The recent abusive-sexist attack on Atishi, Aam Admi Party (AAP) Lok Sabha candidate for the parliamentary elections, 2019, is most deplorable. I condemn the same in strongest words first as a woman and then as a person in public life. I truly hope the Delhi police will book the perpetrators and soon. This is the least the Delhi police could do. This episode also shows the extent to which women are vulnerable to abusive and sexist mindset prevalent in the country.
This incident also takes me back to the year 2014. It takes me back to the period just a few months before the general elections five years ago when AAP had caught the imagination of the country, specially the youth. It was then that I was very disturbed by the statements of one of the senior and high profile members of AAP, Kumar Vishwas.
As his statements in some of his public programmes circulating on social media were sexist, and terribly anti-women, I raised the same before Atishi who was at that time appointed by AAP as a member of the committee under Vishakha guidelines (the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace [Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal] Act, 2013 ).
I highlight some concerns from my correspondence with Atishi on the subject here as it is an issue of public importance and concerns dignity and well being of women. The YouTube clippings as part of my correspondence with Atishi at that time are thankfully not available now for viewing but these contained derogatory and sexist remarks against women among other things by Vishwas.
On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, I wrote to Atishi the following: “…I am pleased to know that you are one of the members on the committee appointed by AAP under Vishakha guidelines… I know all of you must be busy but I wish to take up a bit of your time on one issue that is of concern to me.
“I wish to know whether Vishwas has been finalized by AAP as the candidate to contest election against Rahul Gandhi…I would like it if you could see some of the things he has said…I thought it would be good to bring the same to your notice. In order to save your time, I have marked the tracks you could see directly.
Initially, I was pleased to receive a prompt reply from Atishi on January 14 itself informing me that she had not only seen the videos but was also aware of the concerns in the matter. She also conveyed to me that she would discuss the matter with me soon.
Unfortunately, I received no call or meaningful response in the matter I had raised from any member of the committee or from AAP. The response was, Vishwas was not only selected as AAP’s candidate to contest the 2014 parliamentary election but starkly, he was selected by the party for the high profile battle at Amethi against Rahul Gandhi and Smriti Irani.
It was clear that the country’s focus after Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi’s contest at Varanasi was going to be Amethi at the time of 2014 general elections.
This came as a setback to me – more so in the backdrop of no response on the anti-women-sexist remarks by Vishwas I had raised before AAP member who was also the committee member of AAP under Vishakha guidelines.
Naturally the discontent within AAP over Vishwas’ stature in the party with his very poor gender sensitive record was to grow and important members within AAP began questioning the same.
One of them who raised strong questions on Vishwas’ views on women, gay community, etc at that time was AAP member Mallika Sarabhai, who needs no introduction. However, it is necessary to highlight that Sarabhai has fought for women’s rights and has raised issues concerning minority and marginalized communities, particularly in Gujarat.
She has been one of the early teachers for a whole generation of Gujaraties on matters of women’s equality and justice. She has taken fearless stand on sensitive issues in a state that has ruthlessly marched towards polarization over development, caste and communal issues.
My early lessons on feminist work and campaign came from two individuals in Gujarat — Trupti Shah and Mallika Sarabhai. Mallika Sarabhai’s dance performance titled “Sita’s daughters” has left a lasting impression on many from my generation.
Sarabhai contesting 2009 general election against Lal Krishna Advani while Modi was the Chief Minister of the Gujarat was no ordinary fete. It was Sarabhai who as member of AAP, raised the following questions on Vishwas’ views on women:
“Vishwas’ views in the video were disturbing. He comes across as sexist and anti-gay, and has an anti-minority point of view, and at the same time praises Narendra Modi”.
Unfortunately, Sarabhai’s concerns too were not entertained by AAP, and Vishwas became AAP’s high profile candidate in the 2014 general elections at Amethi.
Being an activist at heart and not in the habit of giving up issues easily, I once again wrote to Atishi many months later after the 2014 general election verdict was out in which AAP had not fared as well as expected. (Vishwas himself was at fourth position at Amethi in spite of a high decibel campaign over several months in the run up to the election.)
In my letter I expressed that as a well wisher, I would request AAP that while evaluating its 2014 election performance, AAP examines a few things. One being, evaluate how much of not responding to important issues raised by the sympathizers of AAP has resulted into the disconnect that may be building between AAP and the people.
Today when Atishi has been so shamelessly attacked, my heart truly goes out to her and all the women in public life who have been subjected to sexist and abusive remarks. At the same time, I also hope that AAP will draw lessons from this offensive incident against Atishi in dealing with anti-women and sexist mindset of any of its party members quickly and sternly in future.