In the past few weeks, the world has seen women parade the streets in their skimpiest outfits to demand the right to wear what they want without being raped. But in a country with an ever-increasing number of honour killings, dowry deaths, rapes and female feticide, do we want to see young upper class women 'reclaiming the word slut' or fighting for the choice of clothes.
Whether it is the critique of the name 'SlutWalk' or its class-elitism, Delhi chapter of SlutWalk phenomenon has faced the ire of all and sundry. The SlutWalk organizers and a number of critics have derailed from discussing the purpose behind the initiative - fight against blaming of rape victim - to arguments on the word 'slut' itself. Agreed that the organizers' attempt to reclaim the word slut (a misogynist word used by men to oppress women) calls for a critique, but what it also does is re-focus the attention on the name over the movement itself.
SlutWalks started as a wave of protest against blaming of rape-victim as a reaction to a Toronto policeman's remark that 'Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to avoid victimization. In an effort to bring the spotlight to the issues raised by the movement, Indian feminists have urged people to look beyond the problems and appreciate the idea behind it.
At the launch of Granta Magazine's latest issue, The F-Word (feminism), a panel of feminist speakers expressed their thoughts on the future of feminism in India and the much-debated topic of Delhi SlutWalk.
Elaborating on why this particular women's movement has ruffled feathers, Nivedita Menon, a feminist scholar and professor at JNU said, "There are some issues with the Delhi chapter of SlutWalk, the first being the word itself - slut isn't relevant in India, other than the upper class, people wouldn't even know what the word stands for. I don't think it makes sense to use a word, which has no cultural context on the streets of Delhi. "
Despite the issues, she conveyed her support, "Western SlutWalks have faced similar critiques but all critical writings ended with 'We'll join the walk'. We feel the same here, agreed there're many problems but the idea is genuinely feminist - stop blaming the victim. We can make the movement context-sensitive and build solidarity between different classes. I really hope it happens in a legitimate way and becomes a memorable event in the history."
Urvashi Butalia, Director of Zubaan feminist group also expressed her support for the Slutwalk, "With so many rapes happening in Delhi, SlutWalk is a good initiative. The movement just needs a better name with a cultural resonance."
Rape is not so much about looks than about assertion of male power. So when SlutWalkers assert their right to wear what they want, they miss the whole point. You look at the number of women raped in rural India and you'll know - they were not walking around in bikinis. Again, this doesn't mean that the ones who are dressed in swimsuits are asking for it - it only proves that those who put the blame on clothes are actually barking up the wrong tree. If the men can't hold back their sexual urges, they shouldn't put the blame on women's dress.
Vrinda Grover, Delhi-based human rights lawyer, revealed why some feminist critics of SlutWalk have got the wrong end of the stick, "We need to understand that younger people think and protest differently. The older generation needs to be less judgmental. The Jantar Mantar way of protests has always happened but now individuals are coming in the picture. This can be an important learning experience. Already we have seen a progression in this debate, the organisers have been pushed to acknowledge certain issues."
The Indian Slutwalk organizers have renamed the protest as SlutWalk Arthaat Beshrami Morcha to make the movement more inclusive. They have also been performing street plays to reach out to a wider audience from all classes and spread awareness against sexual harassment.
Yes, the word slut has opened a Pandora's Box, but all said and done the intentions are good and the SlutWalk movement has re-ignited debates on women's issues. Hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg, better movements will follow.