Thursday, 2 February, 2023
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Madam Chief Minister on Netflix one more example why female politicians in India dress down

While US Vice President Kamala Harris can Instagram her high heels, a Priyanka Gandhi or Mayawati doing the same in India will be looked down upon.

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From the 1975 political drama Aandhi to the new Netflix film Madam Chief Minister, a woman politician in India gets noticed, or rather escapes the scrutiny by how much she dresses down. It is either saree, or salwar kameez, preferably with a covered head — she dare not apply ‘visible’ make up after all.

This point was brought home yet again in the Richa Chaddha starrer Madam Chief Minister. Despite the disclaimer that the film isn’t based on the Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati’s life, the fictional character tries to downplay her attire and looks with neutral colours and unglamorous style. Not unlike Mayawati.

The exception was Trinamool Congress MPs Mimi Chakraborty, 30, and Nusrat Jahan, 29, when they tweeted photos of themselves in Western attires on their first day outside Parliament building and drew Twitter flak for looking ‘vulgar’.

Because in real life, our male politicians have never really spared their female counterparts when it comes to attire. From Priyanka Gandhi to the two TMC MPs, each one of them have received flak for their outfits if they, heaven forbid, choose to wear something that does not ‘align’ with what female politicians wear.

Also read: Women don’t care for Delhi’s reduced drinking age — they still have to pay high morality tax

Who decides what female politicians wear?

The answer to this question would be patriarchy in general, and male politicians in particular. Ultimately, politics too is a workplace, and just like any other workplace, harassment can and does exist. In India, politicians take it a notch higher, and do not hesitate to harass, despite public scrutiny. And this, of course, spills over in to the lives of everyday women.

In 2019, BJP MP Harish Dwivedi said of Priyanka Gandhi that when she stays in Delhi, she wears jeans and a top. But when she visits rural areas, she comes wearing a saree and sindoor.

Indian politics is an extremely uneven playing ground. It is tougher for women to pave their way in it, with the inherent bigotry, biases and sexist stereotyping. Former J.P. Morgan banker Mahua Moitra, and TMC MP from Krishnanagar, has lived with the scrutiny over her Bobbi Brown eyeliner and Louis Vuitton handbag.

Recently, West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh commented on CM Mamata Banerjee ‘exposing’ her injured leg as she went campaigning. Ghosh was ‘offended’ by this ‘blatant skin show’ and said if Banerjee wants to show off her legs, she should opt for Bermudas. The TMC leader is known for her starched white cotton sarees, with a navy-blue border, and if she could not escape it, well, I guess no one really has a chance.

The fact that the West Bengal Chief Minister is injured is clearly not a matter of concern, as much as the ‘sasnakar’ — which was ‘violated’ by her injured leg — is. And I really wonder how he would react if he ever saw DIY saree trends on Instagram.

Dilip Ghosh is, of course, unapologetic, even when called out by many. He feels it is his birthright to be the moral police, of women who ‘show off skin’, even if the concerned person is injured. All it takes is an injured, ‘exposed’ leg to undo everything else that Mamata Banerjee might stand for, or is capable of.

Also read: Ripped jeans aren’t just fashion for Indian women. No wonder CM Rawat is worried

Wear it till you tear patriarchy down

And when film actors become politicians, they too must follow the proper dress ‘code of conduct’ and de-glamourise themselves to suit the sanskaar vibe, or be subjected to trolling like Nusrat Jahn and Mimi Chakraborty. After all, when male politicians like Sharad Yadav berate women by using terms like ‘parkati mahila’ (short haired women), the message in Parliament is heard loud and clear by all women politicians – elected and aspiring.

So what could be the answer to this all pervasive patriarchy that grips our male politicians?

While I do wish a speedy recovery to Mamata Banerjee, I wish that her ‘exposed’ leg makes a few more public appearances. And Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi continues resisting with her ripped jeans, just to irk the likes of Dilip Ghosh and Tirath Singh Rawat. For inspiration, just take a look at the Instagram photo US Vice President Kamala Harris posted of her high heels recently. Owning and embracing power with style, like only she can. 

Views are personal. 

Edited by Anurag Chaubey

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  1. Shekhar Gupta often boasts about his team being very young and about 80 percent of them being women. No wonder the lack of experience and diversity clearly shows in the opinion pieces. Devoid of logic, they sound more like rants.

  2. As a Bengali the author surely knows that none is convinced that Mamata is really injured. she is trying to gain sympathy votes and so repeatedly thrusting out her leg in viewers’ faces.

  3. Delusional out of touch cosmopolitan feminist wouldn’t be elected to run a colony society, forget real power.
    Why is it that Modi ran away from suits and Chidambaram wears lungis? You say its patriarchy then why is Sonia Gandhi’s party and Mahua whats-her-face crying suit-boot sarkar for one instance where the PM of India wore a suit they disapproved of?
    Only the extremely dim witted would ignore how appearances make or brake politics in India. Why humility and simplicity are seen as virtues and ostentatious vulgarity looked down upon as unbecoming. A woman’s power and respect in India come from her social station as wife/mother or sister, not as objects of beauty or sex which have low social currency in Indian society.
    A dullard asking Indian politicians to be more like US politicians under some mistaken delusion that fashionable politicians or vanity has political currency in the US are just projecting their own fantasies of how politics works elsewhere. This is far from reality and even in America, fashion detracts from substance. Remember Sarah Palin.

  4. I urge some of the commentators here to use the Grammarly app or at least do a spell check before they post their comments. You don’t want to lose the potency of your argument because of shoddy grammar and poor spelling.

  5. This article is totally rubbish – a waste of time.
    The author is saying Kamala Harris (a Democrat – closer to Indian Leftists) is the gold standard of what women should aspire to become. The author has forgotten that India elected and re-elected a woman as its PM in the 60s, 70s and 80s – Indira Gandhi and kept another one in power for 10 MMS years. While US is yet to elect a woman President. In politics, it is about power not attire.
    But the author’s thinking is so superficial that she has chosen to focus on attire. Because, I think she wants to use that to continue spreading fake-feminism in India by combining all Indian customs she dislikes into Patriarchy. Typical Leftist, Fake-feminist. You can fool me no longer. Thank God!

  6. Be Chill. No Need for Feminism in wearing of any attire. Travel out into the vast hinterlands of this Nation. See how the average dress and again rewrite this article

  7. The context is misplaced in this article. It goes much beyond gender here. Historically the ‘fashion’ in Indian politics has remained Gandhian. Most politicians have been wearing traditional dress, including men. The reason why Modi was ridiculed as ‘Suit Boot ki Sarkar’ for wearing a suit. American politicians have an entirely different dress code.
    The despicable behavior of Dilip Ghosh is another matter. I think the article mixes things up.

  8. Ms. Das comes across as a wannabe rebel, albeit a lost one. This article, just like her previous one, is mostly a pointless rant.
    In India, when one joins politics, he/she is expected to be in de-glamourised and plain attire. Its applicable not just for women but also for men. No one turns out in the Legislative Assemblies or the Parliament in jeans and tees. Neither the men nor the women.
    However, this is not to condone the sexist remarks of several male politicians. That is totally uncalled for.
    But at the same time, wannabe politicians, especially those from the film industry, must appreciate the fact that the Parliament is not a fashion show. An unwritten dress code is adhered to by everyone and they would be better off observing and complying with it.

  9. Let me start by saying no one should dictate what a woman should or should not wear.
    But I don’t understand this infatuation of comparing Kamala Harris high heels to an Indian sarees.
    Both the countries have their own dress culture. Will Kamala Harris wear a chappal and live in a small house like Mamta Banerjee does?

    Tina das mentioned Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan being criticized for wearing western outfits. But at the same time let me remind you Nusrat was criticized and abused for wearing a saree, a sindoor and doing a puja during Durga Ashtami by the Islamist.

    All the examples mentioned in the article were of TMC female legislatures being criticized. But Tina has very conveniently has forgotten about the name calling that Smriti Irani, Mayawati, Shazia Ilmi and many more from various parties had to face.

    Lastly I think Tina has raised an important point but lets not be baised in highlighting genuine women issues.

    Note to ThePrint: Posting the readers comments after 2-3 days on the article doesn’t do justice.
    In the 2-3 days the article has been removed from the front page. Readers miss out on the
    chances of debating with the author or amongst themselves
    Also who has the patience to wait for 3 days to see his comments. I surely don’t.

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