Originally Posted at Common Threads Blog
Centre Daily Times, July 25, 2007
On July 21, 2007, I read Gavin Rabinowitz’s news report entitled “India names its first female president.” My family and I were amused that he focussed more on gender discrimination in India, than about the new president of the largest democracy in the world.
Rabinowitz reduced Pratibha Patil to one aspect of her whole self, the female aspect, in this article written for the Associated Press. This reduction is similar to the labeling of politicians as “female” or “black” or “Mormon” or “Hispanic” or “Muslim” or “Hindu” or “some other one thing we use to define them.”
Once we label them, we wonder what they will do for their special “Religious,” “Racial” or “Gender” constituencies. Consider Rabinowitz’s comment “Still, it's not clear how much 72-year-old Pratibha Patil - a lawyer, congresswoman and former governor of the northern state of Rajasthan - can or will do in the mostly ceremonial post to improve the lives of her countrywomen.”
All I hope is that Pratibha Patil, in her past jobs, improved the lives of all her constituents who shared or did not share some parts of the multiple aspects of her identity - of gender, religion, language, or her identities as mother, lawyer, woman, wife and so on.
Pratibha Patil is a lawyer by training, and has been in politics for four decades - as a legislator at the state and national levels, as a minister at the state level, and finally as a governor of a state. And she has done all this by wearing what she chooses to wear, and looking how she chooses to look.
On Wednesday, July 25, 2007, she added one more thing to her resume - she was sworn in as India’s 13th president after winning 66% of the votes cast by national and state legislators. And just like other presidents who governed in spite of being male, she will govern in spite of being female.
I am happy that her election to the Presidency has done one thing – it has given us another picture of possibility of how a president can look, and who can aspire to be president – it can be a person who happens to be a woman from Maharashtra, who wears saris, who covers her head, who is a lawyer, a former legislator, and a governor, a mother, a wife, and so much more.
And that for me is the expanding opportunity of this historic moment.