The first time I came to know that Delhi was planning to host a Slut Walk, I was sitting comfortably on a couch in a London home, browsing online and reading about Slut Walks being held across the ‘Western’ world. And then I read the name of my city in that list. I thought I had read it wrong, so I re-read it, shaking my head in disbelief.
My first reaction was – we can’t have a Slut Walk in Delhi. I really couldn’t see ‘sluts’ walking down Delhi streets in bras and panties and other ‘provocative’ clothing and slogans. That would either land them in jail for ‘indecent exposure’ or worse still, men groping them, thus turning the intended meaning of the protest on its head.
Delhi, sadly, has the highest sexual harassment and rape cases as compared to the rest of the Indian cities. Statistics reveal that over 80% rapists are known to the victim. In the rest of the sexual assault cases, the victims are not known to the assaulter. In such cases, the newspapers have been quick to question – what was the woman doing, out so late, or dressed like that or drinking in a pub. In some way implying, she was asking for it. Even the police commissioner of even had the audacity to say that women should not step out of their homes after 2.00 AM, they should be accompanied by male members of the family or a driver. And he gave an example that his daughter who lives in London, doesn’t feel safe and won’t step out of her house after 9 PM. Which led me to wonder which part of London was she living and I have, in the past decade that I have been visiting the city, yet to find a woman with a 9 PM deadline! And such a ridiculous statement doesn’t justify safety or lack of safety for women.
For a moment, let’s keep aside the police commissioner’s statement, a late night, the outfit or the pub. On a given day, women in Delhi face harassment, even if they are fully covered in a sari or a salwar kameez, a no-nonsense business suit or a college girl wearing jeans and t-shirt or a dress. The bottom line is, every single woman in this city will tell you, it doesn’t matter what you are wearing, you will still be ‘asking for it’. With a problem like this in India, I began to think, how would the original idea of Slut Walk fit in with the Indian ethos, the struggles of Indian women? Soon enough, I found an answer.
A few days later I read that the organizers of the Delhi chapter had decided to re-name the walk. It is now called the ‘Slut Walk Delhi arthart Besharmi Morcha’ (Shameless Walk).’ This, I personally feel, is more appropriate. Trying to reclaim a word like ‘slut’ in Delhi loses context because only a small percentage of people understand what it really means. There is very little connect with the word if you take a larger population of people. Besharmi, on the other hand, gets the point across.
Their website http://besharmimorcha.in/ further explains:
“Other SlutWalks that took place in cities like Toronto, London, Chicago, Amsterdam and Sydney have a mostly English speaking society. Delhi society indisputably, is more diverse. Not every one is aware of the term ‘slut’, its usage and its implication. This walk does not only aim at changing attitudes and behaviour patterns of the urban elite of the city. We aim at the society, in its entirety. Thus, to make this event as inclusive as possible, we add to the name: Besharmi Morcha. “Besharam” which shares many connotations with the term ‘slut’ has been added keeping in mind the city’s demographics.”
I agree with them.
It’s common to hear gossipy neighbours, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, mothers to say, “Look at that girl. What is she wearing? Koi sharm hi nahi hai (She has no shame).” That attitude percolates all across the society. She has been judged because she dared to wear an outfit to which someone has taken offense, it probably reveals her figure or hides it. An Indian woman is not allowed to be a sexual being. To feel like a woman. Instead she made to feel a sense of shame. How did we become this complicated prudish society when the historic temples of Khujarao are adorned with the carvings of sensuous Indian woman?
No Indian woman wants to be called besharam if she decides to wear a little black dress or even a sari which reveals her midriff. And no, that is not an invitation to sexually assault her. At the same time, it is not an invitation to leer, grope or make catcalls at her. I want to be able to wear what I want. Without feeling like any less of a woman. Without feeling shame. Only then, without being labeled a ‘slut’.
And so, this Slut Walk with an Indian name, is more significant in a city and a country which is rapidly developing, where the lines between East and West are blurring, where more women have entered the workforce in the past two decades than ever before, earning as much as men, buying their own cars and houses, and making their own choices. And as more and more women are visible in the public space, challenging the old stereotypes, it’s time for Delhi to be part of this movement. One step at a time. Reclaiming, one word at a time.
Updated to add
SlutWalk Delhi arthart Besharmi Morcha takes place on 31st July. Check www.besharmimorcha.in for more details. Be there!