Why the Ramayana ‘Joke’ on Renuka Chowdhury’s Laughter is No Laughing Matter
Sure, it may be disrespectful to laugh when someone’s talking, and especially if he happens to be the Prime Minister of the country—but how often have the men in the Parliament been asked to go “see a doctor” for their unruly behavior?
File image of Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury outside Parliament.
Long, long back, Margaret Atwood had said, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
It’s 2018. And, nothing has changed.
The other day PepsiCo’s global chief exec Indra Nooyi said that Doritos has decided to create a snack tailored to suit the lady mouth and feminine sensibilities. Yep, one that doesn’t make loud noise, you know? Because, if you are a woman, you wouldn’t want to crunch too loudly in public. Right? I mean that’s so unwomanly.
If that wasn’t enough to make you understand how a woman should behave, the incident that happened in Rajya Sabha will surely put you in your place.
While replying to a debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha, Prime Minster Narendra Modi claimed the concept of Aadhaar was mooted in 1998 by the then home minister LK Advani, who spoke about a universally used national identity card.
At this point, Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury laughed loudly.
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu wasn’t quite amused, and decided to call her out for her apparent unruly behavior. To make his point, he told Chowdhury, “If you have some problem, go to a doctor, please.”
Here’s a reminder: Chowdhury had laughed. Sure, it may be disrespectful to laugh when someone’s talking, and especially if he happens to be the Prime Minister of the country—but how often have the men in the Parliament been asked to go “see a doctor” for their unruly behavior? What about the times they shout slogans, storm the well, display placards and call names?
Back in 2012, when three Parliamentarians were caught watching porn at the Karnataka State Assembly, were they asked to go see a doctor? When a Congress MLA used a can of pepper spray on his colleagues to protest against the tabling of the Andhra Pradesh Re-organisation Bill, was he sent for a medical checkup? When Modugula Venugopala Reddy of the Telugu Desam Party broke the glass and microphone on the table of the Lok Sabha secretary-general while Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was introducing the Bill that seeks to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, was he given the same advice? No.
Because, all those times, a woman didn’t laugh. And you see, when a woman laughs loudly, it’s no laughing matter. She’s either deranged or she’s an evil character from Ramayana.
And despite the BJP’s IT cell reminding Chowdhury that she laughed like Soorpanakha, essentially seen as a “loose” woman, she has decided not to be womanly. “I will continue to laugh as there is no GST on laughter,” she told reporters outside the Parliament.
Someone sent me this video clip from Ramayana in response to ‘identify the laughter’ contest... Can you identify her? pic.twitter.com/3odFs9TXA9
— Amit Malviya (@malviyamit) February 7, 2018
But clearly the Congress leader hasn’t been told what it is to be a woman. Well, you need to be gentle—say like a flower; or say a piece of silk. You need to decorate the world of men, and sit in a corner looking pretty, being timid, not crunching your chips—and mind you, not laughing.
In our patriarchal society, women’s roles have been pretty defined. Be a faithful daughter, be a loyal wife, be a dutiful mother and be gracious in your actions. But never, ever become a voice. And every time, a woman crosses that line she’s reminded that it’s a transgression, it’s unfeminine, and of course, you aren’t allowed to express joy or pleasure.
We are there to coyly laugh at a man’s jokes, reminding him that he is funny and smart and desirable. But if you laugh at him or crack a joke or have an opinion, you are just evil. And you are reminded of this, every day—all the time right from time you even go to school.
In my all girls’ convent school, we were told not to sneeze loudly. A lot of my friends managed to condition themselves pretty well to this bizarre rule. They would stuff their faces in their handkerchief and make sure they comply with the idea that “girls are supposed to be seen before they are heard”.
I couldn’t. I still sneeze loudly, often scaring my colleagues and friends. And guess what? I’ll continue to do that. I will sneeze, eat and laugh like a woman. And that will always mean, loudly.
It’s time to embrace what might seem like a bizarre idea. Men
don’t cry, and women don’t laugh.
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