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Society

Chalo Dilli

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Last week, in a period of less than 72 hours, the state of Uttar Pradesh reported 12 cases of sexual violence against young girls and women. A teenage girl's eyes were gouged out after a failed rape attempt in Kannauj, a housewife was abducted, gang-raped and burnt alive in Etah, and a 13-year-old girl, missing for three days, was found raped and murdered in Gonda. Most of the victims were Dalits. But UP's Dalit chief minister Mayawati does not seem particularly perturbed.

During the same period, women in Delhi have been debating the idea of taking to the streets to protest the harrassment and violence that women in India face, although the trigger for this particular walk is not the crimes against the UP girls but a desire to participate in an international protest demonstration provocatively called the SlutWalk.

SlutWalk was born out of a careless remark that a Canadian policeman made at a talk organised at York University, but one that revealed how men, even in the developed world, think of women.

Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that in order not to be victimised, "women should avoid dressing like sluts". The comment sparked off furious online rants and co-founders of SlutWalk, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, decided to appropriate the word slut in their demonstration. They expected at least 500 to show up, but nearly 3, 000 gathered at Queen's Park to march to the Toronto Police Headquarters.

Barnett and Jarvis wanted to speak up for women who "are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming;of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. " They wrote, "Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless of whether we participate in sex for pleasure or work. "

The protest march took the world by storm and soon there were marches in Sao Paulo, Chicago, Amsterdam, London, Dallas and Copenhagen.

When Umang Sabarwal, a third-year journalism student at Delhi's Kamla Nehru College, read about the Walk, she knew that she had to organise one in Delhi, a city notorious for its brutal treatment of women. However, it's not Delhi alone - a recent Reuters poll named India as the fourth most unsafe nation for women after Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan.

All over India, women who use public transport are always on guard, their bags held in a way to protect their bodies from gropers. If a man 'accidentally' touches you or passes a lewd comment, girls are taught to keep quiet and walk away. Many women even go to the extent of making themselves look and feel unattractive, so as to not attract attention. According to some statistics, only one in 69 rape cases in India is even reported.

Keeping quiet has become the norm. For every Bhanwari Devi, who chose to fight her rapists in court, there are 10 cases of girls who commit suicide because they can't live with the shame.

Umang Sabarwal wants women to speak up. Tired of warding off lascivious glances and touches, Umang, 19, would often - in class discussions and public discourse - question the inaction and silence. She and her friend, Mishika Singh, set up a Facebook page, inviting everyone who has ever been at the receiving end of a lewd comment or a groping hand to join the walk. The page, which has 18, 000 signatories, is now closed. The march will be held in July.

While the West is fighting for a woman's right to dress in the way she wants without being deemed a slut, in India the fight is far more basic. The 13-year-old raped and murdered in Gonda wasn't wearing a low-plunging dress or asking for attention. "This isn't about sweet little girls asking for permission, " bristles Sabarwal, who has been the target of intense media scrutiny in the last week. "It's about tackling the bigger issue of violence against women in public spaces, and it has nothing to do with what I wear. "

Kajal Gulati, a senior research analyst at the International Food Policy Research Institute who spent three months in Gorakhpur as part of her job, felt no safer just because she wore a salwar kameez. "I wore a suit then, but I didn't feel any safer, " she says. "Gorakhpur (a town in UP) is a place where they ogle at a woman more than a foreigner. "

Columnist Shobhaa De has called Sabarwal and Singh "kids hungry for media attention" on national television. While many agree with De, there are hundreds who don't. Aisha Zakira, who runs the Mumbai chapter of the international collective Hollaback that fights street harassment, is extremely supportive of Sabarwal and Singh.

"We live in a culture that perpetuates harassment. At least this has started a discussion that harassment of women is not acceptable, " says Zakira, adding that the message may have been diluted by the use of the world slut. "It could alienate the majority of people who don't speak English. It's good that they have now made it more relevant. "

Zakira is referring to the name that the women in Delhi will march under - Slut-Walk Delhi Artharth Besharmi Morcha. "We wanted to make the protest all inclusive and not alienate people who might not have understood what slut means, " says Singh.
"Embarrass the man who stares at you. Silence doesn't mean a No, as much as it doesn't mean yes. If I don't stop him, tomorrow he'll touch a girl and then after that he'll be emboldened enough to molest one. The mentality that always blames the victim has to change. It's never the girl's fault. "

Zakira feels that re-education of men is just as important. "I do think that it's important because they grow up thinking it's alright to harass or stare. And it's not, " she says. Los Angeles SlutWalk steering committee member Hugo Schwyzer says that SlutWalk is for men, too. He writes on his blog, "I want my daughter to grow up in a world in which all men are safe, responsible, reliable. We don't have that world yet, of course. But the reason has nothing to do with biology: it has to do with our crushingly low expectations of men's capacity to reconcile lust and humanity. In order for our daughters and little sisters and nieces to be safer, we must demand better of ourselves as men. And one way to start is to challenge the very roots of our thinking about sex, desire, and respect. That challenge is part of what SlutWalk is all about. "

Reader's opinion (12)

Dennis PearceJul 1st, 2011 at 09:33 AM

We claim to be a millenia old culture and pray to goddesses but in reality we are killing girl foetuses and outraging the modesty of women.

Trideep ChoudharyJun 28th, 2011 at 19:27 PM

It seems that the dilliwalis are only tuned to causes which are hep. Its shameful that the reason for the besharmi morcha was to be part of a western movement and not to protest against the criminal acts witnessed recently in UP

Vishnu DasJun 28th, 2011 at 17:45 PM

India is a morally bankrupt nation. Nothing will change through democratic means and Facebook protests. Only fear can cause change in this country.

Ritika RazdanJun 28th, 2011 at 17:12 PM

seriously true..............its nothing to do what a girl is wearing.Every girl irrespective of the clothes worn has to go through all this. And in my opinion its every girl's responsibility to speak against wrong rather keeping quiet and not doing anything about such incidents.

awaj thevoiceJun 28th, 2011 at 16:25 PM

Untill MEN and Women donn't overcome flesh oriented approach to life none is going to be happy and peaceful.

People must give importance to LOVE and CARE instead of SEX and Flesh.

Innocents are suffering give up this attitude.



awaj thevoiceJun 28th, 2011 at 16:17 PM

This slut walk will only show that People are fed up of civilization they want and They are going back to stone age era

Nither Men are needed to be told to not to use muscle power to get the flesh nor women are required to be told to be modest and civilised.Human are Human should remain civilised.

Aishwarya MandeJun 28th, 2011 at 10:14 AM

De should by now at least known the difference in girls who are doing this to seek attention and the girls who actually want to prove a point. If she does not do anything for the society at least not discourage others.

Richa ChauhanJun 27th, 2011 at 14:18 PM

Sad to learn that Madam De whom I thought as one of the few bold, brave & intelligent lady writers could downsize the rationale behind such a needed cause.

Raad HalimJun 28th, 2011 at 10:43 AM

agree

Rajeev SinghJun 27th, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Nice Article. We should do whatever it takes for the safety of woman.

Alekhya BodingariJun 26th, 2011 at 22:41 PM

I really appreciate Hugo Schwyzer's thoughts..coming from a man himself.Men should have more maturity and control over themselves and thr ego(not generalizing).They should learn to respect women.Women have been suppressed for so long in India..Its refreshing to see such support for causes like this

Aditya DograJun 26th, 2011 at 11:16 AM

Nice article .India is the only country where we have Lady Goddesses and we to pray them or preach them but when it comes to really respect ladies , we are asses.I don't know how many more decades will it take us to treat them as humans .

 
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