POLITICS

Make No Mistake, Dilip Ghosh's 'Drag By Hair' Comment About Mamata Is A Threat Against Dissent

Ghosh owes Banerjee an abject apology. But is the National Commission for Women paying attention?

12/12/2016 1:20 PM IST | Updated 12/12/2016 1:47 PM IST
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Dilip Ghosh addressing the crowd during the mega rally organized by Uthan Diwas Bengal BJP from College square to Y-channel to promote change in the incoming election at West Bengal.

Of course it's just a manner of speaking. Of course he did not really mean the BJP would have dragged Mamata Banerjee by her hair. Of course not.

Anyway, West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh was not threatening to drag the West Bengal chief minister by her hair. On the contrary what he said was that they could have dragged Banerjee by her hair, but chose not to do so.

Waah! We should be so thankful for his virtuous restraint. So different from what the CPM government once did to Banerjee.

Misogyny is so deeply entrenched that our politicians are not even aware when they are spewing it. Dilip Ghosh is not just some rank-and-file BJP supporter, not some expelled BJP neta like the former candidate from Asansol nabbed in Bengal with 33 lakh in new currency notes. He is the state president, an RSS pracharak who wants to serve his country. He is the party's representative.

And this is what he had to say about the chief minister of the state whose party unit he heads.

Jab woh Delhi mein natak kar rahi thi, hum chahte toh unka baal pakad ke nikal sakte the, humari police hain wahan par hum aisa nahi karte. Ek CM iss tarah ke shabd PM ke liye istemal karti hai, woh thik nahi hain. (When Mamata was continuing her theatrics in Delhi, had we wanted, we could have dragged her by the hair. Our police is there, but we didn't do it. A CM using such words for the PM isn't right.)

It's perfectly within Ghosh's right to disapprove of a CM lambasting the PM who happens to belong to his party. It's perfectly within his right to stand up for his PM and forcefully rebut the CM. But the image of a woman being dragged by her hair is not rebuttal, it's violence, plain and simple. Saying "humari police hain wahan (our police is there)" is a naked threat, plain and simple. This is about flexing muscle, this is about thuggishness, this is about threatening brute force against dissent.

This should be something that has no place in political discourse. But of course, it does.

Dilip-babu was probably choosing to remind Banerjee of history. In 1993 she was indeed dragged by the hair and thrown out of the corridors of the West Bengal secretariat where she was protesting the rape of a disabled woman.

Banerjee understands it full well. She has stitches on her head to prove it from when she clashed with CPM cadres on the streets of Kolkata in 1990. Why should a Bengali babu like Ghosh be that different from the CPM babus?

Dilip-babu was probably choosing to remind Banerjee of history. In 1993 she was indeed dragged by the hair and thrown out of the corridors of the West Bengal secretariat where she was protesting the rape of a disabled woman.

Vile utterances as opposed to violent acts have been even more common. A CPI(M) leader once said Banerjee should be whacked on her buttocks. Another sniggered at how Trinamool's slogan could be Maa, Maati, Manush when Mamata was not a mother. Another disparaged her as Kalighater mynah, the mynah bird from Kalighat, a trivial, talkative bird. 7-time MP Anil Basu compared Mamata to the sex workers of Sonagachi wondering which rich client (bhatar) was funding her electoral campaign.

And very rarely did CPM top brass reprimand their foul-mouthed leaders. This is not just about sexism, it's also about the temerity of a woman from a lower middle class background threatening the powerful. Monobina Gupta writes in her book Didi that the "Marxist bhadralok who consider themselves the rightful heirs to the Bengal Renaissance, ostensibly the torch-bearers of enlightened attitude towards women" did not hesitate to leverage "gender as a weapon to trivialize, even vulgarize, their rhetoric of attack on the Trinamool Congress president, her status as a single women without the bulwark of exotic lineage or formidable rank of wealth and class shielding her."

Mamata used those stitches on her head almost as a badge of honour. They cemented her image as a street fighter. Whatever one thinks of her politics, even those who opposed her grudgingly admired her grit. That helped, in no small part, in finally toppling the Left Front Goliath.

The Marxist babu and the BJP babu are but brothers under the skin.

What Ghosh does not seem to understand, is those stories should count as shameful incidents in the history of Bengal's politics. They should not be brandished by finger-wagging state BJP leaders as examples of how impertinent women are taught a lesson and put in their place by the roots of their hair if necessary.

Mamata used those stitches on her head almost as a badge of honour. They cemented her image as a street fighter. Whatever one thinks of her politics, even those who opposed her grudgingly admired her grit. That helped, in no small part, in finally toppling the Left Front Goliath.

AFP/Getty Images
Indian supporters of Indian politician and actress Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, light candles as they pay tribute after her death, in Allahabad on December 6, 2016. Grief-stricken fans on December 6 mourned the death of one of India's most popular politicians, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, as fears of unrest loomed in her state where she enjoyed almost god-like status. / AFP / SANJAY KANOJIA (Photo credit should read SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP/Getty Images)

What makes Ghosh's comments even more shocking is that they come only days after his leader Narendra Modi went to pay his respects to Jayalalithaa, another powerful woman politician who had been humiliated and manhandled by her opposition in the Assembly. She too had alleged they had pulled at her hair and sari. That image of her emerging disheveled and distraught was a turning point in her career. Mayawati too once said she feared for her personal safety when Samajwadi goons surrounded her guesthouse and she had to lock herself in.

Instead of reprimanding his men, Mulayam Singh Yadav supposedly scoffed "Is she so beautiful that anyone should want to rape her?"

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Chief Mayawati addresses a press conference against Demonetization at Party office, on November 26, 2016 in New Delhi, India.

"Mayawati has become of worse character than a prostitute," BJP vice president Dayashankar Singh said recently, slandering the character of both Mayawati and sex-workers in one blow, as if being compared to a prostitute was worse than being called corrupt. Singh at least was sacked from his party post for his remarks. Jayalalithaa, Mamata, Mayawati have all faced some variation of this kind of attack in their careers.

To be compared to a prostitute is par for the course for a woman leader, something a man, no matter how often it's proved he is for sale, has to face. It's a reminder not just of sexism and misogyny that runs rampant, it is about men reminding them that if they get out of line, they can be dragged by their hair into submission.

Ghosh owes Banerjee an abject apology. But is the National Commission for Women paying attention?

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