NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) – Hundreds of women and men took to the streets of New Delhi on Sunday in conservative India’s more toned down version of the “SlutWalk” — a movement which has seen women dressing in skimpy clothing in cities across the world to protest against sexual violence and rape.
“SlutWalk” demonstrations in cities from Toronto to London to Melbourne have been staged by thousands of women in recent months outraged by comments made by a Canadian police officer in January who said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”
The movement has gained global recognition with many gender rights activists and ordinary women angered by what they say are discriminatory male attitudes — which still see women as sexual objects, rather than equals — and blaming such views for promoting sexual violence against women.
In traditional and largely patriarchal India, men and women marched in the centre of the capital holding placards saying “Dont tell us how to dress, tell men not to rape” and chanting “Indian women are great, boys and girls are equal.”
But few were bold enough to take the demonstration literally – most wearing jeans and t-shirts, rather than the mini-skirts, fishnet tights and stilettos or even just lingerie donned by protestors in western cities.
The controversial name “SlutWalk” also created much debate ahead of the protest in India — which had been postponed twice — promoting organisers to call it the “Besharmi Morcha” in Hindi or “March of the Shameless” to attract more people to the event.
“This protest is about the kind of problems Indian women face in public spaces — such as sexual harassment, rape and molestation. When we walk in public, we are seen as public property but who gives men the right to think that they can do whatever they want to us?” said Trishla Singh, a 22-year-old student, one of the organisers of the march.
“In India, we have a different social and cultural context. Here, we face sexual harassment and rape no matter what we wear. If we were to wear so-called provocative clothes, we would be mocked and we would not be taken seriously. We are not at that stage yet in this country.”
Gender rights activists say Indian women face a barrage of threats — ranging from female foeticide, forced marriage, dowry murders to human trafficking, domestic violence, “honour killings”, abduction as well as sexual harassment and rape.
SARI OR MINI-SKIRT?
According to the latest available figures of the National Crime Record Bureau, rape cases have increased by 760.4 percent to 21,397 cases in 2009 from 2,487 in 1971. But activists say these figures are just the tip of the ice-berg, with most women still afraid to report rape to the police, fearing they will be stigmatized and bring dishonour on their families.
Experts say attitudes are slowly changing, partly due to India’s growing economy, the advent of satellite television in even remote communities, exposure to western values and the percolation of social benefits to rural women as countries like India notch up near-double-digit growth.
But the dangers to women remain starkly evident and New Delhi, has gained the unsavoury reputation as being the rape capital of India. According to police figures, one in four of rapes which occur in India are in New Delhi. Police say a woman is raped every 18 hours or molested every 14 hours in the capital.
A series of rapes in New Delhi has fuelled public anger against such crimes with many activists demanding the police do more to keep women in the city safe. Newspaper reports are widespread of women coming late from work and being bundled into moving cars and gang-raped before being dumped on roadsides. Many rapes of minors are being committed by people known to the victims – often neighbours and relatives.
“Instead of law enforcement agencies giving unsolicited advice about the fact that women should not wear skimpy clothes or not go out at night, the police should be providing better protection and seek out these men who see women as objects,” said Rohit Sharma, a demonstrator.
“It’s not just about clothes. Whether a woman is wearing a sari or a mini-skirt, she is still raped,” he said, holding a placard saying “Rape is perpetuated by perverts, not clothes. Girls are the victims, not the initiators.”
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