Dear Smriti Irani, You Are Painfully Wrong About Women in India
Smriti Irani might have taken care to speak more sensitively about women in India.(Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_D0D3B8oME">YouTube screenshot</a>)
Smriti Irani might have taken care to speak more sensitively about women in India.(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)

Dear Smriti Irani, You Are Painfully Wrong About Women in India

Earlier this year, India’s Daughter, the controversial BBC documentary on the infamous Nirbhaya rape case which was banned by the government, generated huge momentum.

While a certain section of the society vociferously protested against the ban, many others supported the government’s move, with the rationale that it would harm India’s image globally. The most common argument was that we should always defend our own country at any costs and apparently blindfold ourselves to the problem.



Vigil at first death anniversary of Nirbhaya in New Delhi, December 29, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Vigil at first death anniversary of Nirbhaya in New Delhi, December 29, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Though not of the same intensity, a similar situation arose last week, which reminded me of the BBC documentary incident. The New York Times organised its flagship “Women in the World” summit in New Delhi, which witnessed the participation of well known women personalities and leaders such as Deepa Mehta, Cate Blanchett, Madhuri Dixit, Zarina Screwvala, among others.

However, the otherwise peaceful event generated some controversy when Union Minister of Human Resources Development, Smriti Irani, during an interview, said,

“In India, I don’t think any woman here is dictated what to wear, how to wear, whom to meet, when to meet. I am of the opinion, I don’t think anybody is dictated here, you are not told,”

– to which she was booed at by the audience.

Despite the jeer, Irani continued her defence and responded, “Are you told? I am sorry. I am not. My apologies ladies”.

Even on Twitter, when some users questioned the validity of the statement, she continued her defence. It is understandable that she has never been dictated what to wear, what to do, et al by anyone in her life as she mentioned, but unfortunately, that doesn’t hold true for many women in India.

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Why Irani Needs to Read More of Bhagwat

While the sanctity of her statement can be judged by the audience reaction, let me give some examples which are in complete contrast with the utopian world, which –Irani thinks – women in India live in.

I can sympathise with her for the very fact that not many girls choose to speak about their internal battles, but it is immeasurably surprising that Irani hasn’t heard of khap panchayats in North India, nonsensical diktats imposed on girls by colleges in South India and the ban on usage of cell phones by extremist religious groups.

Last year, the Hindu Mahasabha pushed for a ban on jeans for girls and usage of mobile phones in Haryana. A few months back, a Muslim village panchayat in UP issued a diktat that bans girls from using mobile phones and wearing jeans and T-shirts.



RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat not too long ago spoke about the “contract” between husband and wife. (Photo: Reuters)
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat not too long ago spoke about the “contract” between husband and wife. (Photo: Reuters)

More recently, her own party member, Mahesh Sharma, the Union Minister for Culture, said, “Night out for girls is not in our culture”, which stirred outrage. During her session at the event, Irani claimed that her family was ideologically linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). If she hasn’t already, she should read up Mohan Bhagwat’s comment, who during a rally in Indore in January 2013, said,

“Theory of contract, theory of social contract, a husband and wife are bound by a contract which says ‘you (woman) look after the household chores and satisfy me, I (man) will take care of your needs and will protect you’, and until she delivers her duties without fail, he keeps her on the contract and if she fails to honour the contract, he disowns her and if it is the same with the husband who is not honouring the contract, she can also abandon him and go for a new contract then.”

Will Mrs Irani clarify whether or not she agrees with the RSS chief’s statement?

The Art of False Patriotism

Smriti’s statement unfortunately doesn’t hold true for the majority of the women in the country. (Photo: iStock)
Smriti’s statement unfortunately doesn’t hold true for the majority of the women in the country. (Photo: iStock)

When I shared my anguish on Facebook, I was accused of being a pseudo secular and selective activist (as I apparently didn’t criticise Mani Shankar Aiyar’s anti-Modi remarks a few days earlier) and of plotting to overthrow the elected BJP government.

But someone argued that while speaking on a big platform, one should always defend and market the country while being abroad (with the assumption that the event was not in India), just like Modi is doing.

My stance about the ugly truth of women’s issues in India cannot be a parameter to judge my patriotism. It is naïve to assume that a certain person, who defends her country at all costs and paints a rosy picture when it is actually the opposite, is more patriotic than the one who highlights the issues truthfully. But to portray a false representation of India, where women are subjected to intense discrimination and societal pressures, is actually more dangerous than speaking the truth itself.

Personally for me, the most unfortunate aspect is that Smriti Irani, a woman who has risen from being an employee at McDonalds to India’s youngest Union HRD Minister and is an inspiration for millions including me, feigned ignorance about gender discrimination in India.

(Devanik Saha is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.)

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