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Slut Walk is Besharmi Morcha in India

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011 and SlutWalks 2011.

Slut Walk, a fresh feminist movement that originated from Toronto Canada in April this year, and had been taking rounds of various western cities like, London, Melbourne, Brisbane, Montreal, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Hamilton, San Diego and Vancouver and few others, is now coming to New Delhi, the Indian capital. Scheduled for late July Delhi will be the first Asian city to hold a slut walk.

In India this has been a season of protests and campaigns with two colossal figures, spiritual leader Baba Ramdev and Gandhian Anna Hazare both going onto fasting persuading the Government of India to take actions against corruption and other such rots in the system.

Hundreds protest in Canada against a Toronto Police Officer who claimed "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Image by Natalie A., copyright Demotix (03/04/11).

Hundreds protest in Canada against a Toronto Police Officer who claimed "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Image by Natalie A., copyright Demotix (03/04/11).

The mainstream media in India plays a huge role in making or breaking these campaigns, and the Slut Walk seems to be their current favorite. Several news and views have been floated all across the mainstream media. Almost every major newspaper or magazine have carried a related story.

The bloggers community however has not been so vocal about the movement. From the random buzz one hears on the social media one would imagine Slut Walk Delhi is the most important topic that citizens are talking about. Most of the buzz is created by sharing, forwarding, retweeting and liking the content created by mainstream media.

On Youth Ki Awaz, a collaborative youth blog, Alam Bains wrote in support of the movement:

The Slut Walk is a good initiative and is addressing an important issue but what is required to make movements like these successful is sensitizing the society. Women should be respected and so should their rights to live their life the way they want.

Vidyut at Aam Janata has been writing consistently on the topic. In her first post on the topic she said she had been waiting for the movement to come to India:

We need a slutwalk to happen in every city, town, village and locality. We need a slutwalk happen each time a woman steps out on the street. It is going to be a long journey to change minds, to create that space for the dignity of being a person and expecting safety as a right. To getting people to realize that no matter how a woman dresses, she is a person, and she has a right to say “no”.

In her following post Vidyut addressed the criticism against the naming of the movement, why call it ‘slut’ walk? “It is not just the word slut. It is an attitude.” She says and hopes that this movement will shame the attitude not the word.

Chandni at Bohemian Rhapsody wrote that the reason some people are reacting negatively to the name of the movement is because they are thinking from a patriarchal mindset which believes women are devoid of sexuality.

And yet, one of the first reactions is discomfort with the word slut.  Why use that word for the protest?

Why not, I ask you? Can’t you look past it? The women first – Is it embarrassing? Uncomfortable? Derogatory? Would you be more comfortable holding your head high and walking in this protest if it were called “Nari mukti morcha” or “women against rape” or something?  Say the word. Slut. Think about it. Why does it make you squirm?

And the men – Is it amusing? Inviting? Does it bring forth visions of promiscuous women dying to get laid, lining up for your viewing pleasure? The ultimate fantasy, eh?

Womens’ sexuality anyone? Oh, that doesn’t exist.

That is exactly why it is a good thing. Reclaiming the word. Repeating again and again “STOP BLAMING THE VICTIM AND HER CLOTHES”. It is as simple and as basic as that.

At least 200 people participated in the Slut Walk Brazil, inspired by a protest in Canada in April, by women struggling against violence and the right to wear the kind of clothes they like. Sao Paulo, Brazil. Image by Andre M. Chang, copyright Demotix (04/06/11).

At least 200 people participated in the Slut Walk Brazil, inspired by a protest in Canada in April, by women struggling against violence and the right to wear the kind of clothes they like. Sao Paulo, Brazil. Image by Andre M. Chang, copyright Demotix (04/06/11).

In spite of being an instant hit amongst the young urban youth hundreds and thousands of who have shown their support by joining the event’s Facebook page or by tweeting or putting up status messages, the movement have been continuously facing criticism due to its name.

I have written in my personal blog that the problem with the word slut is not because of the shame attached to it, but because of its lack of significance in the Indian context.

‘Slut’ – the word entered Indian people’s vocabulary through international movies and TV series as part of the cultural change that took place post the cable TV.

To begin with the word is not in common use. [..] I believe ‘slut’ as an abuse is a recent entry and is mostly in use amongst the upper class English speaking urban youth.

We never used the word ‘slut’ in the same way, so what are we reclaiming? Who are we reclaiming it from? Why do we have to reclaim it when most people in Delhi do not even know what it means? And if the point of the event is only to say that we never asked for it, then you don’t have to call it Slut Walk just because that phrase sparked interests in other countries.

I also think that this idea of importing a western movement without first putting it in the local context is very Eurocentric.

Christine Pemberton an expatriate of Indian origin living in New Delhi, speaks from her 70’s feminist heart:

I hope to God I am wrong, but I have visions of men taking photographs of these girls, ogling them, trying to touch them – and not getting the point at all.

To be blunt, I don’t think Delhi is ready for this kind of in-your-face protest.  Sad, but true.

Kuber Sharma wrote in MustBol, a youth led community blog, that there is no need to label oneself as slut to make protest. Kuber also mentioned that the word is not in use in India so the people on the street wouldn’t know what this protest is all about.

Reena has compiled an informative list of tweets on the topic.

Slut Walk came to London as thousands of women marched demanding the right to wear what they choose. UK. Image by Upstream And Me, copyright Demotix (11/06/11).

Slut Walk came to London as thousands of women marched demanding the right to wear what they choose. UK. Image by Upstream And Me, copyright Demotix (11/06/11).

Journalist Seema Goswami wrote on her blog that this idea of allowing women whatever and however little they want to wear and not be prepared for the consequences is nothing but double standard. And that we wouldn’t be so comfortable in allowing men to sexualize their surrounding the same way some women want to.

So, let’s take a step back and allow men to put their own flesh on display if they feel so inclined. They can whip off their shirts at the office; show the crack of their bums on the streets; and go dancing in nightclubs sporting just their underwear. Yes, I agree, it won’t be long before the women start crying foul.

You turned yourself into an easier target because of your actions – and you have to take the rap for that. Every choice we make has consequences; and we have to keep those consequences in mind every time we make a choice.

Seema Goswami’s criticism like many others is based on the premise that the very nature of the campaign is objectionable. Whereas my criticism is rather with the name of the event.

Last week the event organizers attempted to contextualize the movement by renaming it as Slut Walk Delhi arthaat Besharmi Morcha. But the desi version of the movement has fewer takers. When a question was posted on the event’s facebook page asking people what they thought of the new name, the responses were self revealing: (I have posted in my blog some of the screen shots of these Facebook responses)

“Besharmi Morcha is for ‘illiterate’ people who don’t know the meaning of slut. Slut walk is appropriate and sophisticated”

“Not at all. It is absolutely inappropriate…Don’t degrade the level of the parade”

“This punch line is not appropriate this will actually lower down the standards…”

“Slut walk is so ‘cool,’ besharmi whatever sounds gay!”

They (young campaign supporters) don’t have a proper understanding of either feminism or violence against woman or activism. They don’t know the ground realities; they don’t care about making a real change. They just jumped the wagon because Slut Walk sounded like the next cool import from the west after MTV.

That said, however the new name does seem like hitting where it hurts. A Hindi name make it rude, rustic and more importantly real. A real name was required for such an in your face campaign.

On the new name Vidyut wrote,

Not many Indians understand “Slut”, but being called besharam (shameless) is a fact of life for many of us. I’m extra thrilled because the name now includes in its meaning the lack of shame in being a woman. And that being a good thing – as in – nothing to be ashamed of.

It remains to be seen how many girls and women actually come forward to this scheduled Slut Walk or Besharmi Morcha. The event was originally announced for 25th June but have now been postponed to July end for better planning. The event is likely to create a age divide and class divide amongst the feminist movement, if at all it can be seen as a step in the feminist movement. So far the traditional feminist organizations have kept quiet over the topic and no organization have been directly involved with the event.

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011 and SlutWalks 2011.

  • http://www.youthkiawaaz.com Anshul Tewari

    I will be there for sure! Such movements are required to let people know that women are strong enough and will not be bogged down by cheap tactics.

  • Arjun Nehrs

    “What we are effectively saying is that women have the right to sexualize their environment if they feel like it,” wrote Ms. Goswami. “But the men around them must do nothing of this sort – for fear of being dismissed as Neanderthals and hit with a sexual harassment action.” . Ms. Goswami made the right point. These walks conflate a very serious issue (rape) with a very divisive one (a woman’s choice of attire.) Rape is to be condemned. But its pathology is manifold. Sexual provocation is increasingly one among the major reasons for it. In the perverse logical delusion that is the individualistic liberation theology, with its trivialsation of the concept of empowerment; cultures such as India, have allowed a minority of upper class and upwardly mobile women, to foist incongruent social standards and subversions on a largely conservative society. They have misconstrued liberalism to mean open licence to licentiousness. This culture is now visible in the corporate corridors as well as on college campuses. Not grounded in the sources and causes of Indic value systems and with an ignorance compounded by the facile internalisation of occidental social trends; this demographic of IT professionals, media consultants and ill informed social ‘activists’ have painted themselves as saviors of moral reformed. They are quite the contrary. Amoral at best, and immoral and prevaricating mostly, they have weakened the very foundations of Indian society. Not just by their advocacy of such dubious agendae, but also by not addressing the real issues that are exploding exponentially across India. The left inspired violence is not in isolation of this lack of foresight.

  • http://www.redbluffr.com/ Kevin Rennie

    Sanjukta

    We almost need a Special Coverage category for SlutWalk now. The power of an idea is amazing. Look forward to a report on the Besharmi Morcha event.

    • http://sanjukta.wordpress.com Sanjukta Basu

      I agree with you Kevin, who would have thought the slut walk would catch up like this. I am not sure though how Delhi would react to the Slut Walk. Also from India, watch out for a report on the Queer Pride week

  • http://www.aparnaray.com/ Aparna Ray

    Interesting how a section of participants are seeing this as just another symbol of being “cool” and perhaps also allowing them to be part of a global community in some way – renaming it Besharmi Morcha appears to take away from both these motivations making it rather ‘DM’ (downmarket) as far as this segment is concerned.

  • http://sanjukta.wordpress.com Sanjukta Basu

    Arjun,

    You sound a lot like the Canadian cop who triggered this whole thing by saying “Sexual provocation is increasingly one among the major reasons for it.”

    It saddens me.

    Somehow I am uncomfortable with so much fixation over ‘moral’, Indic value and culture, conservative society et all. Wonder why these are always used in reference to women. I think its time people start to realize that women are not going to live under these rocks anymore. That’s the idea behind the slut walk. I agree only handful of upper class urban Indian women can identify with slut walk but the new name besharmi morcha makes a big difference. While earlier I was a critique I now have hopes something good will come out of it.

    • Ritu

      Thumbs up! This walk is certainly creating a buzz. Although i don’t see reactions and /or a feeling of involvement from Delhi women across ALL ages, i certainly hope this goes on to create the first ripple.

      I am happy to see this comment of yours and your post. I feel more positive after reading this page and your article on in.com.

      I, as a common Delhi girl, hope there comes a time, soon, when i can wear whatever without having to think about whether i am ‘inviting’ rape… because currently even with my so called ‘normal’ clothing(in fact ANY kind of clothing) i seem to ‘arouse’ men and ‘invite’ molesters.

      I think the repression in the society regarding this whole idea of sex and sexuality is a major contributor to such sad state of affairs. I wish this initiative grows more, encompasses more women across different ages as well as men, and even inspire parents and schooling institutions rethink on how THEY can also contribute towards making a better place to live in in a BIG way, in this context.

  • waterbugkim

    I agree that there should be freedom between the genders regarding what we wear. However, with freedom comes responsibility! Men have been created differently from women, to be aroused by what they see. (for women, it’s more emotional). Yes, their responsibility is not to let their imaginations run wild. It takes discipline. But why do we insist that what we do has no impact on them? It absolutely does. Do I want to be free to wear what I like? Of course. Do I really want unasked for leering by men? No, because my value is NOT based on how I look. So I choose to dress within my freedom, but not to extremes. I would not want someone to make an environment difficult for me to be in (say, smoking, for example, if I’m a non-smoker.), so neither do I want to be part of creating a difficult situation for someone else. So I also think women should use their minds as they dress in freedom… If they know that they’re going to find themselves in a place with lots of men, do they have to wear skimpy clothing? Why should they expect that men will respect them if they’re used to thinking in old ways about women, right or wrong? Respect is not an issue you can force..it’s an issue of the heart.

    • Ritu

      “Respect is not an issue you can force..it’s an issue of the heart.”

      I am quoting you here because these are some common comments i have got to hear and i have some questions to them; tell us, how does that heart begin to respect? I mean to ask how that heart works, how it begins to respect, so we can do something so that the respect due for centuries can be restored.

      “Yes, their responsibility is not to let their imaginations run wild. It takes discipline.” U hit it on the head! I ask further, whose responsibility is it to BRING that discipline? How come that discipline is so lacking ALL around us? With freedom (for example of expressing their sexual nature and “being aroused by what they see”) definitely comes responsibility ( for example of not forcing that undisciplined arousal on random women and even at home) . So why don’t you rather go and tell the men passing lewd comments at the drop of a hat, the eve teasers, the molesters, and the rapists about their responsibility?

      “for women, it’s more emotional” emotional fools women are, isn’t it? or maybe you’d moderate it and say, “no, not fools, but they surely are pools of emotions”. They have no sexual ‘needs’, no expression to their sexual nature.. they just work on emotions, isn’t it? Well let a woman tell you, it is NOT so. Some education might do a good job here to break this misconception.

      “do they have to wear skimpy clothing?” Firstly if the problem was just skimpy clothing schoolgirls, everyday college going girls, office going women would not have been a major percentage of the victims. They are victims because of the stark indiscipline of men all around us. And secondly You don’t get to decide what is skimpy clothing. Even a slight show of skin (picture a woman even in a formal shirt-coat-skirt attire) may arouse you, right? But that’s not even remotely skimpy! What you DO get to decide is how disciplined YOUR arousal is!! Think about your own responsibility and whether you are being responsible yourself before anything else.

  • Paulos

    The movement has hit Cape Town, South Africa.
    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=174397302622254

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