It’s tough being a woman in India. This is not an off-hand statement. There are multiple, concrete reasons for saying this.
Apart from the overt misogyny, it is the enfeebling of the female at every turn of the proverbial road to empowerment that makes you question the direction women are headed in our country.
One example that readily comes to mind is the treatment being meted out to Mahua Moitra, a Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament. The ostensible reason has been termed the “cash-for-query” scam. If you scratch the surface, however, you will be confronted with facts and allegations that point to something ugly and utterly rotten.
Mahua Moitra has been accused of taking cash and accepting expensive gifts in exchange for asking questions in Parliament. These questions, it has been alleged, were aimed at painting a particular business group in a poor light. While that is still a matter of probe, Mahua Moitra’s reputation has been sullied and her name smeared already.
A former investment banker based in New York and London, Moitra was elected MP from Krishnanagar, West Bengal for the 17th Lok Sabha.
She is no stranger to controversy.
In the past, she has raised questions on the Narendra Modi government and pointed out early signs of fascism in that dispensation. She has also called the press “2 paisa” after which the local news media criticised her heavily and decided to boycott her. Her party distanced itself from her comments.
On February 8, 2021, criticising the current government and the judiciary, Moitra stated, “The sacred cow that was the judiciary is no longer sacred. It stopped being sacred the day a sitting chief justice of this country was accused of sexual harassment, presided over his own trial, cleared himself and then proceeded to accept the nomination to the upper house within three months of retirement, replete with Z+ security cover”. The speech led to an uproar in the house, with the ruling party member calling it ‘objectionable’ and violating parliamentary rules.
Moitra, on April 7, 2022, argued in Parliament that the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022, was even more intrusive than colonial surveillance laws in India.
At the India Today Conclave on July 5, 2022 — while reacting to a film poster showing Goddess Kaali smoking a cigarette, Moitra had said, “Kaali to me is a meat-eating, alcohol-accepting goddess. You have the freedom to imagine your goddess. There are some places where whiskey is offered to gods and in some other places it would be blasphemy.”
Her party, the TMC, again distanced itself from her comments, even as police complaints were filed against Moitra in five districts of West Bengal and in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
Moitra has also condemned the release and garlanding of the rapists of Bilkis Bano by local VHP workers by calling out their Islamophobia and hate for women. She said that for every BJP Politician who lauds this as ‘sanskari’, there exists a Kali (Hindu Goddess) who will fight back.
Moitra’s troubles reached a peak when on October 14, 2023, Supreme Court advocate and Moitra’s former paramour Jai Anant Dehadrai sent a complaint to the CBI with an FIR accusing Moitra of money laundering and corruption. Following this, a copy was submitted to the Lok Sabha Speaker, who forwarded the matter to the Parliament Ethics Committee.
Dehadrai accused Moitra of receiving money and favours from Darshan Hiranandani, head of a rival conglomerate of the Adani Group, to ask Parliamentary questions targeting Adani. On October 19, Hiranandani turned approver and in an affidavit claimed that Moitra had indeed received favours and also provided him access to her account on the website of the Parliament of India, to directly post questions on her behalf.
Meanwhile, Moitra has denied these allegations and welcomed any kind of enquiry from the CBI and the Parliamentary ethics committee.
In all this, what has got obscured is the fact that Moitra — despite her denials — has been subjected to a political witch-hunt. Questions have been raised about her personal life, her sexual relationships, her so-called ‘dalliances’ and her moral fibre. The fact that she is a single woman, married in the past and now divorced, without any children and still able and inclined to enjoy the good things in life, without being beholden to a man or to the prevalent male-approved way of living, appear to have made her an eyesore and a persona non grata for patriarchy.
The commotion within patriarchy, patriarchal institutions and the people that populate those institutions is almost audible when it comes to Moitra. It seems as if they want “to make an example” out of Moitra, to dissuade their female friends, daughters, sisters, wives and all manner of other female relatives, from following Moitra’s example or ever citing her as a ‘role model’.
While it is anyone’s guess how this saga will end or even progress, Moitra has succeeded in rattling patriarchy and ruffling its weathers, and that is no mean feat. However, the fact remains that it is incredibly tough being a woman in this country and the Moitra affair seems to have brought out this fact indubitably.