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It's About Respect

It's About Respect

August 06, 2011
Sangeeta Haindl

Will Delhi's Slutwalk really make women of the city any safer?

SlutWalk Delhi took place on 1 August 2011; it was one of a series of marches around the world protesting against sexual violence of women; starting in Toronto this April to protest about the police’s indifference to victims of rape. It spurred similar marches in the US, UK and Australia. In these earlier marches of the event, protesters' clothes were skimpy and the large crowds exhibitionist in an effort to make their point. In Delhi though the message was the same the protesters wore less provocative clothes and was toned down because of the culture , and the name of the event was changed to ‘Shameless Front’ (Besharmi Morcha) in Hindi.

I personally never felt India was a safe place for me when I was there between 1981 and 1990. The irony was my parents thought it would be a safe place for me to grow up. I found India to be a place where men stare at you, make you feel uncomfortable and in places where it's crowded take advantage of the crowd and try to molest you. Like every Indian woman in India I have been stared at, groped, pinched, jabbed, greasy fingers in my hair...my stories are countless...and I can recall them all like they were yesterday.

There was the time when I was about 18 walking home with my mum in the evening after shopping (we lived in a hill station) and there was suddenly a power cut. I remember, someone creeping up on me and then his hand lurched out to grab my breast...I knew who he was in the moonlight. I dropped the shopping bags and ran after him; my mum screaming after me. I never caught him, but I knew where he lived. The next day I made my mum go with me to say something, threaten him. All he did was smirk and say it was not me, and how could I prove it. He is still on my hit list!

Then there was the first time I had my bum pinched, I was 14 in Janpath, Delhi and it was my first time in India. I screamed out and my mum and dad asked what happened, I naively said I was bitten by a mosquito. I remember my parents exchanging knowing looks, and I will always remember my father’s dour reply, ‘that was no mosquito, you just had your bottom pinched. As I looked round into the sea of leering faces there was no way I could know who did it, so I did the one thing I could...I stamped on every man’s foot as hard as I could.

The placards at the SlutWalk Delhi protest read ‘Stop Staring: This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me’ to ‘I Have Nothing to Be Ashamed of’. The hundreds of protesters wanted to draw attention to the growing problem of harassment and violence that women in India are facing. The number of rape cases reported has grown 678% since the country began keeping statistics 30 years ago. Unfortunately, rape is now considered the fastest-growing crime in the country; though the rise in violence may not mean that there are necessarily more incidents of harassment and rape but that they are finally being reported.

A number of high-profile incidents in Delhi over the last year made this protest all the more urgent. A 30-year-old woman was raped going home late at night from her job at an Indian outsourcing company. The woman was gang-raped after being dropped off yards from her home by a hired-car service. The public outrage that followed made the police to take action.

While, the incidents of sexual harassment are so frequent on the New Delhi metro train service that certain coaches are reserved for women passengers only.

Sunita Kaistha, head of the Women Work & Health Initiative, a non-profit organisation in New Delhi believes that women are at risk because the economic growth in the country has brought more women out of their traditional roles in the home and into the workforce, particularly in urban areas. In New Delhi, Kaistha sees the rise in sexual violence linked to the rise of women in the workforce and says, "The culture is very patriarchal, and it's still very difficult for people to accept girls working, travelling, going out at night".

So, in reality nothing has changed in India on this front from my time there; sadly it is not a place that I would want to raise my daughter if I had one.

Photo credit: eveteasing.org 

7 Comments

  • Sangeeta Haindl
    By
    Sangeeta Haindl
    14.08.11 03:09 PM
    @srinivas - Yes I do half agree with you and that this is also about transition. However, a lot of this is also about the age old views that have not changed. Plus it is intrinsically about how Indian society views women.
  • srinivas
    By
    srinivas
    12.08.11 12:56 PM
    The economy development you are mentioning is happen to only half of the people. still, it has to has to reach the other half of the masses. it is in transformational phase.. where people are migrating from rural to cities. they are expose to the completely different culture they are raised in the villages. they are come up with different stereotype about city culture. govt and NGO organization need to take care migration and transformation of the culture. but it very sad even though they raised in strong family background they are behaving like this way.
  • Sangeeta Haindl
    By
    Sangeeta Haindl
    08.08.11 12:09 AM
    Hi Nighet,

    Lovely to see you here and thank you for commenting.

    You are spot on in everything you have said...so much progress has been made in India and the sub continent in terms of economy, technology, media and so on and yet society and culture is still in a time warp.

    Every day living for many women in this region still has a long way to go before it can be described as equal and safe.
  • Nighet
    By
    Nighet
    07.08.11 10:14 PM
    Its so sad to read that even though so much has changed in the Indian subcontinent, that women are still having to deal with perverts such as those mentioned on a regular basis. The whole facade of family and cultures built on respect are shot to bits as none of it is translated into everyday life.
  • Poor In Java
    By
    Poor In Java
    07.08.11 09:33 PM
    Not that I am against these protests and agendas, I was just saying that how effective are these these days. It's good that people in democracies come together and try to raise their voice for concerns but this is just one side, the other side that runs the democracies should get affected too. I hope that people learn something from these morchas and do participate in building a civilized nation.
    We need right attitude towards things around us and a better civil sense desperately country wide.
  • Sangeeta Haindl
    By
    Sangeeta Haindl
    07.08.11 01:43 PM
    @Poor In Java - Hi there! Thanks for your comment and yes, I think protests and marches still make a difference in democracies and societies. Just look at what happened in Egypt...those protests over threw a regime.

    Protests allow freedom of expression and highlights issues, which SlutWalk Delhi has done...otherwise we would not be talking about it now.
  • Poor In Java
    By
    Poor In Java
    06.08.11 07:02 PM
    Do these walks and protests mean anything to people today? I somehow feel that gone are those days of Dandi march and Shanti morchas when the organizers were genuinely great, honest and patriotic leaders. I wonder if anyone cares today about all these walks, dharnas and morchas. I hope people do but criminals don't understand this language. Law and Lawman must become strict and tight and if necessary impose on all for sometime. Perhaps that would help bringing civil discipline amongst people.

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