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What Keeps Women Out Of Politics In India?

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The 2021 West Bengal elections became a pan Indian conversation and stirred a discourse that was multi-dimensional and intersectional. Men from the Delhi house almost commuted regularly to secure their position in Bengal and to bring about “Ashol Poriborton” (Real development/progress).

Photo: EPA

The elections happened amidst a raging pandemic and just when board exams got cancelled, postponed, risking the future of thousands of students, Election Commission gave a green signal to conduct elections in multiple states quite desperately. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was clear in his intentions and had his gaze fixed on the 294 (292) constituencies of Bengal, confident of securing wins in more than 200 constituencies.

The election results have spoken otherwise and have favoured Mamata Banerjee, granting her a landslide victory with a massive lead. There can be a lot of political dialogue wherein we could critique the nuances of the strategies and political aspirations; how Political Advisor, Prashant Kishore’s powerful data analysis saved the TMC government and how BJP’s over-confidence and failed vision led to their misfortune. However, it would be fair to mention repeatedly that the COVID-19 situation in the state wouldn’t have hit so low had the elections been postponed.

Amidst all these conversations, one that demands immediate attention is how a Chief Minister of a state was heckled by National Leaders simply because of her gender. Mamata Banerjee’s popularity as a politician was greatly because of her grassroots level interaction, her power to connect with people so locally that they are compelled to consider her “Ghorer Meye” (Ghar ki beti)

This exact quality questioned the “Bhadrolok” (gentleman; used mostly to refer to Upper Caste Bengali men) culture of the CPI-M party leaders and eventually led to their downfall in the most dramatic way possible, way back in 2011 when she first came to power. But this is 2021 and she continues to face gendered abuse like most female politicians even if she comes out successful every time.

Mamata Banerjee is one of her promotional rallies. Photo: File/Instagram

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah conducted extensive rallies for a couple of months, leading a whole bandwagon against her that only kept increasing as more and more MLAs shifted from TMC to BJP to contest against their previous party. Mamata Banerjee is collectively addressed as ‘Didi’ and Mr Modi made it a point to at least call her “Didi o Didi” once in every rally, followed by thunderous cheers from the audience.

There wasn’t an ounce of respect in an address as pure as “Didi,” instead, it was filled with taunts, sarcasm, almost gaslighting her to lose her calm.

BJP chief Dilip Ghosh followed closely, ridiculing her for apparently showing her plastered leg intentionally, which supposedly goes against Indian customs. He had the audacity to suggest her to wear “Barmudas” instead.

What is strange and worth introspection is that these 56 inches chests thumping saffron-clad men called her all sorts of names, cat-called her, taunted her and as much as gaslighted her only because she was a woman? This is 2021 and these are our national leaders who are supposed to set an example in society.

BJP MLA Babul Supriyo, who was visibly disappointed after the results ranted on Facebook, “Bengal made a historic mistake by electing this Corrupt, Incapable, Dishonest Government and a cruel lady back to power!!” If one dissects his comment, it is so disheartening to see a Government being criticized separately and the female leader of the very government being ridiculed individually, so unabashedly.

One could arguably say that female politicians ‘also’ attack male politicians, or that gender must be kept outside of political rivalry but in a feudal society as ours, can we truly overlook gendered violence, gender disparity and internalized misogyny? We have to be conveniently blind and supremely secured in privilege to not be concerned about sexism.

From Babul Supriyo’s Facebook wall.

When a party chief addresses a woman from a podium so disrespectfully and thousands cheer in solidarity, one can expect very little progress and inclusiveness that must otherwise be promised institutionally.

And this isn’t just about Mamata Banerjee and BJP, it is about every politician out there who flex their supremacy in terms of their gender, caste and capital, giving into their patriarchal conditioning.

Actress turned MPs of AITC, Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan were trolled relentlessly for allegedly wearingVulgar” clothes to the parliament. Congress’ Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury couldn’t disagree with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman without resorting to personal attacks, “Sometimes I feel like calling you ‘Nirbala’ Sitharaman (powerless) instead of Nirmala Sitharaman,” Chowdhury commented.

Deepika Padukone was vehemently criticized for sexist, derogatory comments for rendering solidarity to the students of JNU in late 2019. A BJP Politician from Madhya Pradesh had stated that “She should have danced in Mumbai instead.”

A Tweet by a BJP Party Member Shashank Sharma.

It isn’t coincidental that women are repeatedly targeted, this is institutional and ingrained.

Sexism in Indian politics deserves national attention and we can only hope for more dialogue on this issue. As a society, this should be our collective goal to address the elephant in the room, Patriarchy. Surprisingly, even after criticisms and social media backlashes, very few politicians care to apologise publicly. The National Commission for Women should regulate stringent punishment that would not be manipulated by powerful politicians arbitrarily.

One could have a lot of differences with Mamata Banerjee in terms of political ideologies, can even point out instances where she made sexist comments in the past but it wouldn’t be fair to not appreciate her for her courage and resilience to face these men who constantly tried tricks and tactics to intentionally infuriate her. It was one woman fighting against men forming human barricades but she really did break the glass ceiling and emerged a leader. We can now only hope for better governance from her, making Bengal a state worthy of its rich cultural legacy.

Created by Priyasmita Dutta

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  1. Soham Mitra

    Pertinent and to the point. Kudos !

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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