I am targeted because I am a Muslim woman

Tabu Rao, Karnataka PCC president Dinesh Gundu Rao’s wife

Tabu Rao, wife of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president Dinesh Gundu Rao, was never in the political limelight before. In fact, she preferred to stay away from it all these years. But, Tabu had come out and defended herself when her religious identity (and her identity as a woman) was used by BJP leaders, especially Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde, to attack her husband. Hegde, notorious for his controversial comments, called Dinesh Rao a “guy who ran behind a Muslim girl”.

About Hegde’s comment she says: “It is both communal and sexist. In fact, it became sexist since I am a Muslim.” Edited excerpts:

What made you come into the public domain and take on Union minister Hegde when he was locked in a Twitter battle with your husband?

Hegde was locked into an argument with my husband, and dragged me into it. But, this is not the first time—Hegde has attacked me twice before. So have other state BJP leaders. It is not about them clashing with Dinesh. What they tell to Dinesh is not my problem. Dragging me into it is. So far I had kept quiet because I do not like to come out and speak in public. But, now, I had to do something as my children were upset that I was dragged into this.

How did your children react to the controversy?

Both my daughters—the elder one is 22 and the younger one 19—were extremely disappointed and upset. They were disappointed that you still have to discuss my 24-year-old marriage.

You felt attacked both as a woman and as a Muslim, because the comment made was that ‘Rao ran behind a Muslim woman’.

Yes. It is both communal and sexist. In fact, it became sexist since I am a Muslim. I would not have been dragged into it if I were not a Muslim. I think, because I am a Muslim, I am targeted all the time.

Tabu Rao is wife of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president Dinesh Gundu Rao. The couple has been married for 24 years, and has two daughters. She is a homemaker, and does not hold any party or public position

How have you dealt with it—the political attacks on you because of your religious identity and faith?

I have no problem with my religious identity, because I am very clear that I am a Muslim. I am more Indian than Anant Hegde and all these people, because, I respect all religions and cultures. We have never spoken about religion at home. We have never distinguished or demarcated between religions at home. So, I do not know why religion should boomerang on me all the time. I could understand these attacks if I was out there in public, taking positions or [being active] in politics. You want to attack my husband, fine. Why are you attacking me?

You have made two important comments: First, Hegde was seeking refuge and hiding behind your identity to attack your husband; second, you are more Indian than him. Can you elaborate on these?

India is a democracy. We have survived as a democracy. We have been taught to respect all religions and cultures. But, I do not think Hegde is doing that. I am doing that. I am a Muslim, but I have immense respect for Hinduism. I respect Hindu culture, Hindu festivals and Hindu gods. My husband is a Hindu and he respects my religion. I do not understand the fanfare over this. Hegde’s talks about Hinduism do not make him more Hindu or more Indian. All of us are part of this country.

How have you dealt with the interfaith relationship question? Hindu-Muslim marriages are still not the norm. We live in polarised times when these relationships are described as “love jihad”, sometimes.

My husband is an active politician and I often interact with common people. No one has ever commented on this, except BJP people. The ordinary people have no problem with this. These barbs have been shot at me since the first election Dinesh fought. And, it has been five elections, now.

How do you process the issue of religion at home, because you know there is this word liberals use called “tolerance”. It is not a word I like. I think a better word is pluralism, because we should participate in each other’s religions and not just tolerate each other.

Yes, totally true. I am pluralistic. I take part in Hindu pujas and rituals at home and participate in all Hindu festivals. Similarly, my husband celebrates Eid. So, on what basis are they targeting me?

You must be fed up of being targeted.

Of course. I mean, come on, no one is attacking Hegde’s wife.

That is a good point. You are saying that even today you would not target Hegde’s wife.

I would never target her. In fact, I have never attacked any BJP leader. I would not have even lashed out at Hegde, had he not attacked me.

And, you are saying this not as the wife of a Congress leader. You are saying this as yourself. And, everyone forgets you have your own personality.

Exactly. My husband is a Congressman, but that is his profession. He is the leader of the party in the state. Now, a lot of people have said Dinesh also makes a lot of harsh comments about BJP leaders. But, then, the BJP should react to him. Why are they using politics to drag me in?

Are you disappointed that there has been no punishment or public reprimand for Hegde’s remarks?

Yes. I am very angry and disappointed. The BJP has not said anything about his remarks. There has been no apology even. And, Hegde must remember, this is everyone’s country. India belongs to us all, and he cannot talk like this.