A BJP leader in Uttar Pradesh calls a former chief minister and leader of the BSP ‘worse than a prostitute’ raising a storm in the Parliament. But, lost in the noise was the nature of the insult and the position of women in India.
As elections approach in the largest state of the country, Uttar Pradesh, heated debates and trading of insults and allegations between various political parties has been rising steadily. But on Wednesday, the debate sank to new depths as a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Dayashankar Singh, called the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party and three-times chief minister Mayawati’s behaviour ‘worse than prostitute’ over distribution of her party’s tickets to various contenders for the election.
To tide over the storm that the statement created, the BJP rapidly expelled the leader and tried to bring the debate to a close. The nature of insult brings to fore once more the situation of women.
The Indian society largely remains patriarchal even as women gain positions of power as political leaders, contribute to the national discourse as top journalists and break barriers in the corporate and private sphere. However, the society is yet to come to grips with the changed reality and women are far from being acknowledged for their achievements and instead are subjected to harsh criticism.
The most common insult hurled at a woman,who has an opinion, a seat of power and even a little bit of success but does not conform to the standards set by society, is being called a prostitute.
The remark about Mayawati was just another example of this practice that not only perpetuates misogyny against the successful woman by trivialising her contribution to society, but also a sex worker. Equating sex workers with having questionable morals and by essentially regarding their character as the worst possible, calling a woman a prostitute is considered a deep insult. This understanding of sex work is held as a belief irrespective of gender, but it raises questions about the right of a woman over her mind, body and choices.
Our recent history is full of attempts of ‘shaming’ a woman. Last year, a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet coined the term “presstitute” to describe the media. The term has caught the fancy of many and is used extensively on social media. Activists such as Kavita Krishnan and senior journalist Barkha Dutt are often targeted by a large number of people, mainly the BJP followers, who label them as prostitutes, presstitutes and whores. But the women do not take it lying down. When insulted for her remarks on the Mayawati episode, Barkha Dutt embraced the title of “presstitute” with pride and wit.
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) July 21, 2016
In her response, Kavita Krishnan raised the issue of the status of a Dalit woman as Mayawati is a Dalit, the outcastes according to the Indian caste system.
To all those cleverly asking – so you believe it is insulting to be called a sex worker, here’s a little primer…. https://t.co/9XharB6GfD
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) July 21, 2016
The debate also brings into focus the hypocrisy of the Indian traditions as innumerable goddesses are worshipped by a vast majority, but a living woman is denied even the basic respect.