BENGALURU: Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, seems to court controversy wherever she goes. Her recent comment about girls needing an early curfew to protect them from ‘hormonal outburst’ is the latest to have caught attention and has received severe criticism from all quarters.

However, that was not the only problematic statement made by her during the NDTV’s Women’s Day Special interview ‘Women and Politics’ show, along with several factually incorrect statements too.

Women from various colleges of the University of Delhi were present at the show and posed questions to the minister. One of the students asked Maneka Gandhi about her views on there being discriminatory hostel curfew for boys and girls, to which she first said she had ‘no opinion’, followed by which she went on to the say that such rules are in place to provide ‘protection’ and ‘safety.’

On being asked why only girl’s hostels should have such rules, she responded that such rules should be in place for boys too, in order to ensure their safety from ‘traffic accidents.’ The same student went on to ask the minister about why ensuring better safety could not be the answer, to which the minister responded that ‘two Bihari gentlemen standing at the gate with dandas’ was not the answer.

There are two particular problems with the Minister’s ‘hormonal outburst’ statement. First, a university or college is a space accessed by individuals of different age groups, pursuing their higher studies and residing on campus, thus to categorise them all as ‘hormonal teenagers’ is a flawed inference.

Second, her reasoning appears to be based on the premise that all college going students function and behave based on primitive hormonal needs, rather than being actual thinking and feeling individuals, capable of rational thought and decision making.

Even though legally anyone of and above the age of 18 years is an adult, there is a constant infantilisation of college going individuals. The Minister in her conversation kept referring to college going adults as ‘children’, just like former HRD minister Smriti Irani did last year during the debate in Rajya Sabha over Rohith Vemula’s suicide. In the recent past several other ministers have also come forward saying that the university and college spaces are for studying, not politics – reinforcing the assumption that university/ college students are incapable of independent thinking, opinions, rationale thought and decision making.

Further on, in the interview on NDTV, Maneka Gandhi in response to a question on marital rape claimed that it is criminalised in India and went on to say that there are no complaints of marital rape anywhere in the world - both statements being factually incorrect.

Under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) forced sex in a marriage is considered as a crime only when the wife is below age 15; thus, not making marital rapes a criminal offense under the IPC.

Studies estimate, that one in seven women across the world are victims of marital rape. Last year, recommendations were made by the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women that India criminalises marital rape. In response to this Ms. Gandhi said that ‘the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors—e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of society to treat marriage as a sacrament, etc.’

On the issue of maternity leave, the Minister claimed that it is the first time in the world that six months of maternity leave is being granted and that she hopes the Bill will be passed in the Lok Sabha. Here again, the Minister wrongly claimed that six months of maternity was being provided for the ‘first time in the world.’ In Sweden parents are allowed 480 days of leave per child, which the parents are free to divide among themselves; while in Iceland, women are given nine months of post – child birth leave.

The Minister, in response to a question on stalking, condemned it, calling it ‘the most horrible thing’, and then went on to say that ‘in the beginning young girls are flattered by stalking.’

Not only the fact that all these statements were made on a show supposed to be a ‘Women’s Day Special’, what is also ironic is that a petition titled ‘We Are Equal’ on behalf of the Union Minister for Women and Child Development has been received by several individuals through e – mails, a part of which reads:

“I believe one of the first steps for you and me would be to break barriers and stereotypes that are harmful for women as well as men.

I am keen to hear from you. Tweet to me using #WeAreEqual.

Let me know what you are doing to break gender stereotypes in your life? What can you as an individual do to ensure equality for women.

You can also share your views with me on Facebook.

This women’s day, I am reaching out to join hands in our quest to make India a better and a more equal place for all our women.”

While most will agree that barriers and stereotypes which are harmful to women and men need to be broken, some will also agree that to begin with, perhaps the Minister herself needs to break past certain stereotypes and barriers. And believe in spirit not just letter that #WeAreEqual

The interview can be watched here.