Wearing a skirt is not the problem, insecurity is
Instead of talking about whether foreigners should wear skirts, the Union tourism minister should first provide a sense of security among tourists, both Indian and foreigneditorials Updated: Aug 29, 2016 15:38 IST
Union tourism and culture minister Mahesh Sharma has been known for controversial remarks and conduct during his tenure in the government. His handling of important institutions such as the Nehru Museum and Memorial Library left much to be desired. Once again, he has gone too far in saying women foreign tourists for their own safety should not wear skirts, keeping in mind the canons of ‘Indian culture’. He also said that there would be an advisory to this effect, adding that foreign tourists visiting Mathura and Vrindavan should also have Indian sensitivities in mind. He did not spell out what those Indian sensitivities were.
There are several counts on which the minister’s position can be faulted. There is nothing un-Indian about a woman wearing a skirt and hence there is no harm in a foreign tourist wearing one. There is no codified body of rules on Indian culture that stipulates what a woman, Indian or foreigner, should wear. Moreover, what is the image of India that the minister holds up before the world? Isn’t it that of a country that tells women how to dress? As it is, we as a nation have not done very well on women’s empowerment and preventing atrocities on women. On top of this if a minister comments in this manner, the subjugation of women in India seems to acquire a ring of official sanctity. Presenting one’s own beliefs and prejudices under the guise of ‘Indian culture’ seems to have become a hobby-horse with some people and Mr Sharma seems to be leading the way. In this connection one can recall that the police chief in Andhra Pradesh had said that scantily-clad women provoked rape with the Union home minister of the day having to intervene and rebuke him.
There are many things Mr Sharma could do as minister. He should first provide a sense of security to tourists, both Indian and foreign. In this respect he must take into confidence all the state governments of the country. Then he should step up work on tourism infrastructure and improve connectivity, particularly to the southern states. The World Travel and Tourism Council has estimated that the tourism industry had generated Rs 8.3 lakh crore in 2015 despite all the problems India faces. One of the earliest things that PM Narendra Modi had said after coming to power was that India needed to boost tourism because it helped the poor. With this many other things also get a boost. Hence Mr Sharma could look at those things instead of mollifying certain constituencies by raising non-issues and courting controversy.