Organisers of India’s first Besharmi Morcha, or “SlutWalk,” plan to make it an annual affair even though the response to the maiden show on Sunday came nowhere close to the hype and expectations created over social networking sites.
About 5,000 people had signed up on facebook expressing their support; at least 500 were expected to join Sunday’s march; eventually, just about 50 showed up. And there were more men than women there.
Although the rain played a spoilsport, the poor attendance at the rally pointed to Bhopal’s conservative social fabric that might have kept many residents from joining. It also underscored the downside of mobilizing support for a cause through social networking sites – it often fails to translate from virtual to real.
“We are very disappointed that women did not turn up for the walk. This is about them,´ said Swati Singh Baghel, one of the organisers. “However, the presence of men has clearly given us a boost.”
Organisers also pointed to rules at girls’ hostels in Bhopal that require inmates to cite a valid reason to step out of their hostel on a Sunday.
There was a better turnout at an open forum discussion on the subject held after the march. Speakers at the forum included Inspector General of Police Shailendra Srivastav, former district judge of Bhopal Renu Sharma and psychologist Vinay Mishra.
The SlutWalk protest originated in Toronto, Canada on April 3 this year after a Toronto police officer suggested that to remain safe, "women should avoid dressing like sluts.”
The protest walk has already been held in Boston, Melbourne and London among other cities.
Groups in New Delhi and Mumbai plan to hold similar protests in weeks to come. In Bhopal, the protesters said they were not giving up, despite Sunday’s lukewarm response.
“We are going ahead and registering our group as an NGO. We will help not only women but youth in distress too. Also, we aim to make such rallies a yearly affair to create awareness among people,” said Radhika Shingwekar, one of the organisers.