“Tu jeet gayi (You’ve won.)” — This is what several eyewitnesses claim Manish Babu Sharma said to Darvesh Yadav before he shot her dead. It was just minutes after a victory procession at the Agra court where Yadav had been elected the first female president of the Uttar Pradesh Bar Council. Sharma had been Yadav’s senior in college and a long-term acquaintance. There had been a fallout between them recently, reports say, and colleagues were surprised to see Sharma present at the celebrations. “You won,” he said to Yadav, and then allegedly shot her thrice and then shot himself. He is currently in hospital.
For anyone who pays attention, it is clear that a woman is most at risk of violence from those who she knows, not strangers. Week after week, this a fact that feminists have to remind people of. The statistics are voluminous and usually quoted in the context of sexual violence. But every week, feminists also have to remind the world that it isn’t only rape that we have to fear. It is all manner of violence. And professional jealousy of the kind that led to Yadav's death. That’s a severely underreported fire, singeing and burning women perceived to be successful in any way.
In 2011, P Krishnaveni had been sarpanch of Thalaiyuthiu panchayat in Tamil Nadu for five years and was extremely adept at implementing policy and resisting those who tried to stifle her. One night she was attacked by men who hacked off two fingers and an ear. She nearly bled to death. Krishnaveni, astonishingly, continues to be active in politics.
In 2015, Gomathi Augustine was one of the leaders of the remarkable Pembillai Orumai movement – a powerful group of women plantation workers in Kerala. Gomathi stood for panchayat elections later that year and won. In the moment of her victory, as she was thanking her voters, a woman who was formerly with Pembilai Orumai hit her and Gomathi had to be hospitalised. Many statements along the lines of “terrible infighting”, “lack of unity” and “women are women’s greatest enemies” were declaimed by observers, as if political party workers are otherwise holding hands.
Later, the local CPM MLA confessed that “the attackers were Left trade unionists,” and that the attack was a “retaliation” for the “provocative celebrations” by Pembilai Orumai. One of the things he found provocative? “They took out a celebration procession in Munnar, though she had won in a ward that is 15 kilometres away from Munnar.”
Here is the double whammy. Women face violence from their colleagues at the workplace because of professional jealousy. But as is well known, successful women also face jealousy from their lovers and husbands. Studies have shown that men experience lowered self-esteem when their romantic partners do well. (Women’s self-esteem, the same study says, is unaffected by their lovers’ success.) Arranged marriage is an age-old acknowledgement of this male insecurity, where complex algorithms have always been deployed to ensure that fragile men have either a higher degree or a bigger salary than their future wives. There is plenty to indicate that the literally algorithm-based modern dating also doesn’t prevent men from being jealous of successful women.
Having successfully avoided male-majority workspaces for great chunks of my life, I have few incidents of this sort to report. However what I saw in journalism college was enough to make me want to jump in the sea. Men constantly trolled and slandered the brightest women of my 100-strong class. If I had a rupee for every “she slept with the faculty to get into college” I heard from my shady male classmates, I would be very rich and hiring goons myself. (No surprise to see several of those of my esteemed peers on the ‘Me Too’ list last year.) The star women students — the best writers, reporters, public speakers — all faced astonishing Byzantine plots to dethrone them or shame them into slowing down. Not to mention actual assault. What was very illuminating to me in college was that you could carve out a tiny specialty in the most obscure of things and a jealous man would arrive out of nowhere to inform you that you need to adjust your attitude. Class presentations counted for nothing and no one prepared as far as I could see. I did well in the first few and soon one of my classmates began to appear at my side two minutes before I was scheduled to go up. In these last few minutes, he liked to tell me about what was wrong with my voice modulation, my accent and probably my mommy if I had let him go on. One time he recruited a fascinating always-ready-to-join-the-Vichy-woman classmate to come sit with him and remark on the size of my upper arms. My biceps may have always been tragic but luckily I realised what he was up to early enough to find it comic. He now reports on sports and his biceps continue to be rubbish.
The Australians have a useful term in this context — the ‘tall poppy syndrome.’ People who stand out with professional success are likely to face the garden shears. Most adult women know that men see them as tall poppies or tall poppies-in-waiting. Hence women’s infamous hesitation, infamous apologies and infamous self-deprecation at the workplace. Not because we are delicate flowers who need strong men to tell us to speak up, but because we don’t want to attract any sharp blades from strong men. At work every now and then, when women encounter a genuinely brash (not perceived as brash by men, another category) and unselfconscious woman colleague, many of us are filled with envy. Not because of her present but because of her past. Because somehow in the years previous to our meeting her, her family and the world had not crushed her spirit. I have definitely felt that envy. Of course, women feel envy. We are not replete with mudita – the Pali word for rejoicing in other people’s success. It’s just that we are willing to live with our professional misery and those who make us miserable more than men. We aren’t going about looking for a gun, a vat of acid or a chance to break the plaque that bears our rival’s name.
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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2019 17:21:14 IST