Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani found herself in a spot when her remarks that women in the country are not told what to wear, whom to meet and where to go, drew voices of dissent from an audience she was addressing. “In India, I don’t think any woman here is dictated what to wear, how to wear, whom to meet, when to meet….I am of the opinion, I don’t think anybody is dictated here, you are not told,” she said while interacting with New York-based journalist Tina Brown at an event. As many from the gathering vociferously disagreed with the Minister’s remarks, Brown drew her attention to it. Putting up a brave front, Irani retorted, “Are you told? I am sorry. I am not. My apologies ladies.”
Trying to justify her remarks, Irani said she did not come from a celebrated family but an absolutely lower middle class family which told her to determine her own future. The minister, however, admitted that there were challenges which everyone has to face. She contended that countries around the world have to face push and pulls. She said that there were statements even in countries like the US in which students are urged not to wear provocative Halloween costumes and also for others to respect other’s right to wear what they want to.
It would be naive to assume that problems like domestic abuse and female foeticide are more in rural areas and less in urban areas, she said while noting that a prosperous area like South Mumbai has a high rate of female foeticide. Asked about the raging debate on intolerance, Irani said that “India is aware of its challenges but is also adept in handling those challenges through rule of law.” She emphasised that the country is secular where oath, even at the highest level, is taken on Constitution and not any religious book. Irani was asked by Brown about her earlier criticism of Narendra Modi and what made her change her stance later.
“I think I am a living example of Mr Modi’s capacity to forgive. I am a living example of Mr Modi’s capacity to recognise talent and to reason,” Irani said. She said that in 2004 when Modi met her, he told her to not to judge him through newspapers articles but by his work.