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Feminist Wave: INDIA GRAPPLES WITH SLUTWALK, by Syed Ali Mujtaba, 14 Dec, 2011 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 14 December 2011

Feminist Wave


Syed Ali Mujtaba

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

The first SlutWalk was initiated by women in Toronto on 3 April 2011, in response to a comment made by a police officer during his speech
on crime prevention at a university safety forum. He had stated: women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Following the Canadian protest, feminists’ world over took to the streets and organized similar walks to drive home the point that dressing and morality cannot be entwined. The two are separate 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 by organizing these SlutWalks. 

Like a contagious disease, the idea spread all over the globe. From North America to Latin America, Europe to Asia many cities of the world witnessed SlutWalks to protest against sexual harassment of women.

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

This Bhopal protest was followed by a similar street march in the country’s capital, Delhi. Although touted to be daringly exposing, the SlutWalk 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 women. The protest was to send out the message that scores of women are sexually assaulted every day even in the national capital.

The SlutWalk bug has hit south India too and the next event was organized in Karnataka’s capital, Bangalore on December 4. However, it was cancelled at the last moment amidst pressure from right wing organizations that threatened to go violent if such a march was undertaken in the garden city of India.

This was a great let down to the organizers of the SlutWalk as they felt that it was a silent awareness campaign against sexual abuse of women in the city. According to the organizers over 23,000 rape cases were reported in Bangalore in 2010. Worse, the number of cases of sexual abuse went up by 40 per cent in 2011 and shockingly the conviction rate was 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 cannot and shall not be tolerated, what needs to be debated is the need for such provocative and bold form of demonstration. The saying that West is West and East is East, and the twain never meets, seems to be applicable in this context and needs an analysis. Apparently, there is a dichotomy in thinking of the western and Indian feminist on this issue.

The western thinking it appears is geared towards wearing skimpy dresses, but at same time asking men to control their sexual feelings and not get physical even if they are turned on. Indeed, it is an interesting psychological proposition. Perhaps theories of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud should be brought in to understand this phenomenon, wherein these would favour the Toronto cop’s comment.


However, the feminist iconoclast would tend to disagree with the idea that a biological response is generated seeing the female flesh. Thus, the best way to settle this conundrum could be to run a clinical trial to measure the male feelings when they see females in skimpy dresses and reach a conclusion whether dresses do have bearing on the male libido.

Insofar as the Indian context of organizing the SlutWalks is concerned, it is not about attire and to showcase female flesh, rather it’s more of a protest against the violence on women in the country. There is no denying the fact that in a patriarchal society like India, females are targets of male violence and there is a sincere need to stop this. However, to create the much-needed awareness is it necessary to resort to western concepts like calling a women’s march a SlutWalk.

Many Indians would question the very name given to such a protest. It would be perceived as encouraging women to dress up in skimpy clothes, whereas that’s not the case in India. If the aim is to create awareness against female violence, what is the need to use such provocative words? However, the feminists come across as headstrong and prefer not to change the name to please certain sensibilities. And, the debate continues to rage on.

The question then 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 the 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 SlutWalks should know that much before the Toronto cry of the women rent the air, the tribal women of Manipur had taken out a nude procession carrying placards announcing ‘Indian Army rapes us.’ Perhaps this was the first SlutWalk organized in the world.

Did any of today’s slut walkers come out on the streets to support the cause? No! Ironically, they do so now in order to try to imitate their western counterparts. It is a shame that many in our country still seek inspiration from the outside world, while Manipur’s Sharmila Irom, who is fasting for the 11th year, highlighting the issue of violence against women, goes unsung amongst those organizing the SlutWalks.

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

Indeed, it is a very interesting duel between the forces of globalization and Indian culture that is being staged. Whether the former will subdue the latter or our Indian culture will overpower it, is something that needs to be closely watched. It’s difficult to pinpoint who the winner shall be, but as of now forces of globalization seem to be on a roll!—INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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