It’s been 24 years since Tabu Rao, a Muslim woman, married into a Hindu Brahmin family, but her interfaith marriage continues to attract public attention, not necessarily in a pleasing way.
On Monday, Tabu Rao took to Facebook to post a strongly-worded message that started off with: “It appears I am a soft target for certain BJP leaders who are unable to politically take on my husband, Mr Dinesh Gundu Rao, who is also the President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee...."
Hours ago, Union minister for skill development and entrepreneurship Anant Kumar Hegde had a war of words on Twitter with her husband. Hegde had tweeted: “... I only know him as a guy who ran behind a Muslim lady," after the Congress leader questioned his achievements. Hegde, a firebrand Hindutva voice in Karnataka, has been in the news earlier over controversial statements about the Constitution and Islam.
In a telephonic interview on Tuesday, Rao, 49, spoke about political discourse in India, Islamophobia and why she wants her family to be left alone. Edited excerpts:
This isn’t the first time your name has been dragged into politics. What are your thoughts on the latest remarks against you?
Even in the past, Pratap Simha and Shobha Karandlaje (Bharatiya Janata Party members of Parliament) have dragged me into conversations and issues, where I was not involved. My initial reaction this time was, I got very angry. I am not an active person in politics. I maybe helping my husband in his constituency (Gandhinagar in Bengaluru), but I am a homemaker. I have been involved in back-end work, like helping out with social media engagement of the (Congress) party on occasions, but I would like to believe I am an apolitical person.
What prompted your Facebook post?
My posts on Facebook are strongly worded and it’s my democratic right to express my opinion. I have posted my thoughts on Facebook in the past as well, after Shobha (Karandlaje) made a similar comment about me. I am going to complete 25 years of married life and we have two daughters, who are 22 and 19 years old, and they are active on social media and follow everything. At this point of time in life, one can’t be still discussing my marriage. For my husband Dinesh, politics is a lifetime career, but why am I dragged into a political slugfest every now and then?
Do you think the quality of political discourse is deteriorating in Karnataka?
I would think the quality of political discourse in this country has lowered so much. The courts have to come out with a law where any political person can’t cross a personal line because right now, they seem to be crossing all barriers.
It’s not my business to comment on people and their ideologies as long as they are civil to me. My only request is let me live in peace.
Do the comments by the BJP parliamentarian represent a patriarchal mindset, lack of gender sensitivity or outright malice?
I think it’s an Islamophobic statement. He probably hates Muslims and that’s why the below-the-belt remark. Maybe it’s his mindset and style—frankly, I don’t care. He belongs to a party, which also does its part in appeasing Muslims. My husband is in politics, but his personal life is not anyone’s business. It’s disappointing and derogatory when remarks like these come from a person who is in Parliament. If he (Hegde) hadn’t blocked me on Twitter, I would have asked him why he said what he said, and had a conversation.
Will such personal attacks define the upcoming election campaign?
I don’t think one can use these tools in an election campaign.
Thousands of people have stood by me since the controversy broke, some even from the BJP, who have conveyed to me in person that it was unfair to drag me in. It’s ultimately the people who have to realize: how long will people vote for people like him (Hegde) and for how long can they be in Parliament? I wouldn’t want a hater as an MP.
I don’t think haters can get away. Mr Hegde didn’t get away and he got a lot of flak for his comments, though no one from the BJP has formally apologized yet.
How did your family react to an interfaith marriage?
There was a bit of resistance from the family, but that was in the initial days. Then it was accepted well. But even today, the Hindu-Muslim combination is a huge risk. When I married Dinesh, he wanted to go overseas and work. Then his father (R. Gundu Rao, a former Karnataka chief minister) passed away and my husband got into politics and we landed in Gandhinagar, when he was general secretary of the Youth Congress. I have never been involved in politics, but I suspect even when I am 60, my marriage is going to be discussed.