Practising ‘strategic feminism’ in the hotbed of patriarchy in Uttar Pradesh

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Samajwadi Party candidate Iqra Hasan in Kairana.
| Photo Credit: Anuj Kumar

At 27, Iqra Hasan is one of the youngest candidates in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. A post graduate in International Law from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, Ms. Iqra Hasan is contesting from her family turf in Kairana constituency in western Uttar Pradesh on the Samajwadi Party (SP) ticket as part of the  Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). Once known as the source of Kirana Gharana of Hindustani Classical music, over the years, Kairana has lost its character and is now known for its high crime rate and farmer agitation.

The constituency is politically dominated by two Gurjar families, Hindu and Muslim. Ms. Iqra Hasan is the daughter of two-time MP and two-time MLA late Munawwar Hasan. Circumstances forced her into politics after her mother Tabassum Hasan, a former MP from Kairana and brother Nahid, a three-time MLA from the constituency, absconded after Uttar Pradesh Police charged Mr. Nahid with traffic violation and misbehaviour with government officials. The family has described it as political vendetta unleashed by the BJP government, at the behest of BJP stalwart late Hukum Singh’s family, to finish it politically. Mr. Nahid later surrendered and is now out on bail.

Ms. Iqra Hasan learnt the new trade in quick time and has won praise for her modesty and political sagacity across party lines. Giving the sitting BJP MP Pradeep Chaudhary a tough time at the hustings, local political observers say Ms. Iqra Hasan, with her secular oulook, grasp over local customs and constant presence among people, clearly has started with an edge on a seat that the BJP has been milking for alleged ‘palayan’ (exodus) of Hindu families.

“I have not taken a vacation for the past two years. I go to Delhi only for a day or two. It is a 24X7 job. People ask me about development works but what people here want is me being there in their celebration and mourning,” says Ms. Iqra Hasan in an interview with The Hindu.

Edited excerpts:

How did you enter politics?

I used to be very interested in politics but not in a participatory manner. I had campaigned in 2015 for my mother in the door-to-door campaign. After post-graduation, I had applied for Ph.D but had to return home in 2021 because of COVID-19. Around the same time my mother and brother were implicated in false cases and had to abscond. Suddenly, I had to take control of everything. When before the 2022 Assembly polls, my brother was arrested. I became the face of the campaign. People were very sympathetic and it was a collective victory.

How did you apply your theoretical knowledge on political ground?

The ground reality is very different. We read caste politics is bad but here you can’t get away with it. So, you deal with it strategically. I am a feminist but I work in a very patriarchal society. So, I have to find my way into it so that it is not jarring for people. I can say I have become a strategic feminist (laughs). I always cover my head, something I didn’t use to do earlier. I have explained to myself that my clothes are not that important, what I say and do is vital. So if I pretend a certain way to send my message, be it.

Can you explain it?

Kairana is not new to women politicians. From Gayatri Devi to my mother and Mriganka Singh, the area has elected female representatives. But there was always a tag of bechari (helpless) attached to it. For instance, my mother was a widow, so she was called a bechari. When I entered, I was also labelled a bechari because my brother was in jail. When you enter there is a lot of resistance. To break that you have to play up to the image. Then it depends on how you utilise the access to people’s faith. So for two years when I was on the field doing the MLA work on behalf of my brother, I found a diplomatic way to prove myself as someone who knows things and gets things done. And it happened subtly in an organic way so much so that I have become an acceptable Lok Sabha candidate because of the things I said in public and disseminated through social media.

What are the issues that you are raising in your campaign?

Delays in payment of dues of sugarcane farmers and stray cattle are recurring issues. We staged a three-month dharna but still last year’s payment of the Shamli mill is pending. Then the legal guarantee of MSP and the hike in the price of urea bags irks farmers. As parents here do not want to send their girls to co-education colleges, they end up sitting at home. I would like to create a centre of higher education for girls in the constituency.

How are you countering BJP’s attempt at polarisation? The Prime Minister recently said Muslim women would remember him for ages for abolishing instant triple talaq.

I think there is a misconception. In instant triple talaq’s case, the BJP government penalised something that was civil in nature. When you send the man to jail, the wife doesn’t get maintenance. Economic freedom is more important than vengeance. Also, I often find that the BJP leaders and a section of the media deliberately mix the concept of triple talaq with instant triple talaq. Instant triple talaq is morally wrong. I don’t support it in any way and it is not even an acceptable form of divorce in Islam.

The exodus issue is being whipped up again though not as feverishly as in the past

Some families moved out of Kairana when their businesses grew. Of course, there is crime in the region but holding one community responsible for it is communalising a problem. In 2017 and 2022 Assembly polls, people have rejected their narrative. When my brother was transferred to Chitrakoot jail, I went to see him. There, I found a newspaper with a story on the alleged Hindu exodus in Kairana. The BJP is good at creating a false perception and then using it at some other place. They tried it again with the Sri Lankan Island story.

You would agree that only two families have ruled Kairana politically, the Munawwar Hasan family and the Hukum Singh family.

I agree the position I got is because of the privilege I hold. What matters is what you do with the privilege. I don’t take it for granted. Every field has some sort of nepotism. Law, a field I know about, has immense nepotism. It may sound politically incorrect but I would say I am addressed by people in a certain way because I have privilege. I would not have got this opportunity had I been a normal girl at this age. But I would say as politically privileged women, if we get a seat at the table, a responsibility to create space for others, whether they are privileged or not, falls on our shoulders. In this regard, I admire Mamata Banjeree. Her party represents a lot of strong female politicians. The voters enable us and we enable others.

How are you engaging with Jat farmers who are in big numbers in your constituency, after Chaudhary Jayant Singh’s exit from alliance?

Chaudhary Ajit Singh gave ticket for the first time to my father. When Akhileshji said I had to contest on the RLD [Rashtriya Lok Dal] symbol, I was excited. And Jayantji very generously forwarded my name. As a student, I looked up to him as a very secular person. So his alliance with the BJP came as a big surprise but it is not as effective as the BJP is trying to show. Farmer issues are still not resolved and the BJP continues to be perceived as an anti-farmer here. I agree he will get a large chunk of Jat vote but we will also get 20-30% because we have spent days with them during the dharna and have developed family-like relations. The current MP’s anti-incumbency is so strong, that we don’t have to work too much on caste lines.

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