After weeks of promotion and preparation for the ‘Delhi SlutWalk’ — organized in protest against the growing incidents of sexual violence towards women — Delhi women, and more specifically the students of Delhi University (DU) who were the real people behind the walk, proved on Sunday, July 31, that not only can they talk the talk, but they can also walk the walk.
Taking inspiration from SlutWalks held in several cities around the world, a group of girls felt it was time to join the global chorus of women protesting against sexual violence towards women.
They organized themselves and planned a march at Jantar Mantar in Delhi to voice their concern and anger at the alarmingly growing incidents of sexual violence in Delhi, and in India at large.
According to a statement by the organizers, “SlutWalk Delhi is a movement against perpetrators of sexual crimes, against the mindset that looks down upon anything that is perceived as independent and expressive. This is why we are walking; walking with pride.” “[It] is an attempt to reclaim our public space.”
The Day of the March
On a hot and humid Sunday morning, women (with an equal number of men) turned out in droves at Jantar Mantar, the site for the walk, to march in protest.
Women chanted slogans and held signs expressing their sense of indignation felt due to the increasing incidents of sexual violence and harassment, and at the tacit tolerance of such a practice by society.
For instance, you could see placards that read: “Stop staring, ladki tere baap ki jagir nahi”; “Fight for my freedom began from the day I was born”; “My dress is not a Yes”; “Nazar teri buri, burkha main pehnu?” and “I have got nothing to be ashamed of.”
And then there were people chanting slogans saying: “Rok lagao, rok lagao, ched-chaad per rok lagao”; “Bharat desh mahan hai, ladkiyon ke bina shamshaan hai”; and “Nari ka sammaan karo, mat uska apmaan karo.”
Then later in the day, at the end of the march, there was even a street play performed by the Asmita Theatre group, which tried to “engage in dialogue directly with the public and create awareness,” to quote Arvind Gaur, the director, as reported by the Hindustan Times.
The only celebrity that could be sighted at the walk was the actress and social activist, Nafisa Ali.
Dressed In Their Sunday Best
Judging by the SlutWalks held in the West, people expected women to dress provocatively to drive home their message that what they wear does not justify sexual harassment. However, in striking contrast to other SlutWalks, most women dressed the way they usually dress. Most women were in Jeans and T-Shirt, Shalwar-Kamiz, and a very few in skirts and shorts.
The only women who were dressed a bit provocatively were a few Westerners, but they only seemed provocatively dressed in the Indian context. Back in their own country they would have seemed nothing out of the ordinary.
Umang Sabharwal, a 19-year-old Delhi University student and organizer for the walk, is quoted in the press to have said, “We are all dressed up the way all of us would be on any other day, and that is precisely the point. Because clothes are never the reason behind any exploitation, the existence is enough.” (Link)
I am Woman, Hear Me Roar
In conversations with some of the participants of the walk, women time and again expressed their desire to be free — free from being victimized by men and society.
Shivani Tiwari, a DU student from the Shri Ram College of Commerce said: “I’m here because I want to live in a city where I can move freely at whatever time in the day. I don’t want to be scared that I might get raped or assaulted … if I go out into the city at 3 a.m. or 4. I want my right [to feel safe] and that’s all.”
Mansi Negi, a student of Journalism at DU expressed her individuality by demanding her right to make her own choices. “I feel it’s our choice, we choose what we want to wear,” said Negi.
In explaining the message behind SlutWalk, Anna Matussek, a German expatriate, who happened to be attending her first SlutWalk said: “The whole message of SlutWalk everywhere … is that you shouldn’t blame the victim. Whenever sexual violence happens, you cannot say, Oh she shouldn’t have been late out at night, she shouldn’t have been drinking, she shouldn’t have been wearing a short skirt. You know, these are the things people say.”
Belinda Fleischmann, a Swiss expatriate, speaking on the meaning and importance of the event said: “There is definitely a want for a change, and to start a dialogue and really change of how women are perceived in this country.”
She went on further to say, and I paraphrase: though SlutWalk focuses more on appearance, and on how women are dressed, there is a greater cause for concern in relation to ordinary women from the poorer sections of the society. These women are raped and sexually assaulted while doing something as routine as going to the fields in the morning to relieve themselves, because there aren’t any toilets in their homes. And this kind of victimization has nothing to do with how they are dressed.
It bears mentioning, Fleishmann is in the country to work on water and sanitation projects, and speaks with a sense of authority on the issue.
No Representation From Jamia
Although students were at the forefront of the walk, in organizing and in participation, there were, however, hardly any students from Jamia.
Jamia Journal did manage to spot a few guys from our university; but, we failed to find even a single girl from Jamia. And if there were any, there were too few to be noticed.
In conversations with some of the students on campus later on, it seemed like the message of the SlutWalk got garbled during the campaign, and as a result was misunderstood.
The name ‘SlutWalk’ a.k.a ‘Besharmi Morcha’ gave an impression to most people that the walk stood for something obscene.
Students, Jamia Journal spoke to, believe that girls behind the walk were demanding freedom to dress as indecently as they wished; to the extent of dressing like sluts.
Maneesha Tripathi, a postgraduate student of Political Science in Jamia, agreed with the idea behind the walk and believed no matter how a girl was dressed, it didn’t justify sexual harassment. She, however, did not like the idea of women demanding a right to dress like sluts. And that is why she didn’t go to the march to support it.
“I agree girls should be allowed to wear anything they want,” said Tripathi, “but what SlutWalk was asking for … tareeka ghalat tha (the manner was wrong).”
“What do you want, the right to be called a slut?” she asked rhetorically.
Similar views were expressed by Nihan Hassan, another postgraduate student of Political Science. “I don’t think dressing in an obscene way is a correct way to make the other, opposite sex know your views about molesting girls.” “I’m not in favor of that.”
This fundamental misunderstanding on the motive and purpose of the march was probably the reason why the rally could only draw a few hundred people; while on the other hand, any significant rally in Delhi can easily draw on thousands of people.
Organizers of Delhi SlutWalk at the end of the march announced their intention to hold another SlutWalk next year; but one would suspect, if either the name isn’t changed to suit Indian sensibilities, or if the message isn’t made clearer, the march will again fail to attract women from all sections of society.
Scenes From the Event
*click on an image to enlarge.