an expedient moment to fling the same sexist muck at your opponent.. Read more:

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