The violence was caused by insufficient implementation of laws, lack of support from police, judiciary and a decline in moral values, the study said
Ashwaq Masoodi

Be it the smear campaign against Gul Panag of the AAP or the public groping of the Congress party’s Nagma, these incidents highlight the problem of character assassination of women in politics by men—either within the party or in the opposition. Photo: AFP
New Delhi: During a speech in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Lucknow, a Bahujan Samaj Party member described the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate—former swimming champion and actor Nafisa Ali —as a budhiya (old woman) and said, “Look at her white hair… Had SP brought (Bollywood star) Aishwarya Rai to Lucknow, I would have enjoyed more.”
In June 2013, to calm a restless crowd waiting for a minister to arrive at the campaign speech venue in Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh, state minister and Samajwadi Party leader Om Prakash Singhhad said, “You people are very brave. When you can bear with an ugly woman like (BSP leader and ex-chief minister) Mayawati for five years, you surely can give us some time as well.”
The ongoing Lok Sabha elections have also brought in focus such sexist and derogatory remarks passed by male politicians against women contestants, in some cases forcing the withdrawal of their nomination.
Be it the smear campaign against Gul Panag of the Aam Aadmi Party or the public groping of the Congress party’s Nagma, these incidents highlight the problem of character assassination of women in politics by men—either within the party or in the opposition.
India is not alone. Vilification of women politicians is rampant in South Asia. But a study released by the Centre for Social Research (CSR), supported by UN Women, on Wednesday said incidence of physical violence, verbal abuse and threat of violence is higher in India than Pakistan.
The study, Violence against Women in Politics (VAWIP), which covered 750 respondents from India, Pakistan and Nepal, said such violence was caused by insufficient implementation of laws, lack of support from police and judiciary and a decline in what it called moral values.
But bureaucrats, police and Election Commission officials were in denial about the existence of such violence.
Forty-five per cent of the respondents—women politicians —in India said they have faced physical abuse, while in Pakistan and Nepal the figures are at 30% and 21%, respectively. Another 49% of the women were verbally abused in India, as against 23% in Pakistan and 31% in Nepal.
The most widespread forms of violence against women in politics, according to the respondents, was related to expectation of sexual favours and the threat of violence rather than actual physical violence. “Character assassination was also identified as a tool to seriously damage the reputation and achievements of a woman in politics with the desire to reduce her public support. Verbal harassment is widespread throughout the sub-continent,” the study said.
Most victims are young and new entrants in politics or women from poor, marginalized communities. Women with political backing are less prone to such violence, mostly because they are “protected”, said CSR director Ranjana Kumari.
However, the report pointed out, “These women who belong to political families are perceived as representatives of the elite and controlled by powerful males, which does not serve the purpose of women’s empowerment. This is reinforced by existing socioeconomic divides.”
The study confines itself to Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, because the reported levels of violence were high for Uttar Pradesh, low for Karnataka and medium for Delhi. It also focuses on how gender discrimination and the fear of violence “inevitably reduces women’s ability to make an effective contribution in the political arena”.
“Almost 90% of women in these countries feel that violence breaks their resolve to join politics. From our comprehensive review of laws on violence against women, it is clear that none of the three countries has legislation that deals strictly with offenders to prevent violence against women in politics,” said Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, representative of UN Women’s Office for India, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The perceived “masculinization” of the politics in India and equating power to masculinity has led to politics being seen as an activity that is prohibited for women.
“Politics is about illegal activities, law-breaking, bribing, alcohol,” said a police officer in Karnataka, who was a respondent in the study. “All this cannot be done by women.”
Except for a few chosen female politicians, most elected female representatives have a limited or marginal role in important discussions within their political party or within the national decision-making processes, the study said.
The study recommended expanding political reservation for women, with an extension of a minimum 33% reservation at all levels. It also wanted political parties to ensure that no tickets are given to those who have criminal cases, particularly against women. They should also include more women members in central and selection committees and in parliamentary committees.
The Election Commission too needs to take steps to recognize, protect, promote and institutionalize women’s participation in politics, it added.
Speaking about the importance of support from male family members for women to succeed in politics, a male politician from Uttar Pradesh, also a respondent in the study, said: “Politics is equated with power and women who are not wives or daughters of powerful men are not capable of handling such power because they are considered second grade in our families. When they are not allowed to leave their homes, how would they join the politics and how would they handle power?
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