Three separate events that unfolded over the past few days, all with varied backdrops depict the pathetic state of patriarchy that we live in under the shadow of a constitutional democracy. The women involved in these episodes belong to vastly different social strata of the immensely complex Hindu society but all are victims of their womanhood in their own respect. Perhaps unsurprisingly their cases are completely ignored by mainstream feminists and are left to fight their battles on other labels rather than from a woman’s perspective.
The first woman is Ms. V.K.Sasikala, a close associate and friend of the recently deceased Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and head of AIADMK, Ms. J. Jayalalitha. She torpedoed in to the center of the brewing political storm in Tamil Nadu when she was nominated as the head of AIADMK and proposed Chief Minister of the state in the aftermath of Jayalalitha’s death. As the news of her nomination spread, a massive vilification campaign engulfed not just Tamil Nadu but the entire nation. On the face of it, she was duly chosen as a leader by an overwhelming majority of the ruling AIADMK MLAs to take over as the next Chief Minister. The acting Chief Minister, Mr O Panneerselvam himself put down his resignation to pave way for Ms. Sasikala. But what should have been a smooth transition of power turned in to a political quagmire with Ms. Sasikala’s personal background and supposedly shady rise to power becoming objects of derision and ridicule to all levels of political observers. People took objection to a lot of things but the underlying theme was that she was ‘just a maid’. A population enamored in mythological legends where female characters such as Manthara (Kaikeyi’s maid in Ramayana) and Soorpanakha (Ravana’s sister in Ramayana) are villainized easily caught on to the ‘evil’ Sasikala narrative. A portrait of an unwanted, greedy character plotting to usurp the legacy of a benevolent mother easily gained ground. While Ms. Sasikala is no saint, it must not be ignored that she had already been proximate to power and a defacto second-in-command for decades in the servile political apparatus of AIADMK, next only to ‘Amma’ Jayalalitha. The frivolous grounds that her ascension to the CM chair after being duly selected by her party’s MLAs must await the court verdict in an age-old disproportionate assets case is outright unconstitutional. As she now ended up guilty in the case, she would, of course, have been thrown out of her position just like her predecessor ‘Amma’ but to deny her legitimacy in the first place smacks of outright boorishness and feudal, dictatorial attitude of the governor with staunch backing not only from the central government but also from the undeclared establishment classes of mainstream society.
The second woman in consideration here is Ms. Roja, an MLA representing Nagari constituency in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh (AP). A lead film actress in more than 100 South Indian movies, she plunged in to politics and landed in the state’s opposition party, YSRCP in 2014 after a few flip-flops. Ms. Roja was invited to attend the ostentatiously named National Women’s Parliamentin Amaravathi hosted by the AP government between February 10th-12th, 2017 but was detained by the police as she landed at the airport and surreptitiously shipped away in a police vehicle to Hyderabad, 300 kilometres away. The pretext was that she would disrupt the Women’s Parliament with ‘negative’ speeches where the Chief Minister’s daughter-in-law and other such non-elected personalities spoke eloquently. Ms. Roja’s supposed ill reputation and prior history of protesting in the AP assembly were used as justification to thwart her participation. This move was wrong at so many levels but to infringe upon basic freedoms of an MLA in a democracy shows the level of respect our heads of states have towards upholding their sworn duty of safeguarding the constitution. In singling out Ms. Roja as a disruptive force, the state government machinery under the leadership of Mr Chandrababu Naidu displayed its highhandedness and dictatorial attitudes in curtailing the rights of a woman. Her prior career as a heroine in Telugu movies, a profession that is widely looked down upon in a patriarchal society made her vulnerable and even an object of ridicule on multiple occasions in the past. On the sidelines of this same women’s parliament, the speaker of AP Legislative assembly, MrKodelaSivaprasada Rao, paradoxically suggested that women confined to the walls of a house are like parked cars that would bear no risk of ‘damage’ as opposed to working women being like speeding cars on roads with risk of self-threat. That probably sums up the attitude of current dispensation in restricting Ms. Roja’s itinerary and the CM might even claim that he wanted her to be safe as a ‘parked car’. A case in point that needs to be mentioned is the blatant disregard with which media uses derogatory terms such as ‘firebrand’ to describe vocal female politicians while rabidly vicious male politicians are depicted as stern and paternalistic.
The third and perhaps the most oppressed woman to be discussed here is Ms. Radhika Vemula. The AP government has just officially declared on February 14, 2017 that RohithVemula does not belong to Scheduled Castes (SC) and has accused him of ‘fraudulently’ obtaining an SC certificate. Such a decision summarily vanquishes the role of a single-mother in to oblivion by upholding hindu dharma that automatically assigns the caste of a father to the progeny even though RohithVemula grew up and attained University education under Ms. Radhika’s maternal care. Her gut-wrenching struggle in catering for her kids while bearing the abuse of her alcoholic husband has been published in great detail in a recent article in the National press. Now the government’s shameless attempt in depriving the mother of her dignity and asking her to prove her credentials as a dalit is a reflection of the Vedic laws that our constitutional heads adhere to. Ms. Radhika was herself abandoned by her dalit parents at a tender age and was brought up in the care of a stranger that happened to be an OBC (Vaddera caste) and was later married in to the same caste. Her husband, who married her not knowing her dalit origins abandoned her and the children when he found out. Thus, Ms. Radhika’s life and the extremely saddening end to the life of her dearest son caught in the complex web of caste is arguably one of the greatest feminist struggles of contemporary India.
The common thread that unites these stories is the manner in which these three women have been witch-hunted by modern-day plutocracy while all along in the disguise of norms and rules. Undoubtedly the most disproportionately affected individual is Ms. RadikaVemula, coming from the most socially disadvantaged section of Indian society. However, financial muscle and political capital could not prevent victimization of the other two women in our world that is still abhorrently patriarchal. That is not to say there are no women that are recognized and praised in India but almost all such women would first need to satisfy certain unwritten norms that the established forces in Indian society approve of before gaining ascent in the public eye.
Dr Nijam Gara is a gastroenterologist, hepatologist and rationalist thinker based in the US. His articles are devoted towards voicing the concerns of downtrodden and marginalized communities.