By Arré Bench Oct. 19, 2020
While campaigning for the Madhya Pradesh by-polls, Congress leader Kamal Nath used the word “item” for a woman leader, who was part of his party but has switched over to the BJP. It’s the kind of sexism that women netas have to face regularly.
In November, by-polls are due to be conducted in Madhya Pradesh for 28 seats in the state’s legislative assembly. As the campaigning for these seats has begun, Kamal Nath, the former Chief Minister of the Congress government, might have done more harm than good to his party candidate’s fortunes with his remarks at a campaign meeting. Nath was caught on video referring to Imarti Devi, the opposing candidate from the Bharatiya Janata Party, as an “item” to cheers from his audience. Devi was among the legislators from the Congress party who resigned from the party earlier this year, leading to the collapse of Nath’s government in Madhya Pradesh.
#WATCH: Our candidate is not like her… what's her name? (people shout Imarti Devi, who is former State Minister) You know her better and should have warned me earlier… ye kya item hai: Former Madhya Pradesh CM & Congress leader Kamal Nath pic.twitter.com/eW76f2z8gU
— ANI (@ANI) October 18, 2020
Kamal Nath’s ignorant comments have rightfully stoked outrage. Devi, the subject of Nath’s remarks, hit back at him by saying, “I want to appeal to Sonia Gandhi, who is also a mother, to not keep such people in her party. If such words will be used for women then how can any woman move forward?”
— editorji (@editorji) October 19, 2020
Other figures also came forward to protest against the language used by Nath. Representatives from Devi’s party, the BJP, met with officials of the Election Commission to complain against Nath for insulting the Dalit leader. The state’s current CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, declared a silent protest on Monday, October 19.
Madhya Pradesh: Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan observes a two-hour 'silent protest' in Bhopal, against former CM & Congress leader Kamal Nath's remarks wherein he referred to BJP leader Imarti Devi as "item". Other ministers of the state & leaders of the party also present. pic.twitter.com/NjtM4yBR5l
— ANI (@ANI) October 19, 2020
Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy also slammed Nath and spoke about how in the US, Kamala Harris was also mocked in a similar fashion.
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) October 18, 2020
Others, appalled by the remark, outraged on Twitter.
2 days ago @RahulGandhi
was asking everyone to respect women and today congress leader Kamal Nath is calling a bjp women candidate imarti devi an item. Disgusting.#KamalNath #कमलनाथ_शर्म_करो #தேசியவாதபத்திரிகை_தினமலர் pic.twitter.com/o1cbu5Ypmq
— Ishika Bhardwaj (@ishika_bharad) October 19, 2020
While it’s embarrassing every time a politician makes a sexist remark, it’s not unprecedented. From national parties like the Congress and the BJP to regional parties like Samajwadi Party, there is no shortage of leaders who at one point or the other, have put their feet in their mouths by voicing an outdated notion about gender, or using an offensive term for women. Nath’s “item” remark brings to mind memories of BJP MLA Ram Kadam promising to kidnap brides against their will for prospective grooms, or SP’s Azam Khan making sexist remarks in Parliament or commenting on the colour of an opposing politician’s underwear.
Singhvi's tweet on Sunny Leone proves that sexism & misogyny unite Indian politicians across party lines! Beyond distasteful!
— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) April 10, 2015
When will our male politicians realise they are living in 2020, not 1920?