Speak Up / Speaking Out

What does Smriti Irani’s bindi have to do with women in politics?

. 3 min read . Written by Roopal Kewalya
What does Smriti Irani’s bindi have to do with women in politics?

Did you know that the size of your bindi determines the number of husbands you have?

This was just one of the many sexist remarks that a politician faced at her workplace. From Hema Malini’s cheeks to Smriti Irani’s bindi to jibes at Mayawati’s facials, Atishi Marlena’s character assassination and Priyanka Gandhi being called just a pretty face, Indian politics is actually not the worst place for a woman to work in. Unfortunately, it’s just a reflection of the sexism women face every day at their workplace.

I wonder which external symbol on a man determines the size of his brain? In case of the politicians, maybe the size of their mouths and what comes out of it. Or perhaps, it could be the length of Nitin Gadkari’s shorts that he wore a few years ago for the RSS meet – the one where we were reminded of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

The fact that women still need reservation for representation is in itself a marker of the sad state of affairs. In a country that is still divided over caste and religion, gender only becomes a distant relative – one you hear of from time to time but never really meet until one day you hear of their sad demise, say a silent prayer and move on with your life.

Considering that, it came as a refreshing delight that Naveen Patnaik’s masterstroke of nominating women in 7 out of 21 seats in Orissa, paid off in a big way. The picture of Pramila Bisoi, a class three dropout and a leader of self-help groups of women, all set to join the Parliament did set my heart fluttering in hope. Bisoi knows neither Hindi nor English and told a reporter that if people in Parliament do not understand her then she would sing to them. Remya Haridas also became Kerala’s second Dalit woman MP yesterday as she won from Alathur. Perhaps, the times, they are a changin’?

And of course, the biggest upset of this election came from Amethi. The girl who was once a Miss India contestant became a Mc Donald employee as she struggled to make her mark as an actor. She hit the jackpot as Tulsi in the soap opera Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and entered homes and hearts of people. Just when everyone thought this is it… a former Miss India contestant can’t go further than this, she entered politics and defeated the Prime Ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi on his turf.

For our team at Kool Kanya, Smriti became the poster girl for our upcoming weekly series where we cover women who have shifted their career paths multiple times until they have found what they were looking for and some are still on the search for a higher calling. Because we believe that you don’t commit to a job but a career. And when you do that, you commit to the journey and somewhere down the road, reach the destination.

I won’t lie. It feels great to see a woman win. But immediately after, a question pops up in my head. What does a woman politician stand for? Does it mean better maternity benefits at my workplace? What about safety when I step out of the house? Equal pay… no discrimination on the basis of gender?

Or does it mean something like what the leader of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern recently did in the face of a terror attack that hit the nation. She proved that when you are the Prime Minister of a nation, all you need is empathy. And that is not just a woman’s bastion. She followed it up with a ban on semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles. She set an example that when empathy is followed by action, great nations are born.

It means nothing to be a man or a woman, if both are trapped in old ideologies of patriarchy. It means everything to break these patterns and set a new course. And that new course will have to be charted together, by men and women.

I wonder if the same politicians who hold Indian mythology in high regard would question the size of Draupadi’s bindi – the one with five husbands. Oh, I forgot. She has already been disrobed.

It’s time for the emperor to wear new robes – the real robes that the nation is not afraid to see or comment upon. Saffron or not, it’s time for a change.