The Sena Ti­gress

The Dash­ing Ladies of Shiv Sena Tarini Bedi; Aleph; pp 291; Rs 699

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Shougat Das­gupta

Kal­pana Sate, a Mum­bai cor­po­ra­tor in charge of one of the city’s 227 wards, has been busy all evening. Tak­ing a break from work­ing the phone in a func­tional Shiv Sena branch office, she asks a young worker if he’s seen a new drain she’s had in­stalled in her ward. “Yes, madam,” he re­sponds, fold­ing his palms to­gether in a syco­phan­tic na­maste, “it is a mast naala. You are the malkin of the area.” He is joined by a cho­rus of young work­ers, all ex­presing their ap­proval. It is a scene from an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sor

Tarini Bedi’s re­cent book, The Dash­ing Ladies of Shiv Sena, and it says some­thing about the ef­fi­ciency of the women of the ti­tle and the ex­ag­ger­ated re­spect in which they are held.

Early in the book, Bedi quotes Durva, a Sena leader in Pune. “The word mahila for Shiv Sena women,” she says, “means many things”— M for ma­haan, H for him­mat­wali, and La for be­ing one in a lakh. Durva be­lieves that Shiv Sena women are char­ac­terised by their will­ing­ness to get in­volved in the rough and tum­ble of street politics. Women in other par­ties, the self­mythol­o­gis­ing dash­ing ladies of the Sena claim, are pam­pered in com­par­i­son. One woman leader in Pune tells Bedi, “I see women in other par­ties who will talk very softly .... Here we are women who are shout­ing... putting black mud to some po­lice of­fi­cer’s face and send­ing them run­ning away .... We were a cul­tural shock to peo­ple in western Ma­ha­rash­tra.”

Some of this, the re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence, the threats, will seem like bul­ly­ing Sena­style politics re­gard­less of gen­der. But Bedi is con­vinc­ing in that the Sena’s women, while not on par with the men, are not quite sub­or­di­nate ei­ther. She makes the in­ter­est­ing point that “Sena women [see] their homes as im­por­tant sites of their pub­lic ser­vice”. Con­ven­tional do­mes­tic­ity does not suit these women, and the party, to its credit, wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s re­fresh­ing to see women in rightwing par­ties writ­ten about as the fem­i­nists they are. But for all the dash of these grass­roots work­ers, In­dian politics re­mains in­cor­ri­gi­bly pa­tri­ar­chal.

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