It was almost the middle of the night and the WhatsApp college group blinked to life. A video popped up from an old college friend with a few trailing wicked messages and emoticons. The video (a fake one) featured two of Bengal’s youngest MPs from the Trinamool Congress (Nusrat and Mimi), who are also well known actresses in Tollywood. The remarks that followed ranged from “MPs will find more entertainment in the Parliament now” to “indecent sartorial sense of the actresses who seem to be not serious about politics and representing people”.
Very few in the group went ahead and expressed their concern that India’s democracy is under threat with such frivolous representation. As I read through the messages, I saw only midnight slurs rejuvenating the vigour that went down post the prolonged election phase.
— Mimssi (@mimichakraborty) May 27, 2019
The 2019 election in India saw changes on the gender front, both happy and sad. From a rising number of women in Parliament (78 in 2019 from 62 in 2014) to women voters outnumbering men in 13 states and Union Territories to misogynistic attacks (Atishi Marlena’s breakdown after the distribution of pamphlets with sexist remarks). Mimi and Nusrat’s entry to Indian Parliament added to this. Especially after they had been ‘audacious’ enough to take selfies in front of the Parliament building. That moment was seen as ‘the end of India’s democracy’, which, by the way, has until now been upheld by chair throwing, screaming, and howling sessions, all adjourned without any decision on policy issues. What mattered most to my friends was their sartorial sense linking with their fuzzy understanding of politics. What they forgot was that the screaming sessions are all lead by the ones in ‘proper’ white kurta-pyjamas and jackets.
Nusrat won by a margin of nearly 3.50 lakh votes, and Mimi by roughly 2.95 lakh votes. Few said that they were only given party tickets to pull votes. Now, had that been the case, then the winning parties trump card would have emptied Bollywood by now.
No one seemed to notice that Mimi and Nusrat are two amongst the five youngest MPs, including Chandrani Murmu, Tejasvi Surya and Raksha Khadse, who made it to the Lok Sabha. The reactions were nothing but an extension of society’s sexist mindset reserved for young women with political rights and aspiration (even though people always complain that Parliament is full of oldies!).
I think people are voted both of you for solving their problems, not for photoshoot in front of parliament.
You just think what happened if the heros of our freedom fighters are seen this….!
— monojit pal (@mono_MrBlack) May 27, 2019
don’t compare these makeup ki dukaan with our PM
— Garima kannath (@KannathGarima) May 28, 2019
They don’t even know what are their work supposed to be
— Ayandip Datta (@AyandipDatta) May 29, 2019
It’s Parliment. Show some respect …common sense..where is her burqa?
— cloudwith.me (@seven_sea7777) May 31, 2019
Sir Parliament is not a place for fashion acting or selfies there is some protocols. They must learn
— Souradeep Chakraborty (@mampurohan) May 29, 2019
To many, their selfie-taking moment ‘kick-started’ their political careers. I believe one must follow them sincerely and see how they bring young energy into political spaces. However, it is a well-known fact by now that women around the world have always been made obvious targets by their male counterparts—regardless of how conventionally they dress or how innovatively they think.
While my fellow friends are anticipating ‘entertainment for the MPs’ with Mimi and Nusrat’s entry, the man in charge of the United States actually feels it is OK to grab a woman by her private parts. It’s no wonder that people are lining up to troll Mimi and Nusrat.
I remained silent during the whole WhatsApp conversation, and I deeply regret it now. I will be following Mimi and Nusrat as they represent us in the parliament. This country has bigger problems to deal with such as large-scale violence against women (and the NCRB data says it all).
While sexists continue to prey on Mimi and Nusrat, millions of women and girls in this country are enduring Indian patriarchy, of which sexism is a derivative. Let them break the dress code (if there is one undeclared one) but let them also raise every Indian woman and girl’s demand for a life free of violence. Let them break the norm by taking a selfie in front of Parliament, but also challenge the norms that perpetuate this violence.
If we have to bear with the white kurta-pyjama MPs and their sleeping and howling sessions, it is now time to watch young women Parliamentarians stomp their stilettos, flaunt their skirts, and fiercely make their points. Whether they come from the winning party or the opposition, I welcome them and remain ready to engage with them.
After all, we must not forget the unapologetic quote: “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want…” and the girls who dared to say “Papa don’t preach”.