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.
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.
#WATCH BJP MP Harish Dwivedi in Basti: Rahul fail hain toh Priyanka bhi fail hain. Jab Priyanka Gandhi Delhi mein rehti hain toh jeans aur top mein rehti hai aur jab shetra mein aati hain toh saree aur sindoor laga kar aati hain.
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) February 10, 2019
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.
— FIRHAD HAKIM (@FirhadHakim) March 25, 2021
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.
Breaking this @CNNnews18 @DilipGhoshBJP in an exclusive Interview justifies his Bermuda comment, saying @MamataOfficial “has insulted Bengal’s culture by deliberately keeping her foot out while wearing a saree, women don’t like it so I protested”. Read?https://t.co/EamdH1EXJO
— Aman Sharma (@AmanKayamHai_) March 25, 2021
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