Of Godwomen and Short Pink Dresses.

Last night I ended up catching 15-20 mins of India Today where the hot topic was the leaked pics of Radhey Maa wearing a short pink dress and boots. If you have ever travelled on a the Mumbai Western Express Highway you would be familiar with Radhey Maa, her large hoardings splattered across the highway showcase a young girl, with a beaming smile, too much make-up, and a red chunni wrapped around her. She looks very unlike the regular godmen we are so used to seeing and I hesitate to say, brings a certain glamor to the ‘godmen business’.

Now the debate itself was pretty bad with one sadhu and a women screaming at a poor Rahul Kanwal, who failed to make any point apart from “what to say of these baba’s” repeatedly, but the debate got me thinking about perceived images of public figures.

Now a disclaimer before I proceed, I’m just a step away from being an atheist and have no dog in this fight between a self-styled ‘godwomen’ and her critics.

My first reaction to the story being played out was – So what if she is wearing a short dress? She is perfectly entitled to do it, wear anything she wants, go out wherever she wants as long as she’s not doing anything illegal (it turns out she might have been involved in a case of dowry harassment but that wasn’t a point made on the show, and hence not the point of the post). My second reaction was that this is extremely sexist, and she’s being singled out because she is a young good looking woman in a business straddled mostly by old men. I mean, would there have been such a debate if say, an Asaram (who is currently imprisoned on charges of rape) would be pictured wearing a three-piece suit or a jeans and a tee? Probably not. Criticize these self-styled godmen for all the wealth they loot, all the superstition they propagate, and in general promoting all-round dumb assery in the society, but you can’t be picking on them for wearing what they are wearing. That’s just a cheap shot.

This is exactly the same argument we apply to movie stars and cricketers – what they do in their personal life has no relation with their professional commitments. A movie star may twerk on stage on the demands of the director, but in real life she could be a publicity-shy simple person. A cricketer can be race car driving, foul-mouthed adrenalin junkie, but as long as he’s doing his job, scoring runs and taking wickets, no one should care. But here is where the catch lies- there is a clear demarcation of an actor’s and a cricketer’s personal and professional lives, which is a luxury that not all professions offer, namely, the godman/woman business and the business of politics.

If you spend your entire day preaching to your followers on the best way to live and they look up to you for inspiration, you cannot then turn around and start living differently from what you preach. If your manifesto talks about women safety, then you cannot have dowry and domestic abuse cases registered against you. Occupational hazard, baby! Even if you do not actively preach against short dresses, the fact that you appear in front of your ‘devotees’ fully covered up (however glamorous), and privately appear in a short number is a double standard some professions will not allow.

Now allow me to contradict myself- I think the profession allows that double standard, as long as it’s not hidden. Now if the Godwomen were to appear publically wearing dresses all the time, embracing that part of her personality while still doing what she does, i.e. preach in the name of god, would there have been a backlash? If a politician were to accept domestic problems with his wife publically, then the cases would have seen that much outrage?

Possibly, but then the fingers would have turned to the outrager- can’t you accept that a normal person who like to wear good clothes and jewelry and make-up be spiritually inclined? Can’t you accept that a well-meaning person can have problems in his household? Now doing that may not get them more followers but at least they would have a defensible position.

So here’s my lesson from all of this – if you are in a profession where your public persona is indistinguishable from your private persona then either embrace it openly or make sure no one leaks your pictures!

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