Taking a dig at fellow parliamentarian Renuka Chowdhary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sparked outrage following his comments in the Rajya Sabha on February 8.
Congress member Chowdhary laughed loudly in derision as Modi announced that Aadhar was conceptualized during L. K. Advani’s tenure as Deputy Prime Minister. She was first told off by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, who told her to “go to a doctor”. And then, she was silenced by Modi himself. NDTV quotes him as saying, “Ramayana serial ke baad aisi hansi sunne ka saubhagya aaj jaake mila hai (After Ramayana serial, we’ve now had the privilege of listening to this kind of laughter).” At this, BJP leaders in the assembly roared with laughter.
Men in parliament and assemblies have used pepper sprays, watched porn, taken videos- all unparliamentary and you are trying to tell me a cackle is inappropriate. I cackle at your logic! #RenukaChoudhary
— sunetra choudhury (@sunetrac) February 8, 2018
The woman who dared to laugh. Ultimately it was a woman who had the courage to show a mirror to the lying PM & his court jesters the mirror of truth. They’ve consistently lied to us all blatantly, it was only #RenukaChoudhary who got up to say the Emperor is not wearing clothes.
— Purva Agarwala (@ppurva) February 9, 2018
Chairman Rajya Sabha upset over #RenukaChoudhary’slaughter.Tells her to go to a doctor and PM had a nasty dig at her.Misogynistic! A woman must suppress her laughter even if she considers a remark laughable!
— Pawan Kumar Bansal (@pawanbansal_chd) February 9, 2018
On the other hand, BJP minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted his praise for how the Prime Minister handled the situation by not losing his cool. But the women’s wing of Chowdhary’s party has rushed to condemn these mocking and sexist words. And let’s not forget, Modi has made controversial comments about women in the past.
In June 2015, he undermined Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, by saying her efforts to fight terrorism were admirable, “despite being a woman”. It was more insult than compliment, and garnered massive backlash on Twitter. In November 2015, Modi did it when promoting India’s gold schemes. He proudly declared: “Women usually don’t own anything […] but gold is their strength.” Rather than address the problem of the unequal distribution of resources, he ended up glorifying the fact that the only wealth most Indian women possess is the gold they inherit upon marriage.
Our MPs are no strangers to sexist remarks like these. Remember when UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said “If men acquire women-like qualities, they become gods but when women acquire men like qualities, they become (‘rakshasa’) demon like”? In the wake of the 2012 gang rape of medical student Jyoti Singh, MPs debating the anti-rape bill put the onus on a woman’s dress (among other things).
Vice President Naidu’s reaction in the Chowdhury incident also deserves scrutiny. He resorted to the classic strategy of implying Chowdhary was suffering from a mental illness. Women have been labelled “crazy” all throughout history, just to shut them up. There is a subtle hypocrisy in the reaction. Worse incidents have taken place in government assemblies. In 2014, Congress member Lagadapati Rajagopal pepper-sprayed supporters of the Telangana Bill, sending three to the hospital. Members of Kerala’s Left Democratic Front party have thrown chairs, breaking speakers, computers and lights in the state assembly. In fact, on the same day that Chowdhary was reprimanded in the Rajya Sabha, opposition members in Uttar Pradesh launched a juvenile attack with paper balls, paper planes, and balloons. All of these offenders were men. But were they requested to go see doctors? We all know the answer to that.
Does the accusation of sexism hold water? Chowdhury neither destroyed government property, not did she make an uncalled-for personal remark. One has to wonder why a woman’s laughter merits a sterner response than rampaging men.