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BJP MP Saumitra Khan’s reaction to wife Sujata Mondal Khan’s decision to switch parties has again proven the entrenched misogyny of politics!
Politically 2020 has been a happening year. From Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh to West Bengal, changing political loyalties of party members were brought under the limelight. Some defected, some changed loyalties, while some came back to the folds of their party eventually. But one thing that this instability brought to the fore once again is the disdainful and deeply misogynistic treatment of women politicians.
I’ve been following the playing field that the major parties in Bengal – TMC, BJP, and CPI(M), have constructed for the 2021 Assembly elections. It is messy, to say the least. But the segment who is being treated worst in this muddle are the women.
Ahead of the 2021 elections, a string of people crossed over to another opposing camp amid controversies. The latest among them is Sujata Mondal Khan who moved out of the BJP to join Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. She was instrumental behind BJP’s win of the Bishnupur constituency in the General Elections of 2019.
What was disheartening in this scenario was the way in which her husband, BJP MP Saumitra Khan spoke of her decision. And equally saddening was the way the media covered the story with clear sympathies for Saumitra Khan. However, neither comes as a surprise given the patriarchal nature of Indian politics. Khan, publicly announced, that he will be serving divorce papers to Sujata Mondal Khan for choosing to switch parties.
Saumitra Khan’s major complaint against Sujata Mondal Khan was choosing “politics over family to feed your high ambitions.” The BJP MP’s statement makes it clear on the very public platform of Indian media that Sujata Mondal Khan is supposed to ‘choose’ her family over her politics. What this means is, as a woman and a wife, Mondol Khan cannot be ‘allowed’ to have independent political thought or pledge allegiance to the organisation of her choice.
In Indian society, women with high ambition do not fit the patriarchal conception of an ‘ideal’ woman. She should prioritise her family over all else, be the primary care-giver. This is to limit a woman within the spheres of domesticity and gender roles. And even when they venture out, it must be for the benefit of the male members. Since Sujata Mondal Khan is not subscribing wholly to the patriarchal tool of subjugation that gender roles are, Saumitra Khan is considering divorce!
But as I noticed, this compulsion to choose family over ambitions was not applicable for her male counterparts. In contrast, Suvendu Adhikari, hailing from a family of TMC loyalists, crossed over to BJP without anyone hurling similar complaints. For him, it was not a betrayal to his family. He was never made to face the choice between family and politics. For, of course, he’s a man!
On the other hand, after CPI(M) MLA from Haldia, Tapasi Mondal quit her party on Friday, it turned out her husband had joined the BJP a few days earlier. She left apparently due to lack of space for her to work independently within the folds of the Left Front. But she also mentioned how it wouldn’t be fair for two members of a family to belong to different parties. Clearly, the husband, Arjun Mondal did not have to choose his family over his ambition, but Tapasi did. So, I suppose, it is absolutely fair for me to wonder if Tapasi Mondal was coaxed into toeing the line of the patriarchal structure of family!
In the national-level political arena, leaders like Sharad Pawar and Jyotiraditya Scindia shifted their allegiances but were not questioned similarly. In fact, their families followed suit.
What is most heartbreaking and frustrating in this entire ordeal is how even in 2020, after years of feminist struggle and women breaking various barriers, not much has changed.
Even today we have to talk about the private-public divide and assert that women are not properties of their fathers or husbands. The society still demands that women adhere to gender roles and choose their families over all else.
The dreadful 2020 might be coming to an end, but the patriarchal notions dictating and policing the conduct of women is not going anywhere. A lot of work is yet to be done to dismantle it.
Picture credits: Stills from ANI’s Twitter handle
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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional
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