Of Clothes, Misogyny, And Cyber-Bullying: What Does The Incident Say About India?

I saw the viral video of six young women confronting a middle-aged woman for slut-shaming them. Shivani Gupta, one of the young women who were at the receiving end, wrote on Facebook, that the older woman asked men at a restaurant to rape her as she was ‘inviting it with her short skirt’.

At the end of the viral video, the older woman looked at the camera and asked the parents of the country to ‘control the girls’. She also asked parents to control what girls wear and asked them to teach their daughters to talk with respect. She clearly looked both, angry, and unapologetic about her words.

When another woman confronted her, asking how she can have such thoughts and opinions despite having a daughter herself, the woman in question replied by saying, “Women should dress properly to avoid rape”. One of the girls present made an important argument by stating:

“Women who wear burqas, suits, sarees get raped. Older women and children get raped. Why? Because of their clothes? Men rape 2-year-old girls, why? Because of what they were wearing?”

In a massive WTF moment, the older woman replied, “Such men are psychic”. The video went viral and plenty of netizens extended their support to the young women, while many condemned them for subjecting the older one to a mob attack and cyber-bullying her. In what can be best described as painful irony or rather hypocrisy, many netizens showered rape threats and vile abusive comments on the older woman’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

Eventually, the woman issued an apology. I don’t know if she said it because she finally understood the implications of the rape culture she tried to perpetuate, or if she was just removing herself from the equation following the viral video in which she refused to apologise.

Either way, I ended up reflecting on the general viewpoint of this country with relation to rape and a woman’s clothing. The Thomas Reuters Foundation released a report last year (vehemently rejected by ultra-nationalists of course) which claimed that India is the most dangerous country in the world for women.

India is a land of many cultures. This doesn’t just involve women wearing sleeveless tops/dresses or short skirts, but highly conservative cultures with conservative dressing styles as well. Plenty of women wear sarees, long skirts, kurtas, burqa/pardah or ghoonghat. The number of rape victims and survivors include women from rural areas and conservative cultures.

Slut-shaming and victim blaming are not new in Indian society. In my opinion, the intense scrutiny and harassment that rape survivors have to endure at the hands of religious fundamentalists, conservatives, and misogynists play a role in making rape such a heinous crime and one of the biggest fears for women.

History shows that sex is used by men as a method to control women. Men who fought wars and won, often raped women in the lands that they conquered. In such cases, the penis replaced the knife as a weapon of war and violence.

It was alleged that Bhanwari Devi was raped by upper caste men as punishment for stopping child marriage. Reports also suggest that young Asifa was raped to scare the Bakarwal Muslim community away. I remember a piece of news involving a Khap Panchayat ordering 12 men to rape a woman as punishment.

So, it is no surprise that the same power structure is used to control what women wear and when they go out and who they go out with. Even today, women undergo a 6 pm curfew. Women face stricter hostel rules than men. Girls are married off and chastised due to such belief systems.

Are Clothes Responsible For Rape?

Just like one of the women in the video said, children, babies, older women, women from conservative cultures also get raped. As a matter of fact, in a majority of rape cases, the survivor/victim was known to the perpetrator.

When I faced verbal harassment for the first time, I was eleven years old and was wearing a churidar. The men who harassed me were in their 20’s and they didn’t bat an eyelid at the fact that I was a minor. On the other hand, plenty of women wear sleeveless clothes and short skirts, yet men are seen on their best behaviour around them. Is it because they know that rape is a crime punishable even with a death sentence (IPC Sec 376E and new POCSO act)?

Men who feel entitled are often fed by the notion that they get to do whatever they want and girls ask for it. Remember Mukesh Singh’s interview?

Nirbhaya’s rapist believed that it was the girl’s fault for roaming around at night and he was a man who was given the death sentence. Also, one of the rapists saw his mother being assaulted by his father. According to a woman who interviewed a 100 rapists, rapists come from the same place where men are taught wrong ideas about masculinity and women are taught to be submissive. Most of the men don’t even know what consent is.

Which brings us to the older woman in the video who represented the patriarchy that perpetuates the notion that girls should be controlled and if they aren’t then they “deserve” to be raped. Sexual assault usually follows aggression and anger. Also, I feel that every time someone tries to spread education about consent or tries to shift the onus from the survivor to the perpetrator, people fueled by malevolent misogyny and fundamentalism drag us 10 steps back.

Victim Blaming And Slut Shaming Are A Part Of Our Culture

Personally, as much as I laud the girls for exposing the woman, I find the whole reaction by the public hypocritical. The older woman has now been subjected to rape threats, probably by the same set of people will shame a girl for stepping out after 6 pm and for wearing what she likes.

When I was in college, I studied with girls from highly conservative backgrounds. I have heard them make really ludicrous comments on women who wear ‘modern’ clothing. In one incident, a teacher, during an interactive session, said, “films depict women showing off their cleavages and belly buttons. Men who see it, crave sex and attack other women.”

When Shivani Gupta shared the video, plenty of men and women in the comments section supported the older woman’s point of view. Which brings us to the fundamental problem, what is our definition of rape?

Religious fundamentalist and conservative society have defined rape as an act of aggression committed by lascivious men against women who are vulnerable, a.k.a, women who don’t have anyone to protect them, women who wear a certain attire, women who don’t conform to strict rules. I am mentioning lascivious men because for some, as much as society wants women to be “pure” and perfect until married, they see sex as a basic necessity for men and that they will crave it no matter what.

I had a WTF moment during an orientation, where a priest taught us that women should stay safe to avoid rape because men can’t control their lust and that women are superior because they can. To make things worse, no one challenged him. Neither men nor women in the audience. I can only assume that the ‘not-all-men’ brigade probably remained silent because the priests wouldn’t use the term “feminist” to describe himself. To them, all that mattered was his lessons to women on how they should be safe from rape, i.e how their autonomy will be controlled in the name of safety.

I had a debate online with a man who insisted that rape happens because it is part of nature and women can only prevent it by doing what they can to be safe.

Anyway, as mentioned before this view on rape is taking us on a dangerous path. Rape is any form of sexual activity where one or neither party consented to the act. If a husband forces himself on his wife, it is rape. If a boyfriend does that, it is rape. If a man forces himself on a woman who didn’t give a verbal yes, it is rape. Same is the case if the roles are reversed.

Rape is a violation of an individual’s bodily integrity and autonomy and it need not always be a violent act committed by a stranger. So, every time, a woman is told that she will be raped, it is indirectly implied that men will rape no matter what and this (temporarily) erases the fact that it is a crime where power structure plays a crucial role. A daughter is raped because a son commits the crime. That is where the onus should be.

It is similar to what is mentioned in the movie ‘Pink’, we need to save the boys so that girls don’t need saving. That’s where the older woman failed. She asked seven men to rape other women or gave them the idea that girls should be punished for not following a particular dress code.

We can do better. We should upgrade our thinking and not remain chained by age-old beliefs that throw women’s rights under the bus.

The Indian constitution drafted women’s rights, it is up to the people to ensure that these rights are implemented.

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