Today, many newspapers quoted the Union Culture and Tourism Minister for his advice to female tourists who wish to visit India – “For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts…Indian culture is different from western (culture)”.
When I first read the statement I was furious. Once again, patriarchal thinking was attempting to curb the independence of women. Its not a matter of a skirt or a dress or how much of feminine skin should be covered up; it is the thought process that was enraging. Instead of preventing the crime and restricting criminals, it was once again the victims who were being burdened with the responsibility to reduce the crime.
Once again, a Lakshman rekha was being drawn and women were being told to stay within limits. Ofcourse, it was for their safety. What else could it be?
In 2013, The Times of India, reported a 5-year survey conducted by an NGO in MP on rape victims. According to the survey, 48% of the rape victims were wearing salwar kurta, 41% were in saris and 11% of toddlers were wearing frocks and pajamas, when they were victimized. Toddlers? Yes, toddlers! you read it right. How did they fall prey? Was it because of what they were wearing-frocks? May be for the safety of toddlers and infants, there should be a law to define the length of their diapers. It can be distributed to all parents along with their immunization schedule. I am sure we can all do this to ensure the safety of the children. But are we sure it will protect them from sexual crime?
Throughout ages, women have been restricted, their independence, wishes, aspirations, thoughts and views, curbed- all for their safety. They have been told what to do and what not to do. They have been told to obey and shunned for disobeying; ofcourse all for their safety and happiness. They have been forbidden from entering temples, ofcourse for their good. If you are wondering what I am talking about, please refer to the interview by the popular mystic, Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev) where he states that ban on women in Shani Temple isn’t discrimination, its discretion. Its for their own good, he says. And today, we have a minister of our country, advicing foreign female tourists not to wear dresses and skirts. Once again, for their safety. But why does a woman have to be told, when a man does not? What gives the man the right to decide for a woman, what is good for her? What gives the man the right to dictate terms to her? Why has a man taken the onus of defining the path for a woman? A woman is equally qualified to make her own rules, just like a man, then why does her life have to be entangled in a book of Dos and Don’ts, that do not apply to a man? While reading the comments, I could not help but wonder, if these valuable advices were available to the 93-year old bed-ridden lady from Jabalpur, could she have been able to prevent her rape by her neighbour? Would such advices have been able to save Aruna Shanbaug or Nirbhaya? Can these advices save all those paralyzed or patients in coma who have been assaulted, molested and/or raped by male security guards, wardboys, doctors, relatives etc? Would these advices be helpful to ensure their safety. If not, what rulebooks are we talking about?
Appeal: Lets not criminalize the victims
I was furious at the minister’s comments when I first read them. But, very soon, my anger turned to sadness when I realized that he was not the first one to make these comments. Even previously, many such as Kailash Vijayvargiya, Babulal Gaur, have been reported to have blamed provocative dressing on part of women for the moral decline amongst today’s youth. Sadly, they are not alone either. There are many amongst us, men and even women, who share the belief that women are to be blamed for the crime against them. Depending on the level of liberalization, the extent of blame and accountability can vary, but women are to be blamed, nevertheless. And although predominant in certain geographies, these views are not restricted to any country either. In a survey reported by the Daily Mail (UK) in 2010, amongst 1000 adults, 54% women were reported to believe that rape victims should be held accountable for the attack. Women being blamed for provoking a man to rape! In India, the most commonly believed provocations include women’s clothings, familiarity with the other gender, presence in night clubs/bars/pubs and being outdoors at night and some even club all of them and categorize as the “western influence”. Lifestyles that go against the Indian culture. Indian culture! Another trump card so often used against women.
So, what is the ‘Indian culture’? Getting women to wear saree- is that the only Indian culture? Restricting women indoors- is that Indian culture? Raping a woman, raping a child, raping a sick or an old woman- is that Indian culture? Raping a tourist, a visitor, a guest- is that Indian culture? So much for Atithi Devo Bhava. Is raping, under any circumstances, Indian culture? Is disrespecting the women- Indian culture?
Blaming women for provoking a man- a thought that is sometimes phrased to suggest her safety and sometimes used as an accusation. There are many who strongly feel that all these advices are not to disrespect a women but to ensure her safety, because the world is not safe for women. And I am sure the minister meant well too. But are we not missing the big picture here? We cannot prevent crime by restricting probable victims. We first wholeheartedly need to believe that when there is a rape or a molestation, it is the rapist and the molester who is at fault; and not the victim. No law can keep a woman safe, no rulebook or dos and donts list can keep a woman safe unless we really learn to respect a woman as a human being, who although different, is still equal to a man.
I thinks its time we stopped criminalizing the victims. A no is a NO. Lets not blame women for provoking a man for a crime. Would we criminalize someone for wearing a watch if it was stolen or would we blame the thief? Women are humans, a status that needs to be realized soon. They are different from men but they are nevertheless humans, who have the right and capability to think and voice their opinions. And that opinion needs to be respected.
Today, instead of criticizing a minister or someone else, can we look and review our own thoughts. Somewhere deep inside us, do we really respect women? And it is for everyone to think- men and women, included. Do we, women, also respect ourselves?
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