Dinesh Reddy, the DGP of Andhra Pradesh, in a widely televised statement recently, blamed the rise in rape cases on women wearing ‘fashionable’ clothes. He said the police could do nothing to deter rapists, as long as women ‘provoked’ men by wearing ‘fashionable’ clothing. Even rural women, he said, provoked men by wearing ‘salwar kameez’ instead of ‘traditional’ clothes. He also said that when men ate food that created ‘josh’ (excitement), it made them act in ‘naughty’ ways, which the police was helpless to stop.
What Reddy is doing is blaming victims themselves for the crime of rape! What Reddy is saying is that rape is not an act of violence, involving physical assault and mental humiliation of the victim. If rape is ‘naughtiness’ caused by ‘excitement’ or sexual response to ‘provocative clothes,’ then rapists can always be excused!
Nor is Reddy alone in his sentiments. Of course, other top cops like KPS Gill have expressed identical remarks in the past. Reddy’s remarks were justified by Karnataka’s Women and Child Welfare Minister C C Patil, and even by the head of the committee against sexual harassment in Bangalore University, KK Seethamma!
Nor are such ideas restricted to some lunatic right-wing fringe. Take the discussion on the moral policing issue on ‘Face the Nation’, a prominent show on CNN-IBN. The host, CNN-IBN’s Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose, argued that rape was a serious crime that should not be trivialised – unlike ‘eve-teasing’, sexual harassment etc… Did she mean that victim-blaming was acceptable in cases of ‘lesser’ crimes like sexual harassment?! Moreover, she repeatedly asked if women, by insisting on their right to wear any clothing of their choice, were participating in their own commodification. Calling for a debate on women inviting commodification, at a time when women’s choice of clothing is being blamed for inviting sexual violence, is rather like Vajpayee calling for a debate on conversion when the Staines family had been burnt alive! There is never any debate on whether men who follow fashions or build ‘six-pack abs’ are ‘commodifying’ themselves. Clearly, such pseudo-progressive debates on women’s choice of clothing happen only to camouflage the patriarchal sentiment that women’s clothes are to blame for ‘provoking’ rape. Such debates do not happen in the case of men’s choice of clothes, because men never have to fear being accused of ‘provoking’ anyone into raping them.
The first ‘Slutwalk’ protest in Toronto was held by women outraged by the Canadian counterpart of DGP Reddy. In India, the Slutwalk (Besharmi Morcha) protests were subjected to derision by the media. The HT, in an editorial, derided women for ‘aspiring to slutdom’ and wanting the freedom to ‘dress like sluts’, and also sniggered that women avoided turning up dressed skimpily at the protest for fear that they would get ‘unwanted male attention.’ In other words, HT’s editorial repeated the notion that skimpy clothing invites sexual harassment! The TOI, in a report on Slutwalk, carried photos of women’s legs in skirts, taken from below! Almost all media reports expressed surprise that women in the Indian Slutwalk did not ‘dress provocatively’ but only wore ordinary daily wear.
Women were protesting precisely to make the point that sexual harassment and violence cannot be justified by claiming that women’s clothes or behaviour is ‘provocative’. Yet, the media missed the point entirely, echoing the very notions against which the protest was held! And in Bangalore, the police cancelled permission for the Slutwalk on the pretext that – it might ‘provoke’ the Sri Ram Sene goons into attacking it!!
We need to have a no-tolerance approach to this insidious habit of victim-blaming to justify sexual violence. Perhaps we can begin by mobilising women to agitate for the dismissal of those in official positions who indulge in victim-blaming or moral policing.