Indian Politicians Need a Crash Course on Gender Sensitivity. Now Cong Leader Says Girls Can Reproduce at 15


Indian Politicians Need a Crash Course on Gender Sensitivity. Now Cong Leader Says Girls Can Reproduce at 15

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

In India, male politicians are never shy of pontificating on how women should lead their lives. What clothes they should wear, what kind of movies they should watch, what time they can hang out until, and with whom, and whom they should marry.

It was perhaps a bit rich of us to expect that things would have changed by 2021. Within the last week, the Chief Justice of India has questioned why women are “kept” at protests, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has proposed “tracking” of working women to keep them safe, and now a Congress MLA from Madhya Pradesh has asked why the marriage age should be increased when girls can produce at the age of 15 years as well. Dear politicians, can you please STFU.

“Doctors say that even a 15-years-old girl can reproduce, then what is the need to increase the marriage age of girls to 21 years? Has Shivraj become a bigger doctor,” said Sajjan Singh Verma, former minister and Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh. Verma was responding to a comment made by MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the “Nari Samman” programme, where he said that the marriage age of girls should be increased from 18 to 21 years. “Madhya Pradesh tops in the number of rapes against minors. Instead of taking strict action in such cases, the chief minister is playing politics full of hypocrisy,” Verma reportedly said.

While revising the marriage age can be debated on its merits or lack of it, reckless and insensitive statements like those made by Verma are uncalled for. The Congress leader’s remark attracted severe criticism on social media. Women fiercely questioned whether they were just baby-making machines. Many pointed out that parents force their daughters to get married as soon as they turn 18, and such comments only further encourage that worldview. Instead of propagating the view that women must complete higher education, join the workforce and become independent, we are seeing politicians engage in a race to the bottom. Is a little bit of sensitivity too much to ask for? Don’t politicians realise they are hurting the women’s cause that they claim to cheer for publicly?

It is not that some politicians or parties have a monopoly in making ill-advised comments on women. At the same function, Shivraj Singh Chouhan stated that a system would be put in place where a woman moving out of home for work would have to register herself at the police station, and she will be tracked for her safety. Not only is surveillance of this kind a bad idea, but even if one were to ignore that for a moment, should women be tracked, or the predators?

From blaming chowmein, jeans, and mobile phones for rapes, to questioning choice of clothes and why women go out at night alone, our leaders had already set the bar quite low when it comes to discourse on safety and empowerment. However, a new low continues to be achieved with every passing day.

Will an empathetic politician please stand up?