Culture & Lifestyle / Why We Should Never Forget India’s SuperMom & Political Powerhouse Sushma Swaraj

Why We Should Never Forget India’s SuperMom & Political Powerhouse Sushma Swaraj

Culture & Lifestyle Nov 06, 2019

When she passed away this summer we immediately felt a certain absence in the global space. Sushma Swaraj was a mighty figure and we wanted to take some time out to properly recognize how this Supermom shifted the sands of Indian diplomacy through her feminist philosophies and using social media for good. 

India’s treatment of women has come into a controversy over recent years. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, it ranks 108 among the 149 countries in terms of gender inequality. Moreover, due to female infanticide and selective abortions, India’s gender ratio is inclined towards the male. The female infanticide crisis is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. Rajani Iyer Mohanty calls them “trash bin babies.” According to the 2011 study, there were at least half a million sex-selective abortions that had taken place.

While these numbers are indeed a reminder of the work that needs to be done to improve gender inequality in India, India is also one of the few countries that is also home to many well-known and often controversial female politicians including India’s first prime minister’s daughter — Indira Gandhi, her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi, who has been the current president of the Congress Party.  Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and served for six terms and passed away while still serving in office. Mamta Banerjee, too, has been the chief minister of West Bengal for the past eight years.

In the current Modi administration, too, we saw an influential and well-known politician, Sushma Swaraj. Called India’s Supermom by The Washington Post, she passed away at the age of 67 on August 6, 2019. Her kindness, quick-wit, and availability on the social media platform continue to keep her alive in the hearts of millions including the youth. According to India Times, Swaraj defined the term “digital diplomacy” — the use of social media platforms to further the diplomatic interests of the State.

 Sushma Swaraj
Sushma Swaraj In the 1970s. Photo Credit: Femina India

In spite of the fact that there are countless politicians are who are now active in all types of social media forums and platforms, Swaraj’s presence stood out because she used twitter especially to help citizens both at home and abroad, as I will discuss later in this article.

Born in 1952, Swaraj represented herself as a fierce woman who could hold her ground against leaders of the world. After she passed on, India Today described her as “the figure of a woman who did not hesitate to wear her culture on herself. In her bindi, sindoor and saree”. Indeed, she was not only an Indian politician but she was also a supreme court lawyer in India. She joined the Supreme Court of India as an advocate in 1973. After the Emergency ended in 1975, Swaraj then joined the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and eventually, became a national leader in the party.

George Fernandes
Sushma Swaraj with Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Photo Credit:  The Japan Times

Swaraj’s political profile, during her lifetime, was very diverse and driven by her philosophies to advocate for women’s rights. In 1998, she served as the Minister for Information and Broadcasting and was the only female politician to serve in this position after Indira Gandhi. In a 1998 interview with Femina, she said the following when asked about what it means to have “true freedom” as a woman:

“True freedom emanates from empowerment and authority. However, freedom is quite often taken in the wrong sense. If, for instance, you have to freedom to go anywhere, spend as much as you like, wear what you want, but don’t have an iota of authority to take any major decisions in your life, then that freedom is meaningless.”

If you review the situation of women in cities and towns, you’ll find that the woman’s suffering has not decreased because of her economic independence. In fact, it has made things worse. While the husband is pampered when he comes home from work, the wife has to make her own tea, look after willing children, and probably rush into the kitchen and cook for her family before she can think of relaxing. In my opinion, true freedom can only come from political and economic empowerment.”

Although this interview was taken over two decades ago, her feminist philosophies are still evident in her words. Although she was clad in traditional clothes, her ideologies celebrated the empowerment of women but also recognized and paid respect to the culture and customs of India.

She, too, supported the idea of other women engaged in political work too. In the same interview, she said:

“With political empowerment on its way, we will enter the new millennium with a different image of women. This is because one-third of the people involved in running the country are women, there will be greater interaction and active representation from the, when this happens, women’s issues will come into focus. I firmly believe that the next century, the 21st century, will be the century for women!”

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Sushma Swaraj used twitter as a platform to help improve the situation of Indian women all over the world. Photo Credit: Gulf News

She caught my attention, most recently, when she became very active on social media and especially Twitter, but used it as an apparatus to improve the situation of the Indian women abroad. News18 reports that she was the “most approachable politician” the Indian government has ever had. Her social media presence was a unique quality and used it to communicate and connect with the citizens in India and abroad. At a time when she served as an external affairs minister, her communication with Jyoti R Pande is one such case where she managed to help her situation overseas. Pandey, who was living apart from her husband, who was based in New Zealand drew Swaraj’s attention when she sent a distressful tweet after her visa was denied three times to migrate to New Zealand. Not only did she respond to her tweet, but she also set up a one-on-one meeting to help Pandey’s situation.

Likewise, her empathy did not end there. Her kindness extended outside of the Indian borders. In one case, she approved a year-long visa of a Pakistani girl for open-heart surgery in 2017.

In 2015, Swaraj even offered humanitarian aid to a Yemeni woman who was married to an Indian man as the Yemeni woman pleaded for safe evacuation from the war-torn country.

No matter where her political leanings lied, she proved to be a woman of excellence and honour as not only was she was available for her people abroad and at home, but her words also turned into actions, which remains a rare sight nowadays. So yes its important that we remember her lessons moving forward.

Main Image Photo Credit: India TV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nidhi Shrivastava

Nidhi Shrivastava

Author

Nidhi Shrivastava (@shnidhi) is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at Western University and works as an adjunct professor in at Sacred Heart University. She holds double masters in South Asian Studies and Women's Studies. Her research focuses on Hindi film cinema, censorship, the figure o...

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