UNDERSTATEMENT: Didi, come on, now become one


UNDERSTATEMENT: Didi, come on, now become one

In her unstarched white cotton saris, rubber flip flops, a now permanent scowl and simmering belligerence towards her critics, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee looks like a woman lost in translation. One half a pure activist-politician, loyal to her roots and utterly committed to her ideals, the other half a shrew of a politician who judges too much too soon especially when she talks about crimes against women. We do not need a sociological pundit to read into her psyche that seems to blister when a woman cries rape, as then Ms Banerjee gropes for contexts like “pornography” or “fabrication by a sex worker” to explain away the crimes, thereby stretching the onus, in a rather twisted way, back to the victim. There are reasons behind it all and whatever those reasons may be, they do not make her culpable, she seems to be saying.

In a country where a majority still mix up ‘simplicity and modesty’ in dressing and lifestyle with feminist convictions, we deserve the contradictions Mamata Banerjee presents. She busts the image some cling to when they look for “correct” looking saviours of women’s rights. “Are all women in West Bengal being raped?” she asks and you say ouch. “Have I raped the women?” she then thunders and you flinch awkwardly again. “Who all are being called to channels (to discuss rape)? Many of them are involved in pornography,” she then declares and you realize she is no longer the protective ‘didi’ of real India who leaves her home everyday to set wrong things right. She is a dictatorial political leader like any other and worse because she is crass enough to display political insensitivity even as women everywhere continue to be raped and assaulted. Who cares what her real feelings are, we must believe what we see and hear.

Gender sensitivity and feminist conscience are being variously interpreted in what may go down in history as the second phase of India’s women’s movement, but if a political leader must eventually win solidarity, clearly there is no doing without them. If it is a woman leader, even being gender sensitive is not enough. The voters, if not the party, now expect a lot more from female politicians, especially those in power. They must be hard as nails, focused not hyper, feminist-humanists, persistent, persuasive and committed to doing their bit in wiping out crimes against women, a critical issue in the India of 2013.

Even for ordinary women who have no stakes in the country’s policy, it is difficult to shrug off rape and injustice. But for a female political leader to be mocking them is a crime in itself. That’s how Mamata Banerjee seems to be shaping up in our perceptions.

While it is the result of ongoing socio-political inequalities and the build-up of poor policing and attitudes of many decades (and not about Ms Banerjee raping women herself), West Bengal accounting for 12.67% of crimes against women according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), is a telling turning point in how we view modern India. Sociologists and opinion writers have endlessly debated the roguish, provincial and patriarchal “north Indian male”, giving the rapist personality and mindset a demographic caricature. When we think and rue, worry and agonise about ourselves and our daughters, we seldom conjure up the image of a horrific Bengali man as a predatory rapist or of Kolkata as being the third most unsafe metropolis for women (it trails Delhi and Bangalore, according to NCRB).

But that turns out to be the reality, making Mamata Banerjee’s ‘response-ability’–both verbal and political—far more crucial now than when she set out singing Ma, Mati, Manush (mother, earth, humankind) as her election campaign mantra.

It is time she shows what her popular tag ‘didi’ really means.