English Vinglish

In 1982, Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Halal delivered this popular dialogue: ‘English is a very phunny language.’ I guess it is. However, I think it is not English that is funny but the context that makes it so popular in India that makes it tragically funny. I will come to that later.

The premise of English Vinglish, that of a married middle-aged Indian woman wanting to learn English, was something that personally appealed to me. Add Sridevi to the equation and I was hooked! As expected Sridevi was a joy to watch. She was just spot-on as Shashi, the slightly under confident middle aged married woman, who doesn’t know English very well. Besides, I agree with Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) when he says, her eyes are like two drops of dark chocolate in the sky. What expressive eyes! Sigh! Anyway, I am digressing here. This piece is not my love letter to Sridevi.

Shashi is this quiet, efficient house wife who is also a small entrepreneur. She sells delicious laddoos. However, she constantly faces ridicule from her daughter and her husband, who seem to be ashamed of the fact that that she doesn’t know English. So, in order to earn respect from her family, she goes on to learn the language.

The graph of Shashi’s character in the film stays constant. When she meets the handsome, charming, sensitive (and absolutely drool worthy) Laurent, who shows interest in her, Shashi does not have a relationship with him. I would have been surprised if she would have done that. I could also relate to her need to please her family, a need that comes from low self confidence.  It is not easy to fight with one’s own demons but Shashi was doing just that and I was rooting for her.

The build-up of the plot is such that Shashi had to triumph in the end. And what can be a better showcase of the triumph than a speech in the climax, in a language that she was struggling all along! So Shashi gives a speech to her newly married niece and her husband about marriage, togetherness and family. To her credit, she gives the speech in halting English that had lines like “Sometimes you will feel less and sometimes the other person might feel less in the relationship.” But what followed after that totally stumped me when she said, “Your family will always support you when you are low. Your family will always give you confidence when you need it.”

I suddenly stopped caring for Shashi because it all seemed like one big farce. It seemed so hypocritical to see Shashi giving this speech, when her life was anything but that. Shashi’s family members did not do many things for her. Despite that, here she was selling the new couple, the idea of an ‘always supportive’ family! That was inherently dishonest writing by Gauri Shinde.

Many people I know felt that the character of Sridevi was being sarcastic but I did not feel the sarcasm. Even if I assume she was sarcastic, there is a problem. Sarcasm always conveys dual messages. Her speech was intended for two different sets of recipients— her daughter and husband and her niece and her husband. While she reserved the sarcasm for the former, it was a straight forward speech for the latter and that really put me off!

What does it mean to keep parading and selling this idea of an “ideal” family? There is no ‘ideal’ family. ‘Ideal’ families do not exist. Given the current scheme of things, despite the problems, families are a support system nevertheless. But they are far from ideal! Quite often one’s family will not be there for them when one needs them the most. Sometimes one’s family will not offer support when it is needed the most. Families have problems and it is best if those are accepted and acknowledged. Not acknowledging them is violence in itself because by constantly talking of the ideal, the real problems are quite often brushed under the carpet.

Shashi is shown wanting respect. I wonder how can one demand respect. Does one get it in exchange by acquiescing to the demands made by the people we are seeking it from? Or do we gain respect on our own terms?

If it would have been on her own terms then she would have got it just on the basis of the way she is—Hindi speaking, delicious laddoo-making entrepreneur. Instead love and subsequently respect seem conditional here.

While she is shown as triumphant in the end, not much is questioned about so-called demands put forth by her husband and her daughter. Apart from the feeling of shame that the daughter and the husband experience post her English speech, nothing much is said about the very nature of their expectations at all. It is just accepted as a common norm, which needn’t be questioned, now that success has been achieved.

The point is despite her judgemental family members, she was a successful woman. She wasn’t losing any business because she was not a bad cook. Nor was she less appealing to others because of her lack of knowledge of English, as was evident from her interaction with her daughter’s school principal. She was constantly belittled and made fun of because of her lack of understanding of English, which seems like an end in itself.

Why do we learn English? Of course, many learn English because they love the language. But many of us also learn English to ‘succeed’ in the job market. So that we can earn good money as opposed to many others, who cannot owing to their poor English. So that, we can have that ‘respect’ that comes from being successful in the society. But when one is successful in their own right without knowing English, why do we need English? Whose validation are we seeking? What does the associated prestige that comes from knowing how to converse in “good” English reflect about us? Why is nothing being said about the underlying assumptions so many of us have about lack of knowledge of English being equal to lack of sophistication or lack of class? Would we feel the same way if we did not know another Indian language, say Tamil?

The director has shown Shashi’s triumph but through that she has ended up reinforcing our collective low self worth. No, those populist dialogues— ‘Ab Angrezon ka nahin, hamara waqt hain’, and ‘Just as you survive in our country without knowing Hindi’— don’t help. They further reinforce the notion. Shashi’s success seems to be emerging from this need to please others for approval. The success also adheres to a standard that is based on low self esteem steeped in insecurity and lack of confidence.

English Vinglish unintentionally brings to the fore our collective low self worth regarding our need to know English in order to be considered successful and sophisticated. Shashi might have had her little triumph but I think her victory represents our collective failure of accepting ourselves the way we are.

First published here.


Indian Govt’s efforts to clampdown Internet freedom in India

Anna Hazare/Image courtesy: Pradestoday.com

2011 was a tumultuous year as it saw citizens’ movements toppling dictatorships all around the Arab World. Former president Hosni Mubarak’s fall in Egypt was ably aided by social media that helped citizens rally together for a cause. 2011 also saw a huge anti-corruption movement in India that was headed by a 70-year-old crusader Anna Hazare. This movement saw a huge participation by the Indian middle class, the same section of society which also has a presence on the Internet.  The movement that called itself ‘India Against Corruption’ (IAC) had a very active presence on social media including sites like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter etc. Co-incidentally it was in 2011 that the Government increased its curbs on the internet, despite already having problematic provisions with the existing IT (Amendment) Act, 2008.

Big Brother Government

Let’s first get into the main problems with the amendment of the Act that happened in 2008. Till 2009, India’s Internet Freedom Status was relatively free and censorship was sporadic. Till then, the government did not particularly bother about censoring the Internet. The status changed after Mumbai, the financial capital of India suffered a massive terrorist attack in November 2008. This lead to the Government making sure that the state had the powers to decrypt communications done over the Internet, especially post-terrorist attacks. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2009 changed the scenario and the Internet Freedom Status became set to ‘Partly Free’ and has remained unchanged since then.

The amendment made in 2008 to the IT Act (which governs the Internet) brought in criticism by cyber activists and netizens alike since the amendment was passed without any discussion in the Parliament and had clauses which enabled violation of civil liberties. Under section 69 of the new amended act, it is possible for the police to snoop through one’s emails, phone calls, texts and other personal communication over the Internet without any warrant for the same from the magistrate.

Draconian provisions69B. (1) The Central Government may, to enhance cyber security and for identification, analysis and prevention of intrusion or spread of computer contaminant in the country, by notification in the Official Gazette, authorise any agency of the Government to monitor and collect traffic data or information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource.(2) The intermediary or any person in-charge or the computer resource shall, when called upon by the agency which has been authorised under sub-section (1), provide technical assistance and extend all facilities to such agency to enable online access or to secure and provide online access to the computer resource generating, transmitting, receiving or storing such traffic data or information.(3) The procedure and safeguards for monitoring and collecting traffic data or information, shall be such as may be prescribed.(4) Any intermediary who intentionally or knowingly contravenes the provisions of sub-section (2) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which any extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.Courtesy: IT (Amendment) Act 2008

After the above mentioned amendment, the central government fired a new salvo in April 2011 that made some alert Indian netizens sit up and take notice. The Indian Government formulated two sets of rules to the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008. The first rule set out to make the intermediaries including companies like Google, Facebook etc. and Internet Service Providers responsible for the content their users upload. The second set of rules make cybercafé owners to maintain a record of all their users who use their services to access the Internet.

N Vijayshankar, a cyber law expert in India said, “It is difficult to question the Government’s motive behind having these curbs when they cite national security risk as the reason. However, the censorship bans can only be used for the said reason only. However, the very way the sections of the law is written is ambiguous and gives arbitrary power to the police. Otherwise, the way these laws are used can be in violation of our fundamental right to free speech. Also, the government is using these acts for censorship of content in accordance to whichever political party is in power.”

Mumbai Police bans cartoonist’s site

One of Trivedi's cartoons that got his site banned. The commode resembles the architecture of the Parliament of IndiaImage courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/cartoonsagainstcorruption

The repercussions of these rules were seen when Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist from Kanpur could not access his website in the last week of December 2011. Aseem Trivedi, an ardent supporter of IAC had uploaded political cartoons on his website—www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.com. Subsequently he received a mail on December 27th from BigRock, the domain name and web host where his site was registered. The mail informed him that they were suspending his domain name and associated services since they received a complaint from Mumbai Crime Branch that he has been using the website for displaying objectionable content related to the flag and emblem of India. He has ever since migrated to a new website. (The cartoon above shows Indian Parliament as a commode among many others which were deemed as offensive).

Trivedi says, “As per the law, one is guilty until proven innocent. The onus is on the person to prove that s/he is not guilty. This is in direct violation of the constitution of India. The extreme frivolity of the entire process worries me. A blog can be banned with just a simple complaint by anyone if they feel offended about it. This has to be challenged. I was not even informed, leave alone served a notice, before they pulled out my site.” So aghast was Trivedi by the whole issue that he has now started a campaign against Internet censorship in India. “I am currently touring different cities of India talking to people about this issue. I plan to culminate this journey on the 13th of May with a rally in India Gate, New Delhi.”

Vijayshankar says, “The law in its present form makes the intermediaries responsible for the content uploaded on their site. It also insist that they take action within 36 hours of receiving a complaint. For instance, I can file a complaint against any content I deem offensive and since the intermediaries have to take an action within 36 hours, they ned up taking the content off the net, which is a misinterpretation. These kind of actions also give unlimited powers to any individual and private companies.”

Anja Kovas, of Internet Democracy Project, points out to a graver effect of such regulations. “Censorship on the Internet is very different from the censorship in the real world. There will always be ways to circumvent it. However, it is mostly the tech-saavy geeks and people with the knowledge of technical know-how who will have access to such technologies. For majority of people, access to such knowledge will not be easy. The danger of such laws is that the society will be polarised between people who can enjoy freedom of expression and those who cannot.”

Call for pre-censorship of content on Social Media

Image courtesy: rediff.com

December 2011 saw India’s Union Communications and Information Technology minister Kapil Sibal calling for social media biggies including Google, Facebook, Twitter amongst others to pre-censor content uploaded by their users. This invited widespread criticism from Indian netizens and media alike. He later clarified that he did not mean pre-censorship of content but meant that companies ought to have standards that prevent such content from being on their space. He also insisted that these companies need to follow the law of the land, which meant that the social media companies ought to follow the restrictions to freedom of speech as deemed by the constitution. Content that violate the following issues are considered as restrictions and violations on freedom of speech.

  • Security of the State
  •  Friendly relations with foreign States
  •  Public order
  • Decency and morality
  • Contempt of court
  •  Defamation
  •  Incitement to an offence
  •  Sovereignty and integrity of India.

The media in India does not enjoy a separate ‘freedom of press’ as enshrined by the USA constitution but the freedom of press is subsumed under the freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right. However, there are many curbs on the Indian media. For instance, Radio news is completely banned in India with the State owned ‘All India Radio’ enjoying a complete monopoly over broadcasting news over the radio. Internet till 2008 was relatively free and censorship by Government sporadic.

Sibal’s proposition received a widespread criticism amongst the netizens, especially on Twitter.

The Vinay Rai Case

Amidst the din of censorship of the Internet, intermediaries like Facebook, Google and other companies faced a fresh jolt when Vinay Rai, editor of a Delhi-based Urdu newspaper Akbari, filed a case against them in December 2011 for allowing objectionable content up on their sites. Rai has submitted examples of what he deems as offensive content against various religions and religious figures that he found on the sites of these companies. However, Rai chose not to interact with the websites regarding this issue. He stated that the government is the ultimate authority to deal with multinationals in matters like these. Indian Penal Code has strict provisions against promotion of religious enmity in the country including Sec 153 (B), Section 298 among others.

Even as Google and Facebook have argued that they are not legally responsible for the content uploaded by the users, things don’t look rosy, thanks to the cyber laws in India. The outcome of the case is still pending since the case is still with the Delhi High Court.

Vijayashankar added, “Vinay Rai seems to have filed a case against content that can hurt religious sentiments of the people. There are some strong provisions in the law against hurting religious sentiments. The only fear I have is that the court should make it clear that the judgement is for this particular case alone and that the outcome of the case should not be considered as a precedent. There is a big element of public interest in this issue. It has a danger of being misinterpreted as a precedent which will affect our freedom of expression.”

Indian Govt asks Google to remove ‘offensive’ content

When the debate over Internet censorship was at its peak, Google revealed data that showed the true intentions of the Government. According to Google, the company received 68 content removal requests (which included 358 items in all) from the Government of India in the first half of 2011 (January – June) of which 51% of the requests were adhered to. The reasons ranged from defamation, national security, government criticism amongst others. It is interesting to note that of all the requests, only one of them was attributed to National security, the main reasons cited for the amendment that happened in 2008.

In April 2011, Centre for Internet and Society, a research and advocacy organisation in India revealed that the Government of India banned around 11 websites using provisions like 69B, which aforementioned give sweeping powers to the Government.

While Google stood up to the Chinese Government refusing to adhere to the latter’s censorship norms, it has not exactly shown the same spirit in India. Recently, this month, the Delhi High Court responding to a civil suit filed by Aijaz Qasmi, an Indian citizen ordered Google to remove ‘offensive content’ from their sites.  A statement released by Google read: “This step is in accordance with Google’s longstanding policy of responding to court orders.” Google has already resorted to self censorship and have claimed that they will respect the law of the land. Twitter has also declared that it will censor tweets geographically.

Trivedi says, “This was bound to happen. Companies like Google, Facebook and others are business entities. They will ultimately bow down to these unfair laws. It is ultimately up to citizens of India to fight these unfair laws.” Kovacs adds that, “By making intermediaries accountable for content uploaded by the users, the Government is making sure that a vast amount of internet users can be controlled and this is dangerous.”

Laws for a space sans geographical boundaries

If Facebook were a country with the number of users on it, it would be the third largest country in terms of the population. Internet by its very nature has broken geographical boundaries and epitomises the Sanskrit adage of Vasudaiva Kumtumbakam—the world is but one single family. To impose laws that are applicable to a particular geographical area to a space that knows no geography is going to be tricky indeed. While Google has announced that it will censor content as needed by the laws of the land, the same aforesaid content could be accessible in other countries. This is an exercise in futility since proxy servers could be used to access the same content from the same country where it is banned.

The battle in India is in the backdrop of global threat to Internet freedom. More than 100 countries plan to meet in Geneva on February 27, to give United Nations, power to control the Internet. While it remains to be seen how Internet censorship takes root and is fought in India, the global fight just gets as interesting!

Ganesha Multimedia

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The same old tune for Lord Ganesha

Mumbai: In February 2011, the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court passed an order directing the state government and the local self-government bodies to ban Plaster of Paris idols in favour of environmentally friendly clay ones. Narendra Dabholkar, the president of Maharashhtra Andha Shraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Maharashtra’s anti-superstition group) was a happy man. The order was given against the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) he had filed. There were still seven months for Ganesh Chaturthi. Government has time to act upon the order he hoped. And then it was September. Ganesh Chaturthi came and went. Most people celebrated by bringing PoP idols of Lord Ganesha and also bid him adieu with loads of fanfare. Dabholkar was dismayed.

“Seven months is sufficient amount of time for the Government to act up. Why wasn’t anything done?” asks Dabholkar. The government did take up some measures. It did construct artificial ponds for immersion. “The government hasn’t done much. Despite the court order, the immersion of the idols painted with toxic paints went ahead all over the state. We are now planning to file a report to the Supreme Court. Let’s see what happens,” says Dabholkar.

High Court order

The High Court in its order clearly mentioned that the idol makers should be directed to make idols of clay and that PoP idols should be banned. Besides, the court also observed that only herbal colours be used to paint the Ganesh idols in order to prevent water pollution. The High Court also directed the state government and all the local self government bodies including Municipal Corporations, Zilla Parishads and Gram Panchayats to make sure water pollution does not take place.

Shiv Sena unhappy

Immediately after the issuance of the order, Uddhav Thackeray, president of Shiv Sena lashed out against it. He had said that there is no question of PoP idols affecting water sources since they are not immersed inside potable water sources. Clarifying Shiv Sena’s stand, MLA Subhash Desai said, “It is not that we are against the interventions that safeguard the environment. However penal actions would not serve the purpose. The ban cannot be implemented immediately. There are many livelihoods at stake here.  The idol makers have made moulds of many sizes over a period of time which they use regularly. If a change in forced upon them, it won’t work. There has to be awareness and personal initiative. The change can happen only gradually. The change has to happen voluntarily through mass awareness programmes.”

However, there are mixed reactions among the idol makers. Some opine that only huge clay idols are expensive and that the ban will affect the mandal more than the common man. Ram Khembulkar, a professional idol maker from Kumbharwada in Kalyan says, “I would welcome the ban on PoP idols. People are not going to stop buying idols if they are not of PoP. We will have to start working early if the idols are made of clay. But we will also get paid more for it.”  Ashok Chavan, president of Lalbaughcha Raja, the most popular Ganesh Mandal in Mumbai says, “Clay idols are very delicate. That is why we prefer large PoP idols.”

The polluting effects of PoP idols and the toxic paints have been well documented. In early 2007, Shyam Asolekar, professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai conducted a study where idols of different materials—PoP, clay, newspaper pulp—were immersed in aquarium-like glass tanks to observe the affect-effects of water and the disintegration process of the idols. The findings revealed that PoP idols remained intact even after several months. The idols made of newspaper pulp disintegrated within couple of hours of it being in the water. The idols made of clay disintegrated within 45 minutes.

‘There is no eco-friendly idol’

Asolekar says that despite ‘shadoo clay’ being the most environment friendly of all the materials, it is still a foreign element to a water body and that aquatic life does get affected by its presence. Also because paper mash is an organic substance resulting into disintegration taking place inside the water bodies, it also results into lowering the levels of oxygen since disintegration requires consumption of oxygen. This results in to the death of fish, he says.

Asolekar says that the main problem lies not with the usage of plaster of paris idols painted with toxic paints, but with the immersion process. “The main problem lies in immersion. The sheer number of idols that get immersed is harmful for the water bodies,” he says. In his paper he argues that since the water bodies are already filled with silt and sediment owing to rapid urbanisation and other development processes, we cannot afford to deposit anything more inside our water bodies.

That is why he proposes a radical solution and says that people should avoid immersion of idols inside the water bodies. “The immersion need not be every year. It can be once in two years, five years or there can be no immersions at all. In my family, we have the same idol for the last 11 years. It is as good as new. A slight change in the way we celebrate our festival will definitely go ahead in saving our water bodies.”

Apart from the petition filed by Andha Shraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, Janhit Manch, an NGO in Mumbai had also filed a PIL in 2007 against the polluting activities pertaining to Ganesh Chaturthi. In response to the PIL, the High Court in 2009 had asked the Central Pollution Control Board to draft guidelines for idol immersion to prevent pollution during these festivals. The report clearly states that idols and paints should be made of natural materials.

Bhagwanji Raiyani, who filed a Public Interest Litigation in 2007 says, “The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) did take measures like creating artificial ponds for immersion thereby dissuading people form immersing in other water bodies. But the water has to be deposited somewhere. They will put it inside the sea which will affect the fish. A large number of us eat fish. The toxic materials will be back in our system”

The fight for environment friendly Ganesh festival continues. Both Rayani and Dabholkar plan to continue their fight to prevent pollution during the festival. Interestingly, there is a common thread that binds the duo— both are atheists!

Slutwalks and the besharmi of it all…

Cambridge dictionary’s defines ‘slut’ as a woman who has sexual relationships with a lot of men without any emotional involvement. Now think of the word ‘slut’ that regularly is used as an abuse. What is wrong if a woman wants to live life this way? Why should she be subjected to such a judgement? Who are the people calling her a slut? Where did the meaning develop? The answers to this question pretty much determine the genesis of the word.

I dislike the word not because of what it denotes but because of the way it is used. The word slut has stopped bothering me now. At the end of the day, it is a choice made by a woman to live life the way she wants to. I hate it that that her personal choice carries along with it so much hate, disgust and humiliation that it makes so many of us cringe. It also makes so many of us be on our toes all the time lest anyone regards us as one. Besides, why should there be pressure on a woman to prove the whole world that she is not a slut? This is just another way of curtailing a woman’s sexuality. There lies a very close association with the so-called sluttishness and then the following justification if she undergoes violence. It is like saying…. Be a slut and violence will follow. So, better toe the line.

Given this context, ‘Slutwalk’ does sound revolutionary. It definitely is. But then I guess it is not for everyone. I also wonder if the idea of ‘Slutwalk’ in India works for me.

Ever since I read about Slutwalks, I have been confused about my stand regarding it. My first reaction was that of discomfort. Discomfort not just with the term but about the idea in general. But then I did find myself agreeing with everything they stood for. Why this discomfort? The answers weren’t easy.

Firstly I thought the campaign just touched the surface of the problem. Also for better or worse consists of only women from an upper middle class English speaking background. Now there is nothing wrong with this target group starting something. But it definitely is problematic when the issue just becomes an issue of that class alone.

So what is slutwalk all about? Where did it start from? Slutwalk has its origin in Canada where a policeman in a speech asked women to not dress like sluts in order to avoid violence.

“Slutwalk might be one of the more provocatively named events of 2011, but that’s the whole point. Founded shortly after a police officer participating in a safety forum at York University’s Osgoode Hall remarked that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” the protest seeks to re-appropriate a term that has been used historically not just to limit and stigmatize female sexuality, but as a rationalization for sexual assault.”

More here and here.

In Canada, the police officer told women to not dress like sluts if they wanted to avoid violence. In India, people tell us to dress ‘decently’ in order to avoid molestation and rape. Dressing indecently doesn’t always mean dressing like a slut. Dressing like a slut comes much later. It can also mean pushing the boundaries of being a good girl, just a bit. So, why is this important? This is important because of the major difference in the way the word ‘slut’ —in all its regional variations—is used in India and in other countries.

It is not when you are dressed as a slut that you are molested or raped. “Good girls” from “good families” with no trace of dressing like a slut are molested too. School girls wearing uniforms, Muslim girls wearing burkha, women wearing salwar kameez, baggy pants and loose shirts get molested too. Yes, a slut gets molested too, so does a prostitute. There is no discrimination here! So it is not just when you are dressed as a slut that you are molested, you are molested if you are a girl/woman. It is as simple as that! Given this context, the very word ‘slutwalk’ seems very limiting. If the victim were ‘sluts’ alone, then ‘besharmi morcha’ makes so much sense. But since the victims are not sluts alone, what do they plan to do then? How does being besharam help? What is the point of all this ‘besharmi’? The whole thing just seems like a very direct import from the West. As Tamura A. Lomax, a black feminist says in this very well writtenblog post that, the need to want the freedom to dress the way we want is a demand made by women in privileged positions. Indeed, to proudly claim oneself a “slut” (meaning, to boldly and explicitly claim one’s sexual liberty), with little to no socio-political consequence, is (sort of) a privilege—Lomax.

My right to public space in denied to me NOT because I am a slut but because I am a woman. And I want to demand my right to a safe public space as a woman and that includes rights of sluts too. There are many things that are denied to me because I am a woman. So, basically the struggle is to reclaim all my rights as a woman and that encompasses rights of a good girl, rights of a bad girl, and rights of a “slut” among many others. For me the fight is to be treated as a human being. The situation in Canada is considerably different from that in India. If I dare say so, their fights and struggles are not as basic as it is here. Our daily fight is for the world to consider us a HUMAN BEING worthy of living a life. As Lomax says: “This reality, which significantly impacts African American women and girls’ day-to-day experiences, makes it difficult to fight for “slut-hood,” particularly when one is still demanding to be seen as a full-fledged person with innate dignity and worth.”

The thing is, if a girl is molested, she would be advised not to roam out at night alone. Case in point being the Delhi police commissioner who advises women in Delhi not to roam at night all alone. Not always are woman chided for being’ besharam’ (shameless). Is the ‘besharmi morcha’ (a rally of shame) going to address these attitudes or is it just about the freedom to dress the way they like? I am not implying that freedom to dress is trivial. I really wish I could dress the way I want to without having to worry about people, setting and countless other things. But then when one talks about that without factoring in various other social realities, the whole exercise just seems like a blind import from the West without contextualization. The use of words like sluts, or besharmi would I am afraid alienate a lot of people because not everyone would want to be considered a ‘besharam’ to just walk on the road freely. This is a struggle that is common across womenfolk. But ‘besharmi morcha’ doesn’t seem like addressing that. It is self-defeating if it doesn’t unify women who more or less face the same problem across the society. The bottomline is if your desire (for a safe public space) is alienating women from different classes, then your effort is just pointless.

The main thing with ‘Slutwalks’ is the close connection it has to the way women dress up. Nothing wrong in it. But then in India, slutwalks should go beyond dressing. The point is to crowd streets. The point is to fill up the streets with women. The point is to reclaim the right to public space that has been denied to us. What is the point of dressing in any particular way if a woman doesn’t even enjoy a right to be on a street whenever she wants to be? We need a safe space for a slut, for a burkha clad woman, for a sari clad woman, for a school girl…for everyone.

Oh yes, the girls will get media attention for sure. ‘Sluttishness’ is sexy! Dressing slutty will definitely make for sexy images on page 1 or page 3. It will make for a sexy copy too! But then, what beyond that? Will it address the issue in a deeper way? In my opinion, the issue should be to address issues of street sexual harassment, safety of women in streets, reclaiming public space for women in a holistic way. How do the organisers of the ‘besharmi morcha’ even plan on doing that?

Recent interviews by the organisers have them clarifying again and again that women can dress in whatever clothes they feel like and that there is no pressure to wear anything skimpy. Now what is the point of calling it besharmi morcha? *puzzled*

The campaign (with all its contradictions) is at best a shock raising event. I guess, at the end of the day, even they play a role in a city that is notorious towards women.

Also, NO WOMAN ever asks for it!