Nirmala Sitharaman
File photo of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman | Photo: Ravi Choudhary | PTI
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In the eyes of India’s male politicians, any political battle is already half-won if the opponent is a woman. The possible lines of attacks have long been drawn and one has to simply pick and choose — from women’s appearance to their jewellery to, oftentimes, just their gender. As Parliament opened Monday to begin the monsoon session, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman became the latest target of Indian men’s ingrained misogyny when a member attacked her appearance while trying to take a potshot at the state of India’s economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi can grow his beard and draw accolades from across the political divide, but Nirmala Sitharaman must maintain her appearance at all times — because she is more a woman than a minister. Male politicians have to shield criticism for their statements, their actions — but someone like Sitharaman or Smriti Irani are left to defend their ‘domestic’ roles of ‘tai’ or ‘aunty’ because these are the positions India’s patriarchal society has designated for them. Women can break the ‘glass ceiling’, become defence minister or finance minister — but they must only negotiate within the boundaries of the meek ’Bharatiya naari’ demeanour. Any sign of assertiveness will be seen as crossing the ‘Lakshman rekha’.


Also read: Sit girl, in the corner: Across the world, the many proverbs that keep sexism alive


Economy is an issue, but…

Indian economy has faced a tough time in the past too. Whether it’s in 1991, when the government had to pledge gold to rescue the economy, or the double-digit inflation for several years from 2011, India has often found itself battling a tough economic scenario. But this toxicity and the venom directed at the country’s first full-time woman finance minister is certainly novel.

It must be obvious to anyone who cares to see that the kind of attacks Sitharaman faces are largely because of her gender. It is no different than Congress president Sonia Gandhi being routinely attacked on social media as a ‘bar dancer’.

But behind this gender-specific attack is also Sitharaman’s assertiveness, which makes men uncomfortable. This is why she is often asked to “smile more”. 

Sitharaman has an MA and MPhil but none of these qualifications matters to her critics who only see a ‘tai’ in her — an identity that is all too easy to target because of how the Indian society normalises women as ‘weak’. Many people in India Inc, in the financial circles, in their WhatsApp forwards refer to Sitharaman only as ‘tai’.

Then there are the continuous discussions about Sitharaman’s ‘anger’. And yet, no one sees Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal’s tirades as emotional ‘outbursts’.


Also read: Locker room boys to IT cell men: India’s rape culture grows without shame or consequences


Not the first time

Monday’s incident against Sitharaman in Parliament is not the first time that a woman politician in India has faced a sexist attack — and it certainly won’t be the last.

In January 2019, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a potshot at Sitharaman, saying that PM Modi “got a woman to defend him” on the Rafale deal debate in Parliament.

“The watchman with a 56-inch chest ran away and told a woman, Sitharaman ji, to defend me,” Gandhi had said.

Men have repeatedly singled Sitharaman out for India’s economic slump — primarily using the ‘Nirmala tai’ nomenclature, as if to suggest her gender has had a role to play. But you won’t find anyone blaming the real CEO of the country — PM Modi — by seeking to draw a relation between his long beard and the long slide in India’s GDP.

The continued signalling towards her gender suggests that for Sitharaman, the situation is like this — step down from the post or face sexist remarks.

Before that, in 2014, Modi had asked West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to control her “anger” because he was worried she might fall ill. The 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign was especially littered with such sexist remarks.

At a public rally in UP, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan had, in an apparent reference to Jaya Prada, said that it may have taken the public 17 years to identify her real face, he figured out within 17 days that she wears khaki (RSS) underwear. BJP’s Surendra Narayan Singh had said that Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati colours her hair and gets facials done to look “young”, after she had commented on Modi’s “royal” lifestyle. 

BJP’s Jayakaran Gupta had called Priyanka Gandhi a “skirt wali bai”. Praja Rajyam Party’s Jaydeep Kawade had said that Smriti Irani’s big bindi is because she keeps changing her husbands frequently. SP’s Om Prakash Singh, then-UP tourism minister, had called Mayawati “badsurat (ugly)”.

Women are expected to be people-pleasing minions who cannot argue, or have a spat with co-workers or even choose to smile. As the latest incident involving Nirmala Sitharaman shows, the situation for India’s women politicians isn’t much different either.

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28 Comments Share Your Views

28 COMMENTS

  1. What a waste of words. if women face praise, only then they are happy. as soon as they are criticised, the victimisation by the other women starts. what bullshit. She is the Finance Minister of India, and it’s no small deal. I think she has prepared herself for all the bullshit she is going to face. and be it a man or a woman, anyone would have faced a similar flak had the conomy been in the state it is today. There is just 1 point that I agree with and that is the attack on her appearance and that is unacceptable. Apart from that, I don’t think we should be playing the sexism card here.

  2. Granted that one must judge the FM’s gender. But she or her boss, have a solution to wade out of this economic mess ?
    Sometimes, it seems that people are just hiding from responsibilities citing that are being targeted with misogynist remarks.
    If the author’s main grouse is that Modi is not been abused enough, look around again. Social media is replete with Modi memes, some of which are personal.

  3. Ha. Ha!
    ThePrint can’t listen to other’s views, it seems!
    Deleted my comment, as expected.
    I think Freedom of Speech only belongs and owned by the media!
    And then you have the audacity to ask the readers this;
    “…do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.”

    Very well done in maintaining the execrable standards of journalistic bigotry! Kudos to the author, the moderator, and the house in general.
    LONDON Bridge is truly falling!

    • That’s not BJP media its the work of Feminist media and Theprint in general pushes Feminist narrative, they always look for some angle in which they can show women being victim and men are the evils because of Indian men’s ingrained misogyny, women can do anything wrong its always man’s fault even if they see women saying the same thing they will ignore them like nothing happened and continue chanting misogyny everytime.

  4. WOW… this article alone is the proof that in,dian media is sold and acting like spokesperson of bjp. unless people wake up there is no way to save in,dia…

  5. Is this a motivated coverage? Have you forgotten Sushma Swaraj so soon? Her competency was never questioned because she was competent. Or do you think our GDP is growing at 20% and the current FM is being targeted only because she is a woman?

  6. In the scheme of thing when the dispensation is of elected members, it is just a co-independence to have a domain expert heading a ministry. Ms. Sitaraman understands the economics sufficiently to articulate coherently the policies, based on the advice coming from domain experts.
    She does not have a Montek Singh of her own and must be un-InfluenSable. Nothing to do with her being a Lady

  7. I do not understand why criticizing a female FM can be considered sexist? Plus, it’s not about the qualifications, it’s about ownership. Man or woman, the country’s FM is answerable for the appalling downturn of our economy. And if the author doesn’t already know this, the PM has been trolled multitude times than the FM for the economy. This article seems quite opinionated and less factual.

  8. The author, who perceives sexism and misogyny in criticism against Finance Minister, is both naive and credulous. India’s once fast-growing economy is in a dire emergency. Sitaraman has clearly failed to tackle economic slow-down; her competence to steer the economy away from the chaos is suspect. God save our patient people in these sad and troubled times.

  9. Economy is an issue, but not only for India but every other country too! That is not the reason for the venom os self-styled liberals. It is anti BJP feeling and also that she is woman , that too from the South

  10. As Shekar Gupta said in the past political journalists aren’t expected to be political theorists or political philosophers. But they are expected to get their facts rights. While this article is a waste of time, I will point just one error. Jaydeep Kawada belongs to People’s Republican Party (PRP) and not as quoted above to Praja Rajyam Party (Andhra Pradesh based defunct party which was headed by Chiranjeevi). May be journalists need to go beyond accepting the first search results that Google throws at them.

  11. This article is hogwash. The writer must pay The Print for publishing this rant. Pure incompetence cannot be defended by your gender. Degrees and competence have no correlation.

  12. Economy is an issue, but don’t anyone dare to blame the FM because she is a woman. Why does everything convert to gender? When people or economists, question the country’s fiscal state, they are questioning the FM, not the person. And let me remind you, the chair identifies a person, a person does not identify the chair. No one single person is larger than the chair occupied. Why is it conveniently acceptable to castigate the FM if it were a male, but not so convenient to be acceptable, if it is a female.? It would have been a perceptible difference if the debate was about a scientist, an inventor, a writer, a social worker, a mathematician, in fact any self made person.

    But, any elected representative, has to be subject to acute public scrutiny, however uncomfortable it may seem to the so called spear leaders of pseudo evangelists. After all, the tax payer is paying for their services. Adjunct to the above, is the irrefragable fact that every politician has been guilty of the reprehensible practices of cross party trading, grandstanding, slandering, and many more sleazier gimmicks. Any person named for any cabinet chair, is a product of the same cauldron.

    The constant depravity in ethics in the political environment, leads to distinctive degradation of the sanctity of such and any other chairs of public service. Consequently, no citizen is able to trust any politician, even when a statement , claim or promise is made. Ergo, when a promise is made, the country expects an outcome, however, when the outcome is not delivered, the promising individual in power, more often than will concoct a web of lies , resulting in being viewed as immoral due to such actions.

    So unless, a person is absolutely devoid of any of the above infestations, he or she when occupying a chair paid for by the public, is unquestionably answerable for anything even if remotely connected either directly or otherwise, to the concerned sphere of influence. There is not an iota of acceptable truth, that critics and citizens deliberately let gender cloud their judgement, when questioning the effectiveness of a public servant.

    Lastly, MA and M. Phil do not equip anyone with the calibre required to manage and run the country’s economy. in a manner best suited for the prosperity and growth of a nation. The person has a moral responsibility to listen to experts on the matter, and not make decisions guided by political motives.

    Taking a leaf out of the website’s call for support , I adaptively quote that; as a country, we need to invest in quality politicians. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our politicians get what they need for their service. But, they forget that, all of this comes with a sizable cost. For us to achieve quality politics, we need writers like you to stand up for it, and not conveniently join the pseudo popular bandwagon of a movement which needs to focus it’s heart elsewhere in much more critically deplorable affairs.

  13. What has this article to do with the fact that Nimmy is a woman .she is a incompetent and bumbling minister. Her only qualificationbis that she defended Modi during 2003 . Why is the author harping on the fact that she is a woman. We all respect women but this is a incompetent person .period

  14. She has reached great heights not to hide behind some fake victim hood narrative.

    Kindly request author to see her as an equal and not through her lens of religious beliefs.

  15. What are the signs that you’re first world feminist living in a third world country? Don’t know, too many to count.
    But this writer here definitely is one of them.

  16. May be there’s some truth to this story, but MA and MPhil don’t qualify. She’s not expected to be an expert, but she could have let experts do the talking. Finally, when we see jumla after jumla and criticize, don’t say because she is a woman. I wasted my time reading this article, expecting better from The Print.

  17. This article is absolutely rubbish you can say what happened with reaha was anti women but in the case of sitaraman , nothings being said is anti women .people are questioning her credibility . What this suggest is questioning women’s credibility is anti women .

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