To Indian women: Forget freedom, follow rules

By Sharique Siddiquie
July 18, 2012

Anyone looking for stories of outrages committed against women in India this month doesn’t need to look far. Just after an attack on a woman in the northeast city of Guwahati, and a plea by an Islamist group in Jammu & Kashmir for female tourists to dress more conservatively, a group of village elders in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh has released some new rules to ensure that women stay safe. The only loss they’ll suffer is individual freedom:

- Women cannot use mobile phones in public

- Women under the age of 40 cannot go outside without a male relative to accompany them.

- Women should cover their heads in public.

- Village boys cannot play songs or music on their mobile phones in public.

The village elders, known as a khap panchayat, took the actions, they said, to prevent sexual harassment. The result, of course, is to punish women pre-emptively by restricting their liberties in the name of protecting them from men who cannot be trusted to restrain themselves.

The Uttar Pradesh government said that the panchayat has no legal authority to enforce such rules, and that people should report attempts to do so. When the police tried to step in, a crowd of people beat them up.

On the same day, a row over attending classes in hijab (headscarf) sprung up in Mangalore when some female students belonging to the Muslim community boycotted classes in Sri Ramkunjeshwara First Grade College, Ramkunja. They were protesting the management’s decision to ban the hijab as a part of their dress code.

The management argued that the institution does not permit students to dress according to their faith. The college administration said it told parents and students about the dress code when they applied, so they should know about the rules already.

Countries that have taken similar action, such as France and the Netherlands, have argued that veils and other kinds of primarily Islamic clothing are repressive for women. But wouldn’t a progressive government allow people to choose what they want to wear? In India, this seems like a priority, given the country’s promise of equal rights to citizens regardless of their religion.

People who assign themselves the protectors of other people’s morality seem to always find a way to enforce their will on women. The idea is that you must:

- restrict their movements so they don’t harm themselves

- restrict their freedom to be equal to men lest they arouse the passions that men are powerless to control

The conclusion is always the same: it’s the woman’s fault. Look at the Guwahati incident, at the claims that surfaced here and there that if the victim weren’t drinking in a bar and doing other morally suspect things, this wouldn’t have happened.

Nobody in India, or many other countries for that matter, would have said this about a man. Where does that leave a country like ours? How do you change the thinking of millions of people? The most common methods so far — legislation, shouting about it online, protests — don’t seem to have much effect. Now what, India?

4 comments

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“Nobody in India, or many other countries for that matter, would have said this about a man.” Who told this to you? Have you not seen men being killed over trivial affairs all over the country and the world?

Posted by mahas | Report as abusive

Molesting and raping a women over drinking a beer or wearing a short skirt is also a display of triviality!
I have read various articles over women liberation and heard many a talking heads… But the fact of the matter is we are still at the same level… !

Posted by Snoopyjourno | Report as abusive

Famed educator,Begam Rokeya Hossain of Calcutta back in the early 20th c., already wrote a book suggesting that men should keep hijab and stay at home while women did the world’s business.
Of course, she has been conveniently forgotten.

Posted by ugguch | Report as abusive

When it was suggested that women in Israel be subjected to a curfew, since men were robbing and raping them, Golda Meier protested and said, “it’s the men who are committing crimes, not the women. Curfew for the men, and let the women roam freely.” And that is what they did.
If the men cannot “control” themselves, they should not go out into society anyway. Barbaric.

Posted by dantescave | Report as abusive