Sunday, 8 January 2012

Sluts’ in salwar kameez?

‘Sluts’ in salwar kameez?
As long as gender-insensitivity prevails, would-be molesters will continue to disrobe women, both mentally and physically, no matter what they wear
When a senior police officer from Andhra Pradesh made a bizarre statement recently, that there was an increase in the number of rape cases because women in villages had begun to wear the salwar kameez — one was reminded of countless incidents where law officers have taken refuge behind similarly indefensible arguments.

Provocative? The police officer’s  brazen statement that the salwar-kameez can provoke rapists has outraged people.
Provocative? The police officer’s brazen statement that the salwar-kameez can provoke rapists has outraged people.
Mr Dinesh Reddy, DGP, Andhra Pradesh was quoted as saying "increase or decrease in rape cases could not be attributed to policing. Women in villages are turning fashionable, wearing salwar kameez, which tends to provoke men ."
Later, after having been slammed by the media as well as the Union Home Minister Mr P Chidambaram — he apparently changed his mind and said his statement had been misinterpreted. And then after that, shockingly, the matter seems to have been laid to rest. Obviously, this does not augur well -either for the women of Andhra Pradesh or for those elsewhere in the country because the issue is not just of a statement being made erroneously. There is a far deeper malaise. And obviously, whether one wears a salwar kameez or a bikini is irrelevant — but it gives officers like Mr Reddy a fig leave to dodge behind.
In fact, instead of only reprimanding him-and telling him that women were free to wear what they wanted — the Home Minister should have recommended that the DGP be removed from his post. And since it is a friendly Congress government in power in Andhra Pradesh — this could have been easily ensured.
While one is not surprised that this strange remark was made by a male officer -the astonishment is only because the top cop gave his frank opinion in the full knowledge that the force now has women officers, as well. How could these words give any sense of confidence or fair play to them?
This is a police force where the leader has a different set of standards for men and women. And would that not lead to sexual discrimination and harassment within a force, where the male officers are ostensibly still trapped in an eighteenth century world? Doesn't this mean that more care should be taken to appoint leaders who are modern and gender sensitive — as well as careful about working harder to deliver gender justice ?
Rapists blameless ?
Rapists will only be deterred if they are aware that they will be caught and punished. However, as long as the largely male police force is sympathetic towards them, and puts the onus on the victim -it will be difficult to turn the tide of rising crime against women.
It is a frightening scenario. Mr Reddy's words put the blame squarely on the victim, on her clothes, on her behaviour. In this world-view, the rapist is almost blameless -because he cannot help but be aroused by the sight of a woman in a salwar kameez… a salwar kameez ? Naturally this statement makes little sense in Punjab and possibly even my grandmother (were she alive) would be horrified at the officer's words.
The "salwar kameez" is hardly considered provocative, and in fact is supposed to be one of the most decorous garments in the Indian style pantheon. For many traditional and conventional families — it has been considered a very modest and safe alternative. Till of course Mr Reddy saw in it something that others had not thus far — and blew the lid. He thought he had damned it by calling it fashionable. I wonder what he thinks of the burkha ? Possibly he would imagine that it is also the height of fashion.
The reality is that for men who take recourse to this argument, no matter what the woman wears-she will be always responsible for the crime perpetrated upon her.
Rude & regressive
However, he is not the first cop to come up with a ridiculous reason for rising crime numbers. In fact the whole slut walk movement was initially put together to protest against a US cop who had blamed incidents of rape on the clothes that women wore . There were demonstrations all over the world by women who fiercely defended their right to freedom and to dress whichever way they want.
What Mr Reddy demonstrated with his "misinterpreted" remark was that Indian women still live in a patriarchal world — where police officers can make rude remarks about "village women" becoming "fashionable" -and not face any punishment.
The fact that this kind of regressive mind-set can lead to gender insensitivity -which in turn will lead to an increase in cases of gender injustice -is simply not understood well enough. Ironically, women require a good, egalitarian police force because it can ensure that FIRs are lodged, investigations are conducted and justice is delivered. But if statements like this are openly made, then obviously chances of fair play appear to be remote.
It is also interesting that Mr Reddy specially mentioned "village women". Perhaps, by omission he meant that urban women are already doomed and that village women are blindly following the trend — and thus they deserve being molested and raped.
While we make a huge fuss about all kinds of problems — why did we, the women of India, not take to the streets and defend our rights when Mr Reddy spoke his mind?
Perhaps at the very least, the government should have insisted that he apologise to us for his ill-expressed sentiments. But alas-he escaped with a rap on his knuckles.
And as long as this gender-insensitivity prevails, the would-be molesters out there in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere, will continue to disrobe women mentally and physically, no matter what they wear.