Rama Krishna Sangem
Finally, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tendered his apologies for calling newly sworn in President of India, Droupadi Murmu as Rashtrapatni instead of Rahstrapathi as enshrined in our Constitution. Chowdhury is also the Leader of Opposition in LS, BJP registered angry protests against him and Congress for insulting a tribal woman who rose to the highest Constitutional position in India.
BJP Minister Smriti Irani thundered at Congress and Sonia Gandhi demanding apologies from Chowdhury for his comments. Responding to queries of media persons at Parliament house, Sonia Gandhi said: “He already apologized” thus distancing herself from the comments. That’s understandable. In fact, it is Congress under Sonia’s leadership gave India’s first woman President Pratibha Patil, in 2007.
Irani said, these sexist and derogatory comments, insulting the person elected to the highest office and supreme commander of our Defence forces. Irani is right.
Here, I would like to share a few observations on the controversy about the wording of Rahstrapathi or Rashtrapatni. We all know the meaning of Pathi is husband while Patni is wife. This question came up for the first time in 2007, when announcing the name of Pratibha Patil, then senior minister Pranab Mukherjee clarified that even if a woman is elected as President of India, she would be called as Rashtrapathi.
Because, our Constitution in Article 52 in Hindi says: “Bharat Ka Ek Rashtrapathi Hoga” (There shall be a President for India). There is no different word for the post of President of India. Perhaps, then our framers of Constitution wouldn’t have imagined that in future there would be a woman to hold the post or they may have felt that it would be a gender-free word. But, are our males ready to learn?
Already, a similar gender specific confusion came up when Najma Heptullah was the Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha from 1988-2004. When some members referred to her as Madam Chairperson or Chairwoman, she told them: “Simply call me Sir”. As that word is enough for any gender. So, any reference of position is power centric. Is Madam is equal to Sir? We don’t know yet. Then PM Indira Gandhi was addressed by ministers as Madam Ji.
There is also some hypocrisy in our society. We have no objection for a Pathi being for Pati for the entire nation, but not a Patni for for the same. Though we call both husband and wife are equal, in reality we don’t accept it. In practice, we treat wife as an inferior word – subordinate to husband. Dharm Patni is a woman duly married to a male. Not otherwise. So we can understand the anguish over the fresh row.
How about Rashtra Adhyaksha?
Already, India has elected two woman presidents. In future, there might be many more. So why not we change the word of Rashtrapathi to some other gender free word like Rashtra Adhyaksha? Because, Adhyaksha may be more close to English word – President? Let our law makers think about it. This will not change basic structure of our Constitution. Simply amend a single word in Article 52.
Then, it would be a controversy free description of a top most post of India. Then, Rashtrapathi Bhavan can be changed to Rashtra Adhyaksha Bhavan! Just as Prime Minister, Chief Minister, minister or even MP, MLA, President of India too can be controversy free. The word President is gender neutral, but its Hindi equivalent is somewhat looks a bit archaic. Isn’t it?
Will Her Excellency President Murmu or PM Modi look into it?