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Amrit Dhillon

Do Indian women need the right to dress like a tart? Add to ...

The last time anyone asked an Indian woman what was on her mind, I don’t think she said she was dying to dress like a slut without attracting a single male glance.

So when women turn out dressed like slags, Jezebels, floozies, tarts, tramps and strumpets on the streets of New Delhi on Sunday to assert their right to dress any way they like without inviting male sexual attention, I fear it may be a smallish gathering, just a handful of the educated elite who’ve heard about SlutWalking and how it was provoked by a Toronto police officer’s remark that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Since the first protests in Canada, SlutWalks have gathered pace. When it’s New Delhi’s turn, I expect the participating women to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. But let them dare claim there’s anything remotely serious about their antic.

In a country where 10 million babies have been killed in the womb because they were girls, where women are burned for dowry, murdered in honour killings, face domestic violence so frequent it’s as common as a power cut, where Dalit women fear sexual humiliation by upper caste men and where young girls are forced into prostitution, who needs the right to dress like a slut? And while we’re listing women’s sorrows, a recent global survey by TrustLaw found India to be the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women.

Such a misguided protest only serves to mock Indian women and the real issues they face. Women are still denied so many fundamental rights that this event, organized by women aping the actions of Western, white, educated, middle-class females, can be only a frivolous irrelevance.

In countries such as Canada, the SlutWalk might have a modicum of meaning because the feminist movement has notched up victories in many fields and improved women’s lives enormously (although we all know that men are still recidivists when it comes to sharing the housework).

If feminists now wish to take on relatively lightweight matters such as the use of “slut” and how such words are part of the madonna/whore categorization of women, I don’t have a problem with that – although I do think it’s pretty low on the list of priorities.

But transpose the same campaign to India, which hasn’t been through the same feminist trajectory, and it becomes ludicrous. Indian women are raped even when they’re wearing a salwar kameez (baggy trousers and tunic), which covers everything but their face, hands and feet, or saris, which show only the midriff.

To demonstrate that sexual harassment or rape can happen no matter what a woman’s wearing, a group called White Noise in Bangalore held an exhibition some years ago to show the range of clothes that victims had been wearing at the time. They were all conservative, traditional outfits, with not a single miniskirt in sight.

What Indian women need is protection against violence, not a campaign to reclaim the meaning of “slut” and give it a positive connotation. If SlutWalkers think their effort to reclaim “slut” or “slutitude” is akin to the “Négritude” movement by intellectuals in French Africa who sought to reclaim the pejorative “nègre” as a positive word, they’re pretentious in the extreme.

The SlutWalkers’ stand puzzles me. Earlier feminists had railed against popular culture’s reduction of women to body parts – breasts and buttocks. This belittlement of women as nothing more than sexual objects was regarded as one of the most degrading things that patriarchal societies had done to women.

Yet, the so-called younger generation of Indian feminists now want to dress in clothes that reveal their breasts and buttocks and demand this “self-objectification” as a right? And again focusing attention on their body parts as though it’s liberating? This is either false consciousness gone mad or I’ve got something wrong.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India.

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