How sensitive has Jayalalithaa been to the needs of women even within her party?

Feminist Torchbearers What have powerful women leaders done to rally against patriarchy
Voices Women's Empowerment Friday, July 22, 2016 - 12:12

Between the cow vigilantes and male chauvinist leaders like Dayashankar Singh, the BJP seems to be getting royally squeezed.  That is a delectable sight for secular liberals like yours truly, yes.  But confining myself to the filthy remarks on BSP leader Mayawati, I would like to stress that it is not as if the BJP alone is steeped in patriarchal values. More important the women leaders themselves have to do a lot, lot more to empower the Indian women. 

M R Venkatesh, a Chennai-based pro-BJP economist, has tweeted – “Ms Kanimozhi of DMK who is rightly agitated on remarks against Mayawati was silent when party men similarly attacked Jayalalithaa.” This one from him too: “Congis who are agitated on comments against Mayawati were silent when TNCC president similarly attacked Jayalalithaa.” Clearly the feminist card many can play, in the process exposing the hypocrisy of all concerned – not ignoring the feisty Tamil Nadu Chief Minister herself.

It should be remembered she had not backed actress Kushboo when she was excoriated everywhere for advocating safe sex. Then too she was the Chief Minister, but had rebuked the actress for failing to respect the ‘Tamil sensibilities.’ And her police allowed the protesters to stage unseemly demonstrations, while scores of petitions were filed against Kushboo all over the state, just to harass her. Eventually, it was the Supreme Court that brought the curtains down, but the actress too had to apologise several times, in tears. Even the Left was equivocal, for all its ‘feminist concerns.’

Jayalalithaa herself is certainly no feminist, by any yardstick.

But looking at some of her experiences at the hands of men, (she talks about them here), one can condone her taking it out on the males, making them prostrate at her feet, perhaps by way of avenging the humiliation heaped on her over the years by different personalities. But the question is how sensitive has she been to the needs of women even within her party?

When she emerged the leader of the unified AIADMK, many had hailed the development. As mentioned in an earlier article, for all Periyar EVR’s thundering denunciation of male chauvinism, his successors have shown little enthusiasm for women’s liberation. In such a backdrop, Jayalalithaa’s ascent, whatever the factors behind it, was welcomed by most observers. And when she was set upon right inside the assembly chambers, there was widespread sympathy, like now for Mayawati.

Not realizing that he was shooting himself in the foot, Karunanidhi went about organising public meetings to defend the DMK in the assembly, his minions showering abuse on Jayalalithaa, then the Opposition leader. The Chief Minister would be seen enjoying those jibes in bad taste. The DMK’s official mouthpiece “Murasoli” raised the pitch, with nauseating attacks on her.

So when in 1991, even before the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, she seemed poised to be voted to power, it looked like the DMK was getting its just deserts.

When she announced grandly that she would be setting an example for all the other political parties in the country by allocating one-third of the party tickets for women, it was seen as yet another progressive step forward. She did allocate all right and they all won, but most of them remained dumb in the assembly, worse many courted corruption controversies. In the very next elections, the quota declaration was out by the window.

Besides to this day, whoever is in position of power in the AIADMK, they are seen as benamis of their spouses or other family members or male mentors. There are indeed a few exceptions, but there is little to admire in their track records.

Well, occasionally the woman in her would come to the fore, like when a TV journalist was molested by her party men in a rally addressed by her – when she came to know of the incident, she promptly called up the young girl, commiserated with her and promised her she would ensure such things don’t happen again. And they haven’t.

But the AIADMK supremo knows full well that none of her male lieutenants treat women with much respect and that they misuse their positions in the party to take advantage of those seeking their favour. Such is the case in the DMK, perhaps crasser than elsewhere.

When Kanimozhi spoke up for Kushboo, Karunanidhi reacted angrily saying, “The party doesn’t share her views, we have always stood by the glorious Tamil traditions…”

The father-daughter duo was not on talking terms for a while at the time, and the father had to work hard to win back his daughter’s affection. But remember that was when Kanimozhi seemed to have no stakes at all in the party. Now when she is an MP and a possible contender for Karunanidhi’s mantle at some point of time, Kanimozhi won’t stick her neck out and criticize the anti-women mindset of her party colleagues.

Sonia Gandhi or Priyanka, Mayawati or Mamata, what has any of them done to promote the cause of women within their respective parties or outside, except for their ritual support for one-third reservation in legislatures?

Even in the advanced West, the women are seen as house-keepers or providers of comfort, though they do enjoy a lot of freedom on the personal front. Even a Hillary Clinton as the President of the US would not bring a lot more women into mainstream politics.

Such being the case, in India, where khaps and caste panchayats rule the roost in many places, honour killing is routine, and when the influence of the conservative parivaar is spreading far and wide for a variety of reasons, women empowerment is unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

Having said that, the nasty comments of the UP BJP leader would go some way towards conscientising our political leaders as also the civil society in respect to our women. So we can thank you, Mr. Dayashankar Singh. Keep coming up with even more insensitive remarks, that help us rally against the patriarchal forces.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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