Does India Need a Feminist Icon?

It was an eventful weekend for the women .

Priyanka Gandhi took to the stage at an election rally and for the first time in the longest time someone voiced the demonetization impact on housewives. I remember reading Maggie’s post and I waited and waited to hear those words from someone in power . unfortunately , the opposition doesn’t quite get its role in our country.

The Indian Express though didn’t miss the opportunity for a good angle and quite creatively posed this question to those who had already put two and two together.

Is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra the feminist icon india has been waiting for?

The short answer is No. The longer answer is , if only she didn’t come across as an opportunist who only steps out to make fancy speeches during elections only to vanish into oblivion when she has played her part and would rather play the kind of politics we so wish she played taking up a larger role in resurrecting the sorry mess that congress is right now in and has been for a while.


I wanted to walk across to Priyanka Gandhi . To hold the newspaper in front of her just to gauge her reaction. To see if she smiled with satisfaction of a job well done or stare at me quizzically because it’s yet to begin.

Those who know me , do not know me as a political person. I don’t have very strong views on the games people play . I find it so unsettling I rather stay away , blissful in my ignorance.

But the question here isn’t of Congress Vs BJP , it is of the complete absence of focus on women in policy matters . Agreed that there is a department called Women and Child Welfare but that’s the point! We are not a section , we are half[ almost] of the country.  And one  of the reason behind that awkward ‘almost’ hanging there amongst many other dismal stats such as our contribution to workforce or GDP or national health / education indices is this very fact. The lack of focus.

We are the invisible citizens.  In the budget , in the big ticket futuristic action plans , in the mainstream politics , in the election speeches , until the more charismatic of the two Gandhi scions took up the stage and someone in the IE editorial team got a brain wave.

Since I appreciate the intent behind the story I am going to rephrase that a bit and go ahead and say – Does India need a feminist icon that stands for women issues and becomes the spokesperson for the billions of women every time a policy document is getting drafted?

Yes! A thousand times Yes.

We have so many individual stories – of courage , of beating odds , of leading the way across many spheres . We have the widely popular and extremely efficient Sushma Swaraj. Chanda Kochar & Kiran Mazumdar Shaw have inspired many working moms like me to aim higher at workplace . An increasing list of sportswomen who’ve put India on the Global sportsmap – Sania Mirza, Dipa Karmarkar , Mary Kom  . We have had our Aishwaryas and Sushmitas , Priyankas and Deepikas  and all I have done for the past two days is google ‘Most Influential Women in India’ to solve this riddle.

We have a lot of strong , successful , opinionated women . We don’t have a national feminist icon.

Earlier in the article , I mentioned how it was an eventful weekend for women and all I have spoken about is this dull and drab and super whiny topic. So let’s jazz things a little and talk about the one appearance that divided the country into two distinct groups.

People who loved Kangana’s appearance on Koffee with Karan and People who didn’t.

I am a big Kangana Ranaut fan . She is unconventional , She is sassy & she has risen up taking the longest possible route and quite understandably she doesn’t care about Bollywood and it’s ways. But she’s very weird and that’s okay because I feel all super creative people are slightly mad and she’s around not inspite of the movie industry but as a part of the same movie industry she happens to carry a grudge for.

Come to think of it , the girl likes to stay in news. She has a history of being politically incorrect and It has been fun and entertaining and definitely not her ‘personal life’ because its out there for public consumption.

But what the entire world is hailing as a slap on Karan’s face , the mild-mannered host who infact has handled his own life quite gracefully , I felt was just all over the place. It was superficial , awkward and the whole ‘I am so successful Inspite of you or Khans or 99.99% of film industry never acknowledging me for what I am worth’ was just completely misplaced.

This piece in Huffington post sounds so good in theory , it’s almost magical. But , this is absolutely NOT how the reality was to me. Koffee with Karan has always been about intimate conversations , a chilled out vibe and people acting plain goofy! If you are accepting to come to a show and acting all stuck up , I get the point you are making but I don’t like it one bit.

Interestingly , I caught ‘The Ghazi Attack’ on Sunday noon and the reason why I don’t write movie reviews is because my views sound the exact replica of that of Anna M Vetticad & you know how that doesn’t work very well for bloggers right?

Read the first para of what she’s written for The Ghazi Attack and you’ll know what I mean.  As you’ll read on you’ll find many stunning observations – the one any sane movie watcher would wonder about too . How Rana Dugabbatti looks smashing , how the India- Paki depiction is ridden with stereotypes and why was Tapsi ‘s constantly flabbergasted character weaved into the plot. This quote here in that context ,  applies to representation of women across almost every field we know – Politics , movies , art .

Tokenism in the name of diversity is as offensive as exclusion itself. – Anna M Vetticad.

Just take these words and apply it to Priyanka Gandhi’s well timed concern for women and Kangana’s rebel like stance for frivolity in a show that’ has Gossip written all over it.

A little while back I was chosen for an internal program that nurtured women to be future leaders at workplace , the opportunity did more damage to my career path than I gained from it . I apply the same quote to that incident and it’s root cause finally becomes clear to me.

Like my dear friend Richa says , Intent is everything , we need a Feminist icon – not because it sounds fancy as an advertisement line or an election slogan or a Ms India final round deal breaker answer . We need it as women are beyond a check-box on a form . They are a section with unique views , capabilities , challenges & expectations and we need a full time representation at a significant scale and quantum.

7 thoughts on “Does India Need a Feminist Icon?

  1. Chandni! I just realized this – that we don’t actually have a national feminist icon. We have a lot of powerful women, a lot of platforms speaking about gender equality, a whole bunch of women standing up and speaking out, but somehow it doesn’t seem to translate well into policy, does it? I love your stance on feminism and your voice in this space, and I look forward to many more posts!
    Modern Gypsy recently posted…A field guide to self loveMy Profile

    1. I feel we are a privileged group that’s exposed to a lot of these women and their opinions . beyond our social circle – there is a world that still is in 14th century . I wish we get that much need face and voice that represents us and got us our due.

  2. I believe we did have feminist icons in the past, especially in the literary world, people such as Kamala Das or Ismat Chughtai. But a few years ago, the more “visible” women, such as actresses started distancing themselves from the word and the concept (remember that article we discussed once last year when the whole Lisa Haydon controversy happened?) While we’ve made some progress in reclaiming and accepting the term (thank God!) as an icon or a spokesperson, we don’t have anyone (like how the West has Tina Fey or Caitlin Moran). If we did, it might even backfire, like you said, we have so many of the opportunist types who really couldn’t give two hoots about women but are only looking out for their own interests. I know this happened in the West with some actress, I forgot whom; she was hailed as an icon, but in the end, she just wanted her business to flourish and was a terrible role model in all other ways. She was half the reason why people got alienated from feminism in that era!
    On the other hand, I feel the Indian stand up scene is doing a lot to stand up for and promote feminism.
    I didn’t watch that Koffee episode, so can’t comment. Usually I’m a huge fan of Kangana and her views, no matter how eccentric she seems at times. Don’t know what went down on that episode, but saw a lot of people praise her. Maybe I should check it out…?
    Sreesha recently posted…Lessons from Blog StalkingMy Profile

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