Can we, as a mature country, stop pointing an accusing finger at women all the time? How come nobody is giving homilies to men that it is not alright to assault and molest women, as witnessed in Guwahati recently?

In Khalid Hosseini’s heart wrenching and brilliant novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, Nana tells her little daughter Mariam, the protagonist: “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

That story is set in Afghanistan and traverses the country’s 45-year period, beginning with the pro-Soviet era. However much women in the developed world and non-Islamic countries such as India might pity the pathetic state and status of women under the Taliban era in Afghanistan or even Pakistan, in their hearts, they know these searing words hold good for any woman.

Let’s take this comment in the context of the horrendous incident that took place in the heart of Guwahati, where a 17-year-old girl was molested by 11 men — some accounts say 15 — for more than 20 minutes. And this, not in a confined space but a busy street, as shown from the footage captured by a television cameraman.

One needs to have nerves of steel to watch on the Net the footage of that barbaric incident, where the young girl, who is being relentlessly pawed, pushed and pulled brutally by her hair, her top ripped to expose her breasts. She keeps pleading: “Aisa mat karo … tera bhi bahen hei (Please don’t treat me thus; you too have sisters),” but to no avail.

What is even more depressing to watch is that nobody does anything about it. The entire nation has expressed outrage at the incident; some finding fault with the photographer for filming the whole episode instead of helping the victim; others at a member of the National Commission for Women (NCW), Ms Alka Lamba, for making public the girl’s identity. Actually, in the footage, the girl gives her name when the police do arrive, a good 30 minutes later. And, this, despite a police station being barely one km away from the scene of crime.

Another twist

But once everybody had condemned the beasts who assaulted a girl in this horrendous manner, the debate took another turn.

The schoolgirl had come out from a bar where a fight had broken out. So eyebrows were raised at why “respectable” girls should go to bars and drink, or rather, why they should drink at all. After all, isn’t this against our Bharatiya sanskar?

And, then, we had a real gem from the Chairperson of the NCW, Mamata Sharma. If you thought NCW is supposed to bat for women, you thought wrong.

A few days ago, we had a lecture from the honourable lady on how women need to be “careful about the way they dress, because blindly aping the West can result in such incidents.”

After a sermon on how “aping the west is eroding Indian culture”, she deigned to admit that after 64 years of Independence it was not fair to give “such blanket directions” to women. But what to do, the poor woman had no option.

Now, this is absolute rubbish, and of the worst kind. First of all, from what I could see from the footage, the teenager was dressed in a pair of jeans and a top that thousands of Indian women wear.

Where does erosion of Indian culture come if girls/women want to wear jeans? By the way, a young Pakistani cop in Lahore shot his sister dead two days ago for wearing jeans.

And even if the Assamese girl was wearing what Ms Sharma and her ilk might consider “provocative” clothes, isn’t that her own business, or at the most that of her parents or immediate family?

Emboldened, perhaps by the missive let loose by the NCW chief, we now have the Madhya Pradesh Minister for Industries, Mr Kailash Vijayvargiya, lecturing Indian women on their dress code. His words of wisdom: “Women’s fashion, lifestyle and conduct should be in accordance with Indian culture. They should not wear clothes that provoke others. They should dress in such a way that they invoke respect in others.”

Drivel, at best

I am livid at being forced to listen to this kind of drivel. By blaming the poor girl, a mere child of 17, and insinuating that she was responsible for the disgusting behaviour of the morons who attacked and molested her, totally ignoring her repeated pleas for mercy, can we please have somebody lecturing the male devils who assaulted her? Why is it that I am yet to hear any mantras on “Bharatiya sanskriti” being read out to men?

How come no one of any consequence is giving homilies to men that it is not alright to assault and molest women; to paw or pinch them in buses; to stalk them on streets; to kill them for the sake of saving your family’s so-called honour — oh yes, honour killings do happen in India, too — to rape them to show their physical superiority?

Can we as a mature country, a mature people, please stop pointing the accusing finger at women all the time? And, stop lecturing them on how they should dress or behave? One is getting a little tired of trite comments from modest brains that take it for granted that women dress in one fashion or another only to please men, or attract them, or “provoke” them. Most of the time this is the male point of view; it is tragic that the NCW chief fell into that old trap too.

Instead of such nonsense and moral policing, can we have sensible debates on the serious issues that confront Indian women? Such as challenges on adequate health care, sanitation or drinking water, to fetch which millions of Indian women have to move heaven and earth; equal opportunities for education, employment and a supportive environment for employed women? Most of all, how do we ensure a safe environment in which women can move freely without fear of being violently assaulted as happened in Guwahati?

Last, but not the least, let’s talk about a safe home, where girl babies are allowed to be born and not slaughtered in the womb after sex selection tests, or burned because they did not fetch adequate dowry. Forget the streets of Delhi, Guwahati or Patna, our fast declining gender ratio points an accusing finger at the home being the most unsafe place for the girl child, sister, wife or mother. Bharatiya sanskar? Give me a break, please.

Responses to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 23, 2012)
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