Throwing a stone for women’s lib on Sunday, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah said he wanted 50% of the seats in Parliament to be reserved for women. He was speaking at a function in Springdales School, Delhi, and this is obviously the stuff inspirational speeches are made of. Then came the twist.

It is not for their political acumen that women are wanted in Parliament. No, they would waft in with their “saris and perfumes” and put an end to all arguments, Abdullah said. Presumably because their male colleagues would be too busy gawping in slack-jawed awe.

The former Union minister and chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is a famous admirer of Bollywood actresses and a self-confessed “Sufi” soul – some sort of code for ardent spirit. But he can’t be bothered with political correctness. Most of his off-colour remarks on women have been made with the derring do of a gallant on the rampage.

Two years ago, when asked to comment on sexual harassment allegations against a Supreme Court judge, Abdullah had said that he was scared of talking to women, that he wouldn’t even hire a female secretary for fear that she would slap false charges against him. The remark was made as Abdullah walked into Parliament, at a time when sexual harassment of women in the workplace had become the subject of public discussion. He later retracted the statement and confessed to having the “greatest respect for women”. Not many were convinced.

Abdullah might try to pass off his latest comment as good-natured raillery, and many of his male colleagues in Parliament would probably laugh. Indian men in politics seem to share a belief that their female counterparts are not quite serious, not quite politicians even. Male party leaders may be attacked for bad politics, women are attacked for being in politics at all.

Eliminating the competition

Only recently, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA OP Sharma was suspended from the Delhi assembly for making sexist remarks about Aam Aadmi Party MLA Alka Lamba. During a discussion on deaths among homeless people and the state of Delhi’s night shelters, Lamba had suggested that many died from drugs and not the cold. Sharma retorted by calling her a “bazaaru aurat” who roamed the streets at night. Naturally, a legislator had no  business trying to get to know her constituency. And so much for the city trying to reclaim its streets for women.

Not long ago, Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam accused Smriti Irani, minister for human resources, of having opinions on elections: “It’s only four days of your entry into politics and you have become a political analyst. Aap toh TV pe thumke lagati thi, aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi.” Arguing against the Women’s Reservation Bill, Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav said it would only open the doors to swarms of “par kati auratein”, short-haired urban women with their noisy opinions. And Congress leader Digvijay Singh dismissed his party colleague Meenakshi Natarajan as “sau taka tunch maal” – slang for "a desirable woman".

Most of the comments draw attention to female bodies, referring to the legislator’s hair or clothes, speculating about her sexual behaviour. But is there a note of panic in this aggressive laddishness? By sexualising the female politician, reducing her to the object of lascivious attention, the men in the House save themselves the trouble of battling with her on actual political issues. Some might call it an effective way of eliminating the competition.