Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why Delhi Needs A Slut Walk arthart Besharmi Morcha

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.

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Updated to add

SlutWalk Delhi arthart Besharmi Morcha takes place on 31st July. Check  www.besharmimorcha.in for more details. Be there!

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India’s Growing Clout

With economic growth, political stability and prosperity comes confidence. Look at the big brother, the land of dreams, USA and the arrogance with which the country formulates its foreign policy and pokes its head in other’s business.

To be a world power it it important to show your clout. Take history, the Romans, the Ottoman empire, the British Empire and others. They expanded as they continued to annex one country/region at a time, till they had spread across continents. At times it was religious dominance, at others it was political and economic. A by-product was cultural dominance and assimilation of local culture in the macro culture.

In the modern world, where albeit wars are fought differently, all the above forms of dominance still continue. America decides the agenda – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. It’s allies (or cronies), other western super powers, support these decisions. UN helps decide where atrocities are taking place, bodies like NATO give a seal of approval. A seat in the UN Security Council, the power to vote, lies with the big daddies. Except China. Which managed to sneak in this group and upset the party. When China growls, the world listens. And it listens even more now as the country’s economic growth gallops ahead.

Now why would India want to be left behind?

A solid year-on-year growth, the visit of all G5 countries’ heads in 2010 to India, and an ambitious bid for a seat on the UNSC. India’s knows that the world is knocking on its door, it wants a pie of the economic growth. India needs them, but they need it too.

For India, to be taken seriously, it needs a multi-pronged strategy. To get there won’t be easy. But, in this new, almost assertive India, impossible is not a word. So, in a simultaneous process, India has developed a stronger look east policy, an African policy and stronger diplomatic ties with the West. Its reluctance to form a strong policy in the MENA region was a thorn in the side, given India’s struggle with Muslim populated Kashmir,  the biggest outstanding issue with the ‘enemy’ state of Pakistan.

And as India becomes the new global destination, it’s even got a seal of approval from USA. The countries  signed a civil nuclear deal, US has extended support in helping with the 2008 Mumbai terror attack investigation, President Obama has visited the country, and a slew of agreements have been signed in the past five years.

Worryingly,  the USA has decided to hand-hold India and help develop its foreign policy. Or rather, steer India towards the  world architecture which US sees as right.

This latest trip of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is shouldn’t be viewed as a routine visit to discuss issues pertaining to the two countries. It has, in a subtle way decided to set an agenda for India’s foreign policy. I admire the beautifully worded American propaganda and diplomacy which no one seems to take offense to or try and read between the lines.

Mrs. Clinton has mentioned the ‘need’ of India to assert the human rights situation in Burma, a country which we are negotiating for gas, securing the Indian future. We have been told indirectly that at the UN we will have to make decisions in the larger interest. We have been patted on our back for tough talks with Pakistan,  reassuring talks with Afghanistan, and pledging no support to Iran for nuclear technology. India’s look east policy has been appreciated but we have been criticized for not ‘acting east, engaging east’, meaning, not poking in the neighbour’s business (i.e. China, Thailand) like they would have wanted us to.

Interestingly and alarmingly, India now seems to be developing a MENA policy, which might mirror the American policy. India will ‘take reports’ from the USA in the progress for peace in the region, it will launch a West Asia dialouge, it has been told to do more in the region. India should remember, it needs the oil from the region, unlike the USA, which will keeping getting its (by force and launching a war, if they have to). India is seen as a country tolerant to diverse religions with an anti-war and a non-confrontational attitude. India should ensure that USA does not dictate the terms. Indian policy needs to come from India, from its foreign ministry and its bureaucrats, for the advantage of India and aligned with India’s broader principles of peace and mutual cooperation. Also, as America has said, India will share its ‘gold standard’ election conducting know-how to countries transitioning into democracy in the region. With American ‘help’, we are also going to ‘expand strategic consultations’ to the Latin America and Caribbean.

I only hope that, to show that India has truly arrived at a world stage, in a bid to get a coveted seat at the UNSC, to aim for a double digit growth rate until it becomes a developed nation, the country doesn’t end up losing its way. And it takes a strong view of arm-twisting by other nations. The gentle elephant should be self assured that it doesn’t need to be a hare to win this race, that the race isn’t against any other country, but itself.

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