|I've been a lover of spy thrillers for as long as I can remember. In fact, as a teenager I (once) even fancied myself becoming a spy when I grew up. So, I must confess I have been reading about Madhuri Gupta with interest, bordering on the voyeuristic. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't condone what she has done. To spy is one thing, to spy for the "enemy" entirely another. Reading all that I have about her, having seen her pictures splashed in papers, on TV screens, I can only wonder why she would have risked her life, her future, passing on what we now know was fairly useless information to the Pakistani intelligence. Sure, it could have been worse, but we have to be grateful it wasn't, and leave it at that for the moment.
We knew very little about her when the story broke- an IFS -B Officer, who's career resume wasn't all bad. She's worked in missions abroad, is clearly well read, an Urdu scholar. She was "eager" to get a posting to Pakistan. Not so she could put her Urdu to good use for the country, but to forge a connection with Pakistani intelligence, as we are now given to believe, even though many who said this, could barely put a face to her name before seeing her pictures. The rare ones who did, said she was bright and diligent and they couldn't believe she was the kind who would spy for Pakistan. If indeed she was all this, the only explanation for her act of treason is that she is single, fat and lonely, and was taken in by the charm and guile of a handsome ISI agent. Not to mention her "bad habits"- Not only is Madhuri a spinster, but she also smokes, drinks, has affairs with married men (for which the men are not to blame, of course) - and oh, the latest offence a woman can commit - she chews Gutkha.
The English dictionary defines "spinster" as a derogatory noun for a woman who is unmarried and beyond what 18th century England saw as marriageable age. Feminist movements across the world have railed - and often won- against the use and negative connotations of the term- but here, a shaken Capital can only call her this, and refer to unnecessary details about her appearance, habits and failed relationships as reason for treason- because nothing else, it seems, makes sense.
Now you can call it personal, but as much as I am offended by what Madhuri Gupta has done, however harmless or useless it may be, this kind of character assassination is unwarranted, insensitive and offensive. As a journalist I know we clutch at straws oftentimes to add flesh to some very lean news stories. And an unfolding espionage drama that involves a "spinster" offers a carte blanche unlike any other to delve into personal histories, made to sound sordid even if they are mundane just so our bylines aren't forgotten in a hurry. Madhuri Gupta has given us an opportunity.
One article says Pakistani ISI agents are trained to hone in on single women working in diplomatic missions. They are "easier" to co-opt than the men. Really? Where did this standard operating procedure evolve? In fact, haven't honey traps have often worked the other way round? Where married, male officers have been "lured" while on assignment in foreign missions, and brought back with little harm done to their careers?
So, this is not about Madhuri Gupta anymore, nor is it about espionage. Look at the last three major news stories we've seen- the IPL scandal, phone tapping and the spy case. Shashi Tharoor lost his job, but the only one who's really lost out is Sunanda Pushkar, whose `sordid' personal life and her "loose morals" continue to make the news. Big corporates and ministers are involved in the phone tapping scandal, but again it's the name of one woman - Nira Radia - that's become fodder for the grist-mill. In each of the cases, there is more than good reason for them to be brought under the scanner. But can we please not confuse gender with the merits of each case?
We live in a country where male politicians have multiple wives, or live-in arrangements and no one raises a question. Where Bollywood kings have converted religion to marry a second time, and no one asks a thing. If that's par for the course, so should the personal lives of these women be. And if it isn't, I challenge the reporters who've profiled these women with such lascivious detail to do the same for the men who've been involved in each of these scandals with equal relish. Now that would be gender neutral.