Friday, August 5, 2011

The Delhi slutless walk

Image Source : Indian Express

It was a warm sunday morning in July, in Delhi, the capital of India, and a few hundred women and men took to the streets for something called a slut walk . For those of you, who haven't heard what this walk is, lemme tell you, it's nothing creepy, it's actually a women's movement. You can get a detailed account of this movement here .
In a nutshell, it started, when a Toronto cop made a statement saying, that women should avoid dressing up like sluts (i.e provocatively) so as to avoid getting victimized (raped/molested). This triggered a response in the form of thousands of women marching the streets of toronto (many dressed as so called 'sluts') with messages written on their body or holding placards reading things like 'Don't tell us (women) how to dress, tell men not to rape' . The movement spread like wildfire across the world with similar walks being held in multiple cities in the USA, england, australia, new-zealand, across europe, across south america, etc. Women everywhere were inspired to take a stand and make a statement about not accepting being branded as sluts for taking charge of their bodies and sexuality.

This july the walk made it's way to India, and the first walk was supposed to be held in Delhi, India. Eventually, Bhopal beat Delhi, and had the first slutwalk there, but it pretty much bombed, and Delhi became the second destination in the slutwalk tour of India, Mumbai will have one in a month's time, but still Delhi was the place where the discussion about having such a walk in India, started.
Delhi has a notoriously bad  reputation for mistreating women, it is often referred to as the rape capital of India . Safety of women is very low, with many even avoiding venturing out alone after dark. So it was a logical place to have India's first slutwalk there.
But it wasn't without it's share of controversies. The rightwing of India's politics, saw red at the mere name, and even the thought of having semi-clad women parading the streets was scandalous (never mind that we have some fully nude men who call themselves 'babas' & 'sadhus' walking everywhere in India, but no they're okay, no outrage for them) . There were some threats to cause problems in the walk, and women were 'warned' that if vulgarity and obscenity would be displayed there would be 'consequences'. It was due to such controversies that the date for the Delhi slutwalk got pushed further and further . Even the name had to be changed to 'besharmi morcha' (or the walk of no shame)  or 'the pride stride for women' etc, because the word slut was too much for delicate Indian sensibilities, and also that many didn't know what the word meant. The initial reaction the the walk is enough of an indication of Indian mindset, where women conducting a walk, or dressing they way they want can become controversial, or something that brought out outrage, and yet there is no outrage whatsoever, over the poor state of female safety in India .

When I had first read that Delhi was gonna have this slutwalk, I thought it was a good idea, and that Indian society certainly needs it even more than any western countries. Indian culture is very regressive when it comes to women, age-old ideologies and practices are still held close under the name of tradition. Urban areas are better than rural ones when it comes to freedom of movement and such for women, but still even in urban areas it's nowhere near of what it should be. Women somehow are considered the torch-bearers of culture and of a family's dignity. A girl it is believed can bring much more shame on the family, than a boy, mainly by possibly doing things like dressing provocatively, having premarital sex, eloping with her lover to get married,  getting pregnant, or getting raped . So the girls are the gatekeepers type of mentality is deeply, deeply rooted in Indian society.

Under the same banner comes the issue of the dressing of a woman, and whether she can invite rape. Indian society is deeply embroiled in the idea that the responsibility of protecting a girl's honor or dignity lies on the girl herself, or her father, brother or husband. Girls all over India are given instructions on how to talk, walk, dress, sit, behave in public, and how to lower their gaze when in public places, so as to not appear as though they may be inviting someone's attention. This is a sort of generalization, I know, but I'm just giving a broad picture, it's not the case everywhere, and there are always all kinds of parents everywhere, but this is more common than not in Indian homes. The mindset of blaming the victim for what happened to her, is very firm in Indian society. Almost always, when a girl is at the receiving end of any untoward incident, the girl is blamed for it, in one way or another, either she was a person of loose morals & charachter, or she lead the guy on, or she didn't dress appropriately , etc, etc.

The slutwalk aimed at challenging , if not changing such beliefs, so maybe it was needed. However, upon further pondering on the issue, I realized that this walk is ahead of it's time in India. I think babysteps are needed in this matter in Indian society. Western countries are more advanced than Indian or other south asian societies when it comes to women's rights, womens issues, etc, so there is already a general environment there to challenge this kind of mindset of blaming the victim . Indian society however, is still at a nascent stage when it comes to women's issues. Problems, like dowry, bride burning, child marriages, girl child trafficking, honor killings, etc are still mainstream issues when it comes to India, so talking about women's dressing is pretty far down the list. This doesn't mean that there shouldn't be a discussion/movement about this issue, but just that it's doomed for failure (for now), in a culture that still has to come to grasps at the concept that women can have a mind, and think for themselves, and know what's right for them, and not have to be given detailed instructions about everything.

When Indian rape laws define rape as "An attempt to outrage a woman's modesty" instead of an act of violence against her, thereby opening a loophole, where her modesty (or the percieved lack thereof) could be considered a factor in the crime, we have a long long way to go before any walk can really bring about a change in this deep rooted Indian mindset. I have big problems with India's rape laws overall, and shall write about them in another post.

Also, considering the sexually repressed culture India has, the men could have just gotten some perverse pleasure by gawking and leering at the women participating in the walk, instead of really questioning themselves, or questioning societal norms.

Now, an interesting detail about the Indian slutwalk (both Bhopal & Delhi) was, that the women decided to dress normally, like no miniskirts, no colorful bras (with no shirt), no colorful wigs, nothing, just their regular everyday clothes. When asked why they decided as such, the organizers replied, that in India, one doesn't have to dress like a slut in order to get raped, their mere existence as a woman is enough to get raped, which does kindof make sense, in way, because, most women in India, do dress fairly conservatively, and yet many get raped, so clearly their normal dresses seem enough to 'visually stimulate' their offender . So, as a result the most risque thing worn in the delhi slut walk was sleeveless tops or bermuda shorts. It was in effect a slutless slut walk.
Even in the original slutwalk in toronto, the women were actually asked to dress normally, so as to make the same point as the Indian organizers were making, but the women decided to dress as 'sluts' so as to make a loud and clear point, which eventually got slutwalk associated with over-the-top provocative, skimpy clothes.

So, because of the lack of those kinds of statements through clothing in the Indian version, many found the Indian slutwalk to be conservative. In an article I read, that one of the Bhopal slutwalk organizers said that they didn't plan on dressing provocatively in order to not hurt other's sensibilities....which left me thinking....hmmm, did you happen to see the contradiction there ??? That's the whole point of the slutwalk, to make a jarring statement with your clothing, in order to make your point, that the way a woman dresses is not linked in anyway to her being slutty, or 'asking for it' or 'inviting rape', it's meant as a shock therapy for people's sensibilities about how women should dress , and by circumventing that part, these people played right into the hands of the very people they were trying to question/ challenge.

Anyway, so the slutwalk or the slutless walk (as it aptly deserves to be called) concluded in delhi, with lukewarm success. The attendance wasn't as high as was hoped by the organizers, and media people (who were hoping for juicy pictures) were disappointed by the lack of provocatively dressed women, some girls were even chaperoned by the brothers/fathers, and by mid-day the crowd had dispersed in various directions, and the slutwalk for delhi was over. It thankfully went off without a glitch and any untoward incident, so the heavy police presence was not used . Overall, the delhi version, was mildly more successful than the Bhopal one, now how the Mumbai version does, has yet to be seen.
In the end, whether this walk, actually will change anything in the ground realities for women of delhi or India remains to be seen, but meanwhile what can be called it's biggest victory, is that it has opened up room for debate on this previously undiscussed issue. Hopefully, someday it will act as a catalyst to changing attitudes of Indian society as far as women's issues are concerned .


  1. nice post. I think the education can change a lot in this.

  2. Hopefully the so called "Slut walk" may have its impact in future on people mind set and they stop blaming females for the unwanted incidents happening with them butttttt i am not very optimistic about it, i think it was all media hype and apart from blogging world people have forgotten that "Slut walk" was organised here in India too...

    Nice post though.....

  3. Thankyou both Jidhu & Irfanuddin, for visiting my blog and for your comments.

  4. it might not change the number of cases but it will surely minimize the dialogues that women should not dress like this or like that its a good approach infact

  5. I think that indeed the slut walk is a bit ahead of its time in India, but it's good to hear that some women took the challenge and decided to create the movement, before the whole dress thing, women in India need to gain assertiveness, and pride about themselves, going out there and just walk in their everyday clothes is good enough, because i had many experiences of eve teasing, and most of the time I was wearing concervative clothing, men will indeed go at anything female if they feel like it and then blame it on the girl if a crime is reported.
    Still on the clothing issue, like you I wonder how come Sadhus can go parading naked without raising an eyebrow, but a woman in shorts and tanktop will practically cause a riot...go figure.

  6. Hello bhavna, welcome to the blog, and thanks for the comment. I agree to your statement to some extent, which is why I ended the post saying that probably the biggest victory of this slutwalk in delhi was the dialogue it opened up on this previously undiscussed topic.

    @ Cyn : I agree, even though I didn't think it would make much of an impact (which it didn't, still I thought it was a step in the right direction, if for nothing else, then giving the women a voice to talk about this issue. I agree there are terrible double standards in Indian, for men and women, and clothing is just one of them...sad indeed !!


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