She was a victim of discrimination right after birth but, thanks to her feisty mother, she lived on to become the iconic bahu of Indian television and a star leader of BJP.
Resplendent in red, Smriti Irani told a full house at Taj Bengal how a relative had left her unprotected on the cold floor as a baby but her mother saved her, infusing in her early the fighting spirit she is known for.
In conversation with Oindrilla Dutt, director of Open Doors, Irani spoke about everything from female infanticide to the helplessness of women, even affluent ones, in a patriarchal world. The discussion on Women Power — Challenges Ahead presented by Ladies Study Group on Tuesday, Narendra Modi’s birthday, saw Irani at her spirited best.
“The more affluent South Bombay has a high rate of female infanticide. We need to collectively change the mindset of the educated lot,” said the all-India president of the BJP’s women’s wing.
Irani quoted from Ayn Rand — “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” — on what gave her the strength to fight various battles and invoked Kautilya’s Arthashastra to explain how a law had been in place then to protect women against sexual harassment at the workplace.
Irani narrated how she broke convention when she started working at 16, having come from a family where no girl had earned her living. A failed attempt at a beauty pageant later, she took up a cleaning job at a fast-food chain in Mumbai. “Now every time I see someone cleaning trays at an eatery, I say ‘you have a good future’!” she smiled.
It was the portrayal of Tulsi in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, a character “closest to the real-life” Irani, that changed her life. But the telly star-turned-politician stressed she is no superwoman. “None of us wants to be treated as a goddess. We want to be treated as human beings, as equals.”
In a speech peppered with anecdotes about her children and husband, Irani shared how the saas is now training her 11-year-old son to be the perfect husband to her future bahu.