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UNDERSTATEMENT: Facing Feminism

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) during a protest against the Delhi gang-rape at India Gate, New Delhi.  (Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) during a protest against the Delhi gang-rape at India Gate, New Delhi. )Premium
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) during a protest against the Delhi gang-rape at India Gate, New Delhi.
(Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) during a protest against the Delhi gang-rape at India Gate, New Delhi. )

Kavita Krishnan has emerged on news channels as a constant face arguing for women’s rights. Also because she fits the image of a no-nonsense activist

Among the many men and women who have debated and counter debated the issues surrounding the Delhi gang rape as experts on television talk shows, one face has emerged as the new constant. It is that of Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), who is also the editor of Liberation, the monthly publication of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Krishnan was—like many others--at the forefront of the protests, resisting the winter chill and the cold reactions of the Delhi police. But was that the only reason why almost all TV anchors chose to speak with her? Or there is an image we are searching for as the new face of the reignited feminist rage and Krishnan fits the bill.

Having consciously kept track of the fact that Krishnan has recently been on TV almost every single day, I would err on the side of the latter. There is a certain likeable plainness about her, a Smita Patil-ness if you will. Her hair is carelessly tied back in a loose bun and she wears regular salwar kameezes; no glossy orange lipstick, no fiddling with jewellery or clothes while speaking. She is young but her mould is of the old school feminist. In fact, in the first few days after the gangrape when the rebellion was at its peak, Krishnan was seen on TV with the same shawl around her neck, the only change being the variety of arguments she brought to the table. New perhaps to TV as a game of one-upmanship but seasoned as a grassroots level worker, (she was a student activist helping campus groups to fight against sexual harassment), she manages to make a point without getting screechy or preachy. She has a resolute and articulate manner and tries to balance her comments with facts and figures. As a result, you move on beyond her shawl quickly, realizing why in this sharply visual Mahabharata of opinions, Krishnan’s disregard for polished poise is as powerful as Shobhaa De’s sophisticated trendiness. Add veteran feminist Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi who isn’t completely immune to the charms of dressing up and accessorizes carefully; Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research (CSR) with her gold beaded necklace and jewel-toned saris, Brinda Karat of the CPM in handloom drapes and large red bindis and you have a pantheon of firebrands worth musing about.

As someone who makes a living out of writing on “dented and painted Indians", I have to admit that Krishnan’s text book-ish persona woke me up to her soft power. So when she wore a white wool stole with a vermillion red kurta for a recent appearance on NDTV to debate Mohan Bhagwat’s India vs. Bharat assumptions, I missed her first “protest" shawl. It could be her election symbol if she ever contests.

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