The Winter Session of Parliament started on Monday morning and by evening, Trinamool Congress MP Nusrat Jahan’s name had begun trending on Twitter. Why? She had missed the first day because, according to news reports, she was unwell and had been admitted to the Apollo Gleneagles hospital in Kolkata.
While most media reports said that the first-time MP from West Bengal’s Basirhat, who suffers from asthma, was in hospital due to a respiratory illness, some sections of the Bengali media and other entertainment news portals claimed that she had suffered a “drug overdose”. While her family dismissed the rumours, PTI quoted unnamed police sources as saying that she had overdosed on medicines after her husband Nikhil Jain’s birthday party.
“After Jahan was admitted to the ICU, reports started floating around that she either had a drug overdose, a drug allergy or had consumed a large number of sleeping pills,” said an IANS report.
This is not the first time that the MP’s personal life has come under media scrutiny. The actor-turned-politician has been under media (and social media) spotlight from the day her candidacy was announced. From her clothes to her personal life and even her marriage, Jahan’s journey as a young woman politician has made many people, especially men, uncomfortable.
Early headlines surrounding her campaign in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections were about her sunscreen, nude lipstick and whether she was comfortable in sarees. There was hardly any discussion about her politics.
In a profile of Jahan ahead of the Lok Sabha election, HuffPost India’s Piyasree Dasgupta had reported on how her nomination had been met with mockery and surprise. However, Dasgupta found that the young actor was vindicating her party’s faith in her, “playing the role of the reconciliation candidate to perfection”.
She won against the BJP’s Sayantan Basu with a massive margin of 3.5 lakh votes.
It has been a few months since she was elected as an MP, but conversations about Jahan are still about her personal life, what she wears to Parliament and her marriage to a Hindu man.
On her first day in Parliament, Jahan, along with her party colleague and actor Mimi Chakraborty, were trolled on Twitter for wearing “western clothes”. Apparently women MPs could did not have the right to wear pants. Headlines said Twitter “wasn’t impressed”—with a photo of two young, capable women happily posing outside Parliament with their ID cards. The two of them also made headlines when they “missed” the oath-taking ceremony for Jahan’s wedding.
The next big controversy happened when Jahan returned from her wedding—this time, she wore a saree to Parliament, and trolls attacked her for wearing sindoor and bangles as a Muslim. Media outlets such as ANI even interviewed clerics about the validity of Jahan’s marriage.
“It’s not a marriage. It looks more like a relation to show off. Both Muslims and Jains won’t consider it a marriage. She is no more a Jain or a Muslim. She has done a big crime and she should not have done it,” Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, Shahi Imam, Fatehpuri Masjid told the news agency. To hell with the Special Marriage Act!
Jahan had a simple answer to put to rest everyone’s concerns about how she looked and her religion. “I represent an inclusive India which is beyond the barriers of caste, creed and religion,” she said on Twitter in June.
The obsession with Jahan and Chakraborty was such that they were pushed around by the media and camera people outside Parliament in June. When a hassled Jahan protected her friend and told off media persons for not letting them leave, her “dhakka mat mariye” comment made headlines again.
That neither social media nor mainstream media could cope with a young woman from a minority community making her own decisions was on display again when Jahan attended Durga Puja functions in October. She was seen playing the dhaak at a puja pandal in Kolkata and some clerics immediately declared it “haraam”.
“She has been offering puja to Hindu Gods despite the fact that Islam orders its followers to pray only to Allah. What she has done is ‘haraam’ (sinful). She had also married outside religion. She should change her name and religion. Islam doesn’t need people who assume Muslim names and defame Islam and Muslims,” said Vice President of the Itehaas Ulema-e-Hind, Mufti Asad Kasm. Clearly Jahan’s idea of existing beyond the barriers of religion had fallen on deaf ears again.
There are many serious issues that Parliament should discuss this session—including the lockdown in Kashmir and this excellent HuffPost India series that traces the real story of how the government introduced secretive electoral bonds in India. A young MP’s personal life and choices are her own business, and should remain so.