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