The prescription for the protection of women never changes. It is routinely offensive, retrograde and humiliating and it comes from men who feel that women are responsible for sexual violence against them.
The latest to add his two bit worth is an eminently forgettable Hindu Mahasabha vice-president from Haryana who has said that the use of mobile phones by women, tight clothing and jeans arouse the baser instincts in men, leading them to attack women. No one expected the Haryana chief minister to berate this gentleman; in fact, Manohar Lal Khattar shares the same views.
This silence can only encourage the khap panchayats, which have been issuing diktat after diktat about how women should conduct themselves if they do not want to be harmed. This is a matter for all right thinking individuals, both in civil society and politics, to condemn in no uncertain terms.
Mr Khattar presides over a state that prides itself on its islands of cosmopolitanism like Gurgaon, where a large number of women work in corporate houses, which may require them to keep late hours. If nothing else, the government at the Centre should pull up Mr Khattar for his unacceptable remarks and his even more unacceptable silence in the face of remarks from fringe elements like the Hindu Mahasabha, which seem emboldened to pass guidelines on how women should behave.
This apathy will give licence to all sorts of lumpen elements to misbehave with women and then explain their actions away as upholding some mythical culture. The khaps are not democratically elected bodies and their writ has no legitimacy. The law stands far above all this. So honour killings, attacks on women and so on should not be tolerated.
The government at the Centre speaks about taking India forward. But it cannot do so if women have to live in fear of misplaced patriarchal diktats on feminine conduct. The prime minister has done very well to undertake a Clean India campaign. His dynamism has driven this forward and the message has reached millions of people.
Similarly, there should be a campaign for the dignity, autonomy and honour of women, which should be spearheaded by the highest quarters. A new CM, starting on a clean slate, should not blot his copybook so quickly. If these fringe elements understand that they will be penalised for what amounts to incitement of violence against women who do not conform to their code of conduct, they will at least keep their obnoxious views to themselves.