Droupadi Murmu Is Our Rashtramata

The term ‘Rashtrapatni’ can be roughly translated as the wife of Rashtrapati. This statement by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of Congress is an assassination of Droupadi Murmu’s worth and maligning of her character which is highly objectionable and unacceptable. This statement is beyond the lacuna in our diction. One could have referred her as Rashtramata.

BJP leaders protesting against Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury's 'rashtrapatni' comment on President Murmu

Our country has seen a galaxy of women scholars like Sita, Maitreyi, Gargi, Amrapali, Sant Soyrabai, and Bharti Lopamudra, who have led the quest for truth and equality. They have transcended from realism to a deeper metaphysical understanding of the world and laid the foundation for Indian feminism. We call our nation ‘motherland’, which delineates our rich Indian knowledge and cultural values.  

Can one say it’s the degradation of Indian feminist ethos when one patronises the highest constitutional post of a nation when it is occupied by a woman? There has been a lot of hullabaloo since Droupadi Murmu was nominated as the presidential candidate. Is it because she is a tribal woman? She was accused of being a rubber-stamp president even before she took the oath. Just when we thought that our country has been maturing and marching towards inclusivity and has had enough of men slyly demeaning women under the garb of crass sexist jokes and comments, this was an incident that offended, enraged and shook numerous women like me.  

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, a sitting Congress Lok Sabha MP from Berhampore in West Bengal, made a fleeting comment that he thought would go unnoticed. In a conversation about Murmu, he addressed her in a way which is highly demeaning to not only the president but to all women across the country. Later, he dismissed it as nothing serious, merely the proverbial ‘slip of the tongue’. There has been an uproar in Parliament ever since, over demands for an official apology from Congress president Sonia Gandhi over the incident. 

To explain better the nuances of the ideology and biases behind this incident, let us consider the name Draupadi. One of the fiercest women in the Mahabharata and a staunch feminist, Draupadi is a character that is revered by one and all. And Murmu has stayed true to the name by proving her acumen in political and social spheres time and again. Chowdhury, on the other hand, hails from Bengal — a land known for being highly cultured.

What is being passed off as a mistake or just a slip of the tongue, runs much deeper than the face value it possesses. Mistakes are often unconscious portrayals of our inner selves, laced with biases, prejudices and a lot of orthodoxy. The Bengali bhadralok society is infamous for its chicanery in order to achieve a stratified society which has benefited the men of the community. Thus, it is not unnatural to see that our beloved Bengali babu made a comment that is embedded in misogyny. Our slips of the tongue are often also a mirror to our bias against the marginalised, the lesser privileged. 

Why is this bias, then, seen among those whom we consider as elite? Why are comments that are rooted in patriarchy emanating from Left-liberals who are privileged, refined, diplomatic and all things good? 

The term ‘Rashtrapatni’ can be roughly translated as the wife of Rashtrapati. This statement is an assassination of her worth and maligning of her character which is highly objectionable and unacceptable. This statement is beyond the lacuna in our diction. One could have referred her as Rashtramata. Just because she is a tribal woman, does that imply she has no right to dignity? This is the question that haunts me.

Do we still need to identify women in relation to a man? Can she only be defined as someone’s daughter or sister or wife or mother? Why are women who are immensely successful in their professional lives still referred to as mere relatives of men? Can we not give them social acceptance and embrace their individuality?  

In a country where women are still not allowed outside after dark, they present themselves as the very battlegrounds where social inhibitions are always at war with the dreams and aspirations. It is safe to say that these barriers only increase with an ascending order of intersectional identities. Murmu, on being elected as president, has acted as the wick of thousands of candles that were waiting to be lit. 

Even if we ignore the petty party politics for argument’s sake, this incident reflects how the fragile male ego of chauvinistic politicians like Chowdhury are threatened as soon as they cannot fortify their dominance in any sphere. And God forbid, if a woman takes their place, all hell breaks loose. Is the position of the president of our country reserved by patriarchy? Why are there people who still find it difficult or are simply unable to accept a tribal woman in a position of power? 

Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav can only be celebrated if we celebrate the victory of every Dalit and Adivasi woman like we would celebrate that of a man. Seventy-five years of independence can only be spoken of when we believe —and not only on paper— with all our heart, that women from the margins belong to every space or position that had once been occupied by a man. Only then can justice be truly served. The erasure of prejudice from our minds against the people whose narratives have always been ‘invisibilised’, will be the one and only apology that Murmu rightly deserves. 

(Dr. Aditi Narayani Paswan is an assistant professor and founder of the Dalit Aadivasi Professors and Scholars Association.)