Speaking against FDI in insurance in Parliament, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav was inclined to dwell on the bodies of “saanvli” south Indian women and their dancing skills. The alleged free pass given to FDI and Leslee Udwin, the British director of India’s Daughter, he felt, was of a piece with the preference for “white-skinned brides”. Whatever his thoughts on FDI, Yadav could not have couched them in more inappropriate terms. But this is not the first time the “Lohiaite” leader has used regressive, reductive language while claiming to represent a progressive politics.
Often, politicians might make use of colloquial idioms and images to reach out to their constituencies, or in subversive ways to challenge hierarchies that are cemented by notions of class and colour. But Yadav has no such defence. He has verged too often on unabashedly crude generalisations and a barely disguised misogyny. Some years ago, he objected to the women’s reservation bill on the grounds that Parliament would fall prey to the depredations of “par-kati mahilaen (short-haired women)” — short-haired being shorthand for urban and, no doubt, dangerously modern. And exactly which constituency was he trying to please when, responding to the new laws on stalking, he jovially enquired: “Who among us has not followed girls?”
It was ostensibly in the same jocular vein that Yadav brought up “dusky” women in Parliament. When interrupted by DMK MP Kanimozhi, he replied that a serious discussion didn’t mean one had to “be serious all the time”. Parliament, of course, has its own rules about unparliamentary language — the Lok Sabha Secretariat helpfully brings out a book of proscribed words, forbidding MPs to accuse each other of “bribery”, “blackmail” or being “radical extremists”. Did it have anything on stretched and outrightly disrespectful metaphors about women’s bodies? Probably not. If it did, Yadav, who was named “outstanding Parliamentarian” in 2012, would surely have known?