Everyone knows how Noor Jahan, the twentieth wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir, used her sexual powers to virtually become one of India’s most powerful women. But post feminism, have women developed more scruples and disdain to use their charms to get ahead? Breaking the silence on a subject that’s now considered politically most incorrect, women politicians confess not much has changed in politics since Mughal times. “Everyone has to give something to get into power. Men give money and women usually give their bodies,” says Ramnika Gupta matter-of-factly. In her seventies, Ramnika is a member of the CPI(M), a tribal rights champion, former trade union leader and politician who—to use her own phrase—has “passed through the hands” of several men in her quest for political power.
That cuddle won her another reward: Sahay invited her to join the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee, one of the most powerful posts at that time, which any man seeking political power would vie for. Which is probably why she agreed to visit the state Congress chief, Raju Mishra, in his home to put forward Sahay’s recommendation. This time, she says, she had to pay a higher price. She let him have his way and did not complain. “The only choice for a woman starting in politics is to either quit or accept the fact that she has to sleep with some of them at least,” she says. “You have to compromise until you are in a position to reject them.” What she could do, however, was to try and avoid being anywhere alone with the BPCC chief. For her compliance, he nominated her as Bihar’s representative at the Jaipur AICC meet in 1966.
Fed up with what she calls the “creeper culture”—women using sex to get a toehold in politics, or for easing the way for their husbands, fathers and brothers—Ramnika quit the Congress and joined the Socialist Party. “Thanks to Ram Manohar Lohia, the culture in the Socialist Party was very different,” reminisces Ramnika. “You were free to choose who you slept with. Nobody could force a woman to sleep with him if she didn’t want to.” But even so, she says, men you rejected sexually could make your political life a hell. Ramnika did not quite reject Shri Babu, a minister in the Socialist government in Bihar, but she dared to break off with him, leading to a bitter political conflict. She then sought asylum in the arms of the Congress chief minister Kedar Pande, even rejoining the Congress at his urging. “He wasn’t very charismatic, but at least I got protection from sexual assault, and he made me an MLC and later an INTUC leader.”
Former president of the Samata Party, Jaya Jaitly, agrees: “You have to earn your spurs in politics. You are undermining your own potential by relying on your good looks to get you places.” Things have changed quite a bit since the ’60s and ’70s, when Ramnika was trying to negotiate her own space in the political arena, but not that much. “It’s not quite the casting couch system of Bollywood, but yes, most women do need to use their sexual power, however mildly—batting their eyelids, flattery, beautification—to survive in politics. To get into the race, you need money. And women don’t have money.”
As sociologist Shoma Munshi puts it: “Men use money and success as power; women in turn use sex to gain power. How else would she negotiate in the very system which restricts her?” According to Shoma, sex and sexuality can be parlayed into power, but it’s a fleeting advantage and offers diminishing returns in comparison to other advantages.
Similarly, dancer Pratibha Prahlad says her relationship with the late Ramakrishna Hegde was often misinterpreted. “Far from opening doors for me, my relationship with him shut many doors. What I am as a dancer is because of my own abilities and hard work and nothing to do with him.”
“A woman is rarely condemned for using any of her other assets,whether it’s family background, fancy education or wealth, to her advantage,” points out Shoma. “Yet she is widely condemned if she uses sex. Can a woman not play hard, and play to win, by any rules necessary, like men do?” For Ramnika, the answer is clear: “Either do it without guilt or don’t.”
In your piece on women using their feminine wiles to climb the political ladder (Madam Pompadour’s Chessboard), no mention has been made of the greatest of them all—Mayawati, three times the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It was common enough knowledge how she used the Kanshi Ram connection to become one of the most powerful politicians of India. Madhu Saxena, on e-mail
By projecting that there is an N.D. Tiwari in every party, the Outlook story proved an able defence of the man himself and the Congress. Dr Geeta Gupta, Delhi
This edition of Outlook was a great example of paid-for news content! C.M. Vishnunarayanan, Stanford
Please don’t grudge our politicians the little colour the poor things add to their lives after a hard day’s work at alleviating the suffering of the poor. The Indian politician, don’t we all know, is committed to inclusive growth! Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
Outlook didn’t have to publish unsavoury pictures to make its point, the story itself was damning enough. Shubhang Pandya, Ahmedabad
Apropos of ‘Madam Pompadour’s Chessboard’ (Jan 18). I appreciate the boldness of Ramnika Gupta, who has named politicians with whom she had to sleep to move up. Also, hats off to N.D. Tiwari for his prowess at 86! Gopal Ashrit, Bangalore
I wonder if women would have openly spoken of using sex in the early fifties or even as late as the eighties. Now, they brag about such things. But I don’t deny the fact that every woman has a right to lead life the way she wants. Kshama Shashidhar, Udupi
Outlook has heaped garbage on N.D. Tiwari. We should be proud we have leaders like him who are young at heart and with reproductive systems kicking even though their knees dodder. I think Tiwari’s only fault is that he got caught. P.C. Chadha, New Delhi
Time magazine is instantly identifiable by the red border on its cover. After reading the sleazy features on sex and politics, particularly the one by Sheela Reddy (Madame Pompadour’s Chessboard), I feel Outlook can carry a yellow border around it.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT