India Insight

Is India ready for a Slut Walk?

By Reuters Staff
July 19, 2011

By Annie Banerji

Dress appropriately, don’t make eye contact with strangers (especially men) and be at home before sunset. These are a few basic rules that Indian daughters imbibe from their parents, even in a new India where years of economic boom have thrown up a trendy, affluent youth with a kind of freedom unknown to many of their parents.

India had its first Slut Walk in Bhopal city in Madhya Pradesh on Sunday to denounce the idea that women entice men and invite trouble with their attire, a belief seemingly held by many Indian judges as well.

The first Slut Walk was initiated by Canadians in April in response to a comment made by a Toronto police official.

“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this — however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised,” said Michael Sanguinetti to a personal safety class at York University.

As a result, feminists the world over took to the streets to tell men that a woman’s racy attire cannot be an excuse to sexually harass her.

While it is understandable that Indian women want to send a powerful message to men, it’s another question altogether whether the conservative country is ready for as bold a demonstration as the Slut Walk.

Not more than 50 men and women came to show their support at the Slut Walk in Madhya Pradesh, despite nearly 5,000 registrations on its Facebook page. Wary of the title of the march, locally renamed as Besharmi Morcha (Shameless March), many parents forbade their daughters to participate, though Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of rapes in the country. A far cry from the belt-like skirts and thigh high boots found on other marches, the women taking to the streets of Bhopal were also asked to tone everything down.

“Unlike Toronto, we advised women participants not to dress provocatively as it was against our culture,” said Radhika Shingweker, a law student who organised Bhopal’s Slut Walk.

Many activists fear that the irony of using the word “slut” will be lost on the majority of India’s 1.2 billion people. The word has entered the lexicon of the upper crust, English-speaking urban youth through international cinema and TV serials, but scarcely travels to vast swathes of poor and often illiterate rural hinterland.

In a country like India, the irony of the protest may take time to filter through.

“I hope to God I am wrong, but I have visions of men taking photographs of these girls, ogling them, trying to touch them — and not getting the point at all. To be blunt, I don’t think Delhi is ready for this kind of in-your-face protest. Sad, but true,” said Christine Pemberton, a 70s feminist living in New Delhi.

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