In 1989, J Jayalalithaa, the Leader of the Opposition in Tamil Nadu and the first woman to occupy that post, was assaulted in the Legislative Assembly. After her aide Sasikala’s husband was named in a cheating case, an unidentified messenger submitted Jayalalithaa’s letter of resignation to the Speaker who accepted it against the rules. A week later, AIADMK members protested Jayalalitha’s treatment in the Assembly. As she was leaving, DMK Minister Durai Murugan rushed towards her to hit her. At the end of the scuffle, Jayalalitha’s sari was torn, and she suffered injuries on her head.
In 1967, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was struck in the face by stones during a turbulent election meeting in Orissa’s Bhubaneshwar. Several young men kept throwing stones at her and she injured her nose and upper lip.
In 2014, an UN-backed study highlighted that women politicians in India, Nepal, and Pakistan face hostility and aggression as they fight to be heard in the political arena. The attacks come not only from Opposition parties but are also perpetrated by colleagues in their own party. The study was conducted by the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.
Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, then head of UN Women in India, had said, “What’s more – physical violence, verbal abuse and threats of violence were higher for women in politics in India than in Pakistan or Nepal.”
Recently, in 2020, Amnesty International India revealed that women politicians in India face a shocking scale of abuse on Twitter, for various identities, such as gender, religion, caste, and marital status. The Amnesty research found that 13.8% of the tweets in the study were either “problematic” or “abusive”. This means each woman politician received 113 problematic or abusive tweets every day.
Political Scientists Mona Lena Krook and Juliana Restrepo Sanin underscored that violence against women in politics is increasingly recognised as a significant barrier to women’s political participation.
“There is a specific gender aspect and women in politics are more vulnerable to these attacks. For women to enter politics, to survive, rise, and stay in politics to provide leadership, there are multiple challenges. Violence is just one of the instruments by which women are sought to keep out. We will fail to see the complexity of the challenge, if we look only through the gender lens,” highlighted Agnihotri.
“There is a larger issue of the nexus between crime and politics. For women to enter the political domain, it is difficult because of this nexus. The 33% reservation for women acts as a little bit of a shield. Money, muscle power, and criminalisation work together to keep women and marginalised groups out of politics,” added Agnihotri.
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