In a political masterstroke in 1997, Bihar's then chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav appointed his wife Rabri Devi as the state's next head to keep his iron hold on power even after he was forced to resign facing graft charges.
The move sent shockwaves through India's political circles. Rabri Devi, until then, had expressed little interest in politics. Although over the years she had seen the rise of her husband as a shrewd politician, she was supposedly content letting him take the spotlight while she worked at home and raised their nine children in Patna.
However, her chance political appointment elevated her to Bihar's first woman chief minister, a responsibility that forced her to grow into a powerful new role—awkwardly, even reluctantly at first, and gradually with more confidence.
Considered a political pawn, the three-time former CM of Bihar soon proved she's no pushover. The woman who haltingly read out a speech at her vote of confidence in the Bihar Assembly was soon throwing witty repartees at political opponents. All in all, Rabri Devi became familiar with the responsibilities that come with a role as powerful as hers. Unwittingly, she became a role model for the voiceless women of Bihar, a state once notorious for its record of violent crimes against women.
Her comment about the 'type' of women she wants her sons to marry, reported by Times of India on her husband's 70th birthday, however, clashes with her own image as a woman who feistily embraced a role thrust upon her and grew in confidence over the years as someone who is not merely a hand puppet of her husband's.
Rabri Devi allegedly wants Tej Pratap and Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, both ministers in the Bihar government, to marry women who are not "cinema and mall-goers". Her future daughters-in-law should be running the house and caring for their elders.
"Cinema hall aur mall jane wali ladki nahi chahiye. Ghar chalaane wali, bade buzurg ka aadar karne wali, jaise ki hum hain, waisi ladki chahiye," is what she said, as quoted by TOI.
Here are some things for Mrs Rabri Devi to consider.
1. Going to a mall or to a movie and running the home are not mutually exclusive activities. Rabri Devi herself has proved that she could do both as Bihar's three-time CM.
2. By belittling women who like going to malls and to the cinema she's discouraging millions of women who, after decades of being bound by social and economic constraints, are taking their first hesitant steps outside home to enjoy themselves, carving out an independent identity, and seeking relief from the monotony of unpaid household labour. Running a home, going to the mall, running a half marathon, or becoming a mother are choices women make. Shaming them for their choices is wrong.
3. Career-women do not have to be demonised to glorify homemakers. Working at home or in an office both require hard work and come with their own set of problems. Women with voices, such as Rabri Devi herself, should be allies of other women less privileged than them and not diminish their work.
4. Patriarchy is best fought when men and women both stop making disparaging comments about women based on their choices.
5. It's a sad day for women's emancipation in India when a former chief minister of a state and a woman endorses a regressive, patriarchal construct about a woman's 'traditional' role in marriage.
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