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09 December 2011

Indians grapples with the idea of Slut Walks

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Do women entice men and invite trouble with their attire, is something debatable. But many iconoclasts have come on the streets to tell men that a woman’s racy attire cannot be an excuse to sexually harass her. No touching only seeing was the message of Slut walks being organized in different cities of the world. Cutting across continents and nations, it’s one of the most memorable social events of the year 2011.

The first Slut Walk was initiated by some Canadian women in April 2011. This was in response to a comment made by a Toronto police official who actually said; should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Following the Canadian protest, feminists’ world over took to streets and organized similar walks to tell that dressing and morality cannot be entwined. The two are separate things and women should not be assaulted for their dare bare dress. The modern day iconoclast craving to dress skimpily believed that men’s mindset on dress and sexuality could be broken organizing slut walks.

Like a contagious disease, the idea of slut walks spread all over the globe. From North America to Latin America, from Europe to Asia many cities of the world organized Sult Walks to protest against the sexual harassment of the women.

In the age of globalization, India could not remain immune to such global phenomena. The first slut walk in the country was organized in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh in July 2011. Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of rape cases reported in the country.

This Bhopal protest was followed by a similar street protest march in New Delhi. Although touted to be daringly exposing, Sult walk organized near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi was very Indian in attire. The protestors took out a peaceful march and staged a street play, depicting rape and other sexual violence again the women. The Delhi protest was to send out the message that scores of women are sexually assaulted every day in the national capital.

The Slut Walk bug has hit south India as well and the next event was organized in Bangalore on December 4, 2011. However, it was cancelled at the last moment amidst pressure from right wing organizations that threatened to go violent if such march was carried out in the garden city of India.

This was a great let down to the organizers of the Slut walk as they felt that it was a silent awareness campaign against sexual abuse of the women in Bangalore city. According to the organizers over 23,000 rape cases were reported in Bangalore in 2010. The number of cases of sexual abuse went up by 40 per cent in 2011.The conviction rate however remains a mere 26.6 per cent.

While it is understandable that Indian women want to send a powerful message to the men that sexual violence against them can not be tolerated, is fair enough, but what needs to be debated is the need for such provocative and bold form of demonstration.
As the saying goes west is west, east is east and the twain never meets. It seems to be applicable in this issue and needs analysis. There seems to be an apparent dichotomy in thinking of the western and Indian feminist on this issue.

It appears that while the western thinking is geared towards wearing skimpy dresses, but at same time asking men to control there sexual feelings and not get physical even if they are turned on.

It’s a very interesting psychological that has been thrown up in this proposition. Perhaps theories of Sigmund Freud should be brought in to understand this phenomenon. But I am his theories will favor the comment of the Toronto cops and the feminist iconoclast may disagree with the idea that a biological response is generated seeing the female flesh.

So the best way to settle this could be to run a clinical trial to measure male feelings seeing females in skimpy dresses and reach a conclusion whether dresses do have bearing on male libido.

Now coming to the Indian context of organizing the Slut walks. The issue here is not about attire and to showcase female flesh, but it’s more a protest against the violence on female in the country.

There is no denying the fact that in a a patriarchal society like India, females are targets of male violence and there is a sincere need to stop this. However, to create awareness is there an y n necessity to resort to such gimmicks like calling a women’s march a Slut Walk.

Many question the name given to such a protest. It is being perceived as encouraging women to dress up in skimpy clothes. This is actually not the case in India, but it is to raise awareness against female violence in the country. If that is so, then what’s the need to use such provocative words, but feminist are headstrong not to change the name to please certain sensibilities. The debate continues to rage on.

Now the question is, whether India is ready for such a social discourse? In spite of economic liberalization, Indian society is still very insular. Dress and culture are quite enmeshed here. Women with particular dress do have particular connotation and it’s a social paradigm in which we live.

Even though the word Slut is being parroted by the some upper crust urban females who are influenced by the international media buzz, it hardly connects with vast female multitude of India. Even those who may like to wear trendy outfits are uncomfortable with tag. They feel the word ‘Slut’ is a slur that demeans their feminism. The kind of freedom the slut walkers seeks is quite unknown in India.

The organizers of the Slut Walks should know that much before the Toronto cry of the ladies ranted the air, the tribal women of Manipur had taken out a nude procession carrying ply cards saying ‘Indian Army rapes us’. Perhaps that was the first Slut Walk organized in the world.

Did any of the today’s Slut walkers came out on the streets to support the cause? No! They do so now in order to try to imitate from their western counterparts. What a shame to this country that still seeks its inspiration from outside, while Manipur’s Sharmila Irom, who is fasting for the eleventh year, highlighting the issue of violence against women goes unsung those organizing Slut walks.

Notwithstanding the facts, as we race through to wrap the year, this new feminist wave has swept the globe and is one of the most striking developments of this year. The social networking site particularly the ‘facebook’ has added a new momentum to this movement.

It’s a very interesting duel between the forces of globalization and \nationalism that is being staged. Whether the forces of globalization will subdue the forces of nationalism or the later will over power the former is something that’s being watched. It’s difficult to pinpoint the winner but it seems the forces of globalization are on a roll!

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

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