Rape claims expose true shame of male bigotry

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2012, 12:00am


Women tourists visiting India can take to heart a string of comments by senior Indian officials attributing rape to the way women dress. The remarks were about Indian women, not tourists, but it should concern women visitors because it shows the male Indian mentality - both in ordinary men who view foreign women as 'easy', and in the police - is regressive in the extreme.

Andhra Pradesh police chief Dinesh Reddy said two weeks ago that provocative clothing accounted for the rising number of rapes. A couple of days later, a cabinet minister in Karnataka, C.C. Patil, remarked: 'I don't favour women wearing provocative clothes and always feel they need to be dignified in whatever they wear.'

Even worse, perhaps, because it came from a woman, was the comment by K.K. Seethamma, head of a committee against sexual harassment at Bangalore University, that women are raped because they tempt men with 'obscene' clothes. She also advocated a dress code for girls on campus and expatiated on how women, to be safe, must wear only saris with long-sleeved blouses. (What is meant to be done with the bare midriff, I'm not sure).

First, such officials should be sacked immediately, and India really needs to embark on a belated debate on women's rights.

Feminism has been confined to the pages of one or two magazines and to women's groups preaching to the converted. It has never pervaded the national media.

Educated and affluent Indians are as bigoted as villagers and this perverse thinking has never been systematically exposed. As a result, awareness of women's rights has been limited to tiny pockets instead of what is needed - wholesale scrutiny and rebuttal of antediluvian ideas so that no right-thinking Indian will ever dare to express them again.

That, to an extent, is what has happened to caste, thanks to exhaustive discussion of the topic. Indians may harbour all kinds of prejudices against low-caste Hindus but generally do not dare to air them in polite company; people know that it's unacceptable. Contrast this with Reddy who felt relaxed enough during a packed press conference to blame women for inviting rape.

This denigration of Indian women is distressingly widespread. Harass them, ogle them, beat them, burn them, rape them, divorce them if they don't produce a male child, keep them down, keep them in their place - the whole of society oozes this sick mentality.

Only when people like Reddy, Patil and Seethamma are sacked - and the reasons for their dismissal debated - will it be possible, eventually, to turn the tide against this hatred for women.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India