They do it with banglesIn all the chest beating and muscle flexing over Pakistan and its transgressions at the Line of Control, one object has made its way back into Indian politics: the bangle. On Tuesday, veteran Congress leader Kapil Sibal invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi “to remove your bangles and show what you can do”. He also referred to a speech made by Smriti Irani, now textile minister, at a rally in Indore in 2013, after another incident where an Indian soldier at the Line of Control had been killed and mutilated. Irani had offered to send Manmohan Singh, who was prime minister then, a gift bangles for failing to take appropriate action. The tables had turned now, was Sibal’s triumphant point.
The gift of bangles suggests the old Hindi phrase “chudiyan pehen lo”, which means that those not cut out for a job should stay at home. Like women do, naturally. Bangles have long been a favoured ornament in Indian politics. In 2014, after Aam Aadmi Party leader Somnath Bharti conducted an impromptu raid on Ugandan women living in Delhi’s Khirki Extension, BJP legislator RP Singh saw fit to hurl bangles and lipstick at him. The BJP had then defended the act by saying it was not meant to be “derogatory”. It wouldn’t be, of course, in a political culture where leadership is measured by the size of one’s chest (56 inches is ideal) and voters are told to choose the “vikas purush” over the “videshi bahu”, the Man of Progress over the Foreign Daughter-in-Law.
Femininity, the wearing of bangles, the exercise of restraint and moderation, is associated with weakness or incompetence. The BJP has frequently, but not exclusively, been guilty of peddling a gendered politics that boils down to this: masculinity good, femininity bad, unless sterilised into certain acceptable forms. And when it comes to Pakistan, all the toxic masculinity stored up in our politics roars to life. Even female politicians have learnt to speak its language. Around the time Irani was offering bangles to Manmohan Singh, Sushma Swaraj, who was then the leader of the Opposition, was demanding 10 Pakistani heads for the head of one Indian soldier. Peace at the LoC looked like a remote prospect then, as it does now.
This article was first published on Scroll.in.