Earlier this year, in the midst of the national outrage at the Gujarat government’s illegal snooping on a young woman “for her safety”, the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam declared that most Indian women are not prepared for autonomy. Now, two months after her party appointed her as the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, she continues to defend her position.

In a recent interview to website SheThePeople.TV, Kumaramangalam claimed that autonomy is a “risk” for “aggressive women” and that women need to be trained about the responsibilities that come with autonomy because of the gender biases in society.

Autonomy training

Kumaramangalam first sparked a controversy in May, during a television debate on Times Now on the Snoopgate scandal, in which Gujarat’s BJP government allegedly used state machinery to spy on a woman “at the request of her father”. While many activists protested this as an infringement of women’s rights and freedoms, Kumaramangalam said that “women in India don’t even have the training to be autonomous…most women in India do not have the capacity to protect themselves legally, financially, socially or in almost any way”.

Irate activists condemned her remarks, and co-panellist Kavita Krishnan, the national secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, compared them to the British colonial rulers’ belief that Indians were not prepared for independence.

Even as the head of the National Commission for Women, Kumaramangalam’s views remain – disappointingly – unchanged.

In an interview on November 16 on SheThePeople.TV, a website on women’s leadership, Kumaramangalam told host Anna Vetticad that her stance on autonomy was justified because of society’s biases against women.

“Most women don’t even understand what autonomy means,” she said in the interview. “When you come out into society, autonomy becomes sometimes more of a risk for a very aggressive woman.” In Indian culture, according to Kumaramangalam, women are expected to play multi-faceted roles, and to be autonomous in those roles, women need training, discipline, education and “enormous societal support, which does not exist”.

“Society is extremely gender biased,” said Kumaramangalam. “The bias has become so deep-rooted that any woman who is really autonomous is considered a risk, not just to men but to other women also.” She added that women must be taught that “autonomy brings with it certain risks and responsibilities”.

Her ideas about women’s independence leave some obvious questions unanswered. If society’s gender bias is a hindrance to women’s autonomy, why must the onus of “training” and “discipline” be on women? Must men not be trained too about the responsibilities that come with the autonomy that is so readily given to them in society?

Scroll.in was unable to get a response from Kumaramangalam on these points. After several attempts, when this reporter finally managed to speak to her and bring up the subject, Kumaramangalam hung up her phone and switched it off.