Khushbu Sundar, Divya Maderna, Sarmi Bai: The Women Leaders Breaking Glass Ceiling

Khushbu Sundar opens up about sexual abuse by her father, says ‘scars a child for life’. BJP Leader says that she was sexually abused since the age of eight and could speak up against him only after she turned 15.

By Team Mojo, 7 Mar 2023

Khushbu Sundar started her career in films and has had a prolific career spanning over four decades in the industry. To date, she has over 100 Tamil films to her credit and has acted alongside many stars.

During an interaction with Barkha Dutt and Divya Maderna (Congress MLA from Rajasthan) at the We The Women event, Khushbu revealed how she was sexually abused by her father at the age of eight.

Khushbu is also an actor turned politician and is the newest member of the National Commission for Women (NCW). At the event, the BJP leader also opened up about how, at first, she was scared of telling her mother about the sexual abuse. “I thought my mother wouldn’t believe me. For her, it was a kuch bhi ho mera pati devta hai (whatever happens, my husband is like my god) mindset.”

NCW’s newest member talked about how she mustered the courage at the age of 15 to speak out against the sexual abuse done by her father. “When I started revolting against him, he just left us. We were in a lurch, and we didn’t know where the next meal would come from.” While Divya explained how she faced discrimination when she became a legislator.

The actor explained how her mother has been through the most abusive marriage. “A man (her father) who thought it was his birthright to beat up his wife, his children, and sexually abuse his only daughter.”

She said she was raised single-handedly by her mother. She also mentioned that “When a child is abused, be it a girl or boy, they are scarred for life. Not many people are able to come out of that.”

Both women leaders might come from different political parties, but at the event, the two spoke in tune for women’s rights, misogyny in politics, and more.

Divya Maderna, a member of the Indian National Congress (INC) from Rajasthan sharing her experience, explains how discrimination starts. “Men can’t handle confident, strong women. The moment you are somebody who’s going to lead somebody who has talent, they’re intimidated. And that’s where discrimination starts. I don’t think meek women in politics are discriminated against as much as I have to face it.”

The general assumption is that if a female is in politics and if you have inherited it from your family, probably there was no son in the family to take over, or you’re just a proxy, the INC member said at the We The Women event.

Khushbu in the past has had to face backlash and threats for supporting the need for women to know about their reproductive rights. Agreeing with Divya, Khushbu added that “A lot of men get intimidated with beautiful women because they think beauty and brains don’t go hand in hand. Men think you either have to be brainy or you have to be a dumbo bimbo and beautiful. A combination scares them.”

She further exclaimed that if she could fight a man at home, “I could manage the world very easily.” Recalling another horrific incident from her early days in politics, how two former ministers tried to change in front of her. “They were literally trying to get into a lungi in front of me.” When she called them out, the ministers said, “this is politics, you’ve got to get used to this.”

Living Under the Male Microscope

Divya raised a point highlighting how women are treated differently in politics stating, “When your work and your talent speak magnitude and volumes about you, and you can’t attack her (woman) on that.” What people resort to is character assassination.

During the conversation a Panchayat leader (community leader) Sarmi Bai adds that, “When I started out the villagers used to call out to my parents saying beti haath mai nahin hai isliye bahar jati hai (your daughter is not in your control that’s why she goes to school).”

Sarmi Bai got married at the age of 17, after moving to her in-laws house, she started pursuing her education. The community leader started with writing in the mud of the fields while others just focused on growing crops.

Highlighting another incident from their everyday lives Divya explains how the common people view politicians, “I was at an airport. I was wearing jeans and a small t-shirt. And somebody next asked me what do you do? And I said, I’m a legislator. And they said, lagti toh nahi ho (you don’t look like one).”

Leaving the audience on a positive note, Khusbhu said women need to go beyond tokenism. “I think we need to stand absolutely steady and absolutely strong and say, This is my world. This is my field, this is what I want to do. And I am going to do it. I am not going to let anybody take away what is rightfully mine.”

The We The Women event 2023 focused on Glamour, Gravitas, and Grassroots, bringing together renowned personalities from various sectors for a day full of engaging and insightful conversations.