The M Factor
Category : COVER STORY
Author : Shayma S
Many M’s have popped up in this current election season. From mangalsutra (the necklace worn by Hindu women to signify their marital status, which Congress will allegedly rob in a Robinhood-esque manoeuvre) and mutton (which opposition leaders allegedly eat in sacred months) to the Mughals (who are put into service regularly for political ends centuries after they departed from this world), minority (institutions like Jamia Millia, which the PM has attacked for its minority status), to of course – Muslims.
As the author Saeed Naqvi had imagined in his book, what would happen if Muslims were to disappear? What would India look like? How would its political and social order hold together? How would the Hindutva juggernaut rumble on without the symbol of Muslims to summon from time to time to remind a hungry, cash-strapped, vulnerable voter that even if unemployment is sky-high, the government deals with Muslims as they ought to be dealt with? And so, all must be well.
But as many political commentators have pointed out, there is yet another M – mahila, women – which forms the undercurrent of this election. Since we at Aura are not psephologists, this article isn’t about how the women’s vote will go. Women are a disaggregated vote bank, divided by caste, region, religion, and other factors. Instead, let us talk briefly about how women have been discussed in the current election.
Some instances:

The sitting MP from Hassan, Prajwal Revanna, scion of the JDS and grandson of the former PM HD Devegowda, is now sitting pretty in Germany, having flown the coop on a diplomatic passport. Evidence – screenshots, chats and photos – of heinous acts of sexual violence found their way into the public sphere of Karnataka last month in the form of pen drives lying at bus stops and circulated. Putting aside the question of feudal caste dominance, sexual impunity and political machinations that made it possible for him to escape in the first place, a sobering reality is that for many of the women in the videos, the humiliation of the act was doubled by the circulation of these videos. The voyeuristic desires of our society outstrip any sensitivity for gender justice or privacy.
Recently, the Congress-backed Left candidate from Serampore in West Bengal, Dipsita Dhar (a JNU alumnus) was targeted by her political opponent and the sitting MP from TMC Kalyan Banerjee, who remarked that Dhar does not organise rallies post-sundown due to her skin colour because she is invisible in the dark.
Muslim women voting in Hyderabad who were wearing burqas and face-veils were ‘verified’ by the BJP candidate Madhavi Latha, who made them lift their face-veils and cast suspicion over their identities. Candidates are not allowed to conduct
such checks on their own. When questioned on this act of humiliation, Latha said that she was a woman, not a man (thus indicating that it was not wrong of her to try to check their identities), missing the point entirely.
Guarantees for women have been a major poll plank in the current elections. In Karnataka, the highly successful Congress guarantee of free bus rides for women has been a game-changer. Many women who were otherwise inhibited from travelling, now travel in groups for leisure and spend the money they save on other needs. This has raised the eyebrows of many men, who find it inappropriate that women would have any such needs for leisure or public mobility!
Another concerning situation is that of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal where there are claims and counter-claims about whether incidents of rape took place at all. The BJP’s general secretary and Sandeshakhali activist Syria Parveen recently joined the Trinamool Congress, accusing the BJP of “scripting the entire incident.”
These incidents are not similar in nature. They range from comments to political developments to incidents of grievous harm. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, less than 10 percent of the candidates contesting in the ongoing elections are women. This comes as women’s voting percentage has steadily risen, even outstripping their male counterparts in many constituencies in terms of the net incremental share. So, while women’s vote is important, women’s representation, concerns, issues, and genuine needs are less so. While gender
may be an important point for political commentators to analyse on June 4th, it remains to be seen if there will be any meaningful change & concrete steps to address women’s concerns by the government in power.


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