Do women in “DECENT” clothes escape harassment?

Posted: July 20, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

My ex-colleague Sarah Salvadore is just livid at NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma’s advice to women to dress carefully.

She wrote on her FB status: The NCW wants women to “dress carefully”, this coming from a commission that revealed the identity of the Guwahati victim. Ladies, we are better off without a commission for women, which is absolutely toothless and sexist.

I would rather go by what Sarah says and not some chairperson of NCW, who, it is very clear, is living back in time. Because I know for a fact Sarah is speaking from experience. She has actually worked as an undercover reporter in Times Of India, Kolkata and exposed how risky the city can be for a woman.

 Sarah had posed as a girl, whose delayed train arrival at Howrah Station had put her in a spot late in the night, because she didn’t know where to find a hotel. She was taken to the seediest hotels by a taxi driver, taken to the darkest corner of Metiabruz and told it was Park Street. She was subjected to perverse scrutiny by lobby managers and waiters who were hoping to bait the fish (and then do what, God only knows). Well! Sarah was dressed decently but her only crime was, her train had arrived late and she didn’t know the city well – a situation that any woman, non-pubbing and non-spaghetti-strap flaunting kinds – can get into, unless of course Mamta Sharma (strange how it’s Mamta every time) doesn’t approve of a woman travelling alone.

Is it really about clothes?

Anyway, clothes have nothing to do with sexual assault, it has been proved the world over, it’s high-time the NCW shed such archaic beliefs.

I am, like so many women out there, really confused about what’s exactly decent dressing though. Because if you are talking about a saree, I have often worn them to college on a cramped public bus and the hands got frenetic on my bare skin on the back. Now I cannot see myself putting on anything but an airhostess-cut blouse (it covers the back completely) whenever I wear a saree.

If you are talking about a salwar kurta with a generous dupatta covering the front, it does help, to minimize the groping from 10 to maybe four, on good days that is. But does it allow full cover from the perverts? No, not really.

A trouser can be provocative

Then there is the trouser paired with a full-sleeve shirt – does it help in any way? It doesn’t either.

I will talk about an incident here to present my view better. I remember I was looking particularly corporate kinds that day because I had dressed up for an important interview. I was returning home in a cab and the cabbie had a faulty meter and the bill was atrociously high. I got into an altercation with him and the cabbie tried hard to rally support from some men passing by. A group of drunk men, barged into our conversation. When I told them not to interfere, they got really aggressive and said, “What the **** do you think of yourself? Since you are wearing pants and having a mobile you think no end of yourself. We can teach you a lesson right here.”

It was 10pm, right in front of my apartment in Garia. I just took the cell phone and called our crime reporter and said loudly, “This is the number of the cab tell the OC of Garia Police Station to reach here immediately.” Hearing my conversation the cabbie instantly got behind the steering and fled leaving me to deal with the drunkards who were getting dangerously close and abusive now. Thankfully a few people came out from the neighbouring shops and my apartment. The OC didn’t have to finally intervene but I still get goose bumps when I think of that day.

The salwar kurta didn’t save my day, the police did

On another occasion I was, returning from work, in my first car, a khatara red second-hand Maruti, driven by my equally hopeless driver. Just a few yards away from office, on SN Banerjee Road, the car broke down. The driver kept trying to fix it while I stood next to him. The crowd started building up, then the questions, sneers and smirks started coming as if I had done something wrong. I looked for cover inside the car and the driver continued with his explanations but the crowd didn’t budge. I had the choice of leaving the car in my office which was difficult, because I would have had to push it against the flow on a one-way road or leave it at the police station which was just ahead. It was almost 10.30 pm by then. I chose the latter. The police readily agreed to watch over my car that night and graciously offered me tea when I went back in the morning to pick it up.

When I look back on that day the behavior of the crowd around me just gives me the chills – the nasty comments, the jeering and the uncomfortable proximity – all for what? I really don’t have an explanation. By the way, I was in a salwar kurta that day, mind it!

  1. Vineeta Kaul says:

    I totally agree that dress has nothing to do with molestations. It is the predatory mindset of males ( Indian and worldwide) that thinks women as prey for their pleasure— no end to media highlights– Nithari, Tandoor case,Jessica, Goa, Guwahati or Kolkata —–but societal change will not come easy. Exemplary punishments not immediate bail from court might warn others from trying same thing and offer some solace to women affected.

    • amritaspeaks says:

      Dear Dr Kaul, thank you very much for your valuable comment. I completely agree with you that exemplary punishment that would create fear, is the first and foremost step that every state Government should take now.

  2. Sarah Salvadore says:

    Fab Amritadi. Was eagerly awaiting your blog post on this. I remember all those days when we would spend considerable amounts of time sharing our stories of being harassed on the streets – a few good productive hours that could have been spent either working or simply enjoying our evening cuppa. Sadly, not much has changed.

    • amritaspeaks says:

      Hi Sarah, yes I remember too. In fact putting our heads together we can write a journal on all the harassment we have faced on SN Banerjee Road alone. Sad that the onus is still on women to dress properly and protect themselves. I am waiting for the day when maybe NCW will also come up with a few behavioural pointers for men.

  3. kiran says:

    What are the consequences for somebody who commits sexual harassment ? Nil.

    How good is our legal system to prosecute each such complaints justly and swiftly ? Neither just nor swift.

    I don’t know how many daughters have to suffer in India before these basic things are set right.

  4. bob says:

    I don’t agree with your one-sided views. As usual, you have only thought of short term cause and effects which will get you nowhere. Yes, NCW has become a bunch of nags who cause more harm than good for men and women in India. However, who performs this so-called harrasment and why?
    Let me enlighten you, women. Women think that Bachelors are scoundrels, while married men are gentlemen. However, they are ignorant of the fact that the same people who harrass women have been promoted and encouraged to do these acts by married men and WOMEN in our society. Yes, even by members of NCW. Who do you think encourages local toughs and hoodlums to scare and beat up their daughters boyfriends and drive them away from the neighborhood? Who do you think encourages local punks to threaten their sons if they are not focusing on their studies because they are in love with some girl. That’s correct, our local uncles and aunties in our neighborhoods. Do you recognise these local toughs and punks of the past? They are the same men who have now progressed one step further to harrass women because it has become a habit for them.
    However, now local society’s married men and women accuse these eligible bachelors of harrasment, but they can do little to the monsters which they themselves have created.
    I thank all women in India for giving unconditional respect to married men, and looking down on bachelors, simply because they haven’t married as yet. Bachelors are better off not marrying women like you. Really its true!!!!

    Solution: You want to blame someone, look in the mirror. It may look ugly, but hey, the Truth Hurts!!!!

    • amritaspeaks says:

      Dear Bob,
      You have come up with some interesting issues but nowhere in my blog have I pinpointed bachelors for harassing women. And nowhere have I said that married men are saints.


  5. Indranil Halder says:

    Dear Amrita,
    Thank you once again for your article. I remember when I attend the first international student orientation , we were told by the international student advisor of University of Wollongong that Australian women wear mini skirts in university does not mean invitation for sex. Well, now that you have raised the question- Does women dressed carefully means a better world for women without sexual harassment? The simple answer is: No and which you correctly pointed out. Especially in a country which was never declared Terra Nullius but on the other hand enjoyed several 1000 of years of cultured society where women dressed focusing on their sexuality. Here is a section from ‘The Harmony of the Young Sapling Sutra’ about Indian women and her exhibition of sexuality-Sudhana saw the lay disciple Prabhuta upon a seat made of the precious gems and metals. She was a very young woman: beautiful, gentle, and fair to behold with the first touch of youth…Her limbs were without ornament. Herpetticoats and sari were white. Aside from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, no one comes to see her whom she does not overwhelm with her physical and mental superiority, the luster of her spiritual fire, her exquisite complexion, and her beauty.’ which shows the celebration of Indian female sexuality in the very Indian society which is now known for gang rape and so on… How can such a well cultured society be so uncultured in matter of time ? I think there is one key element missing and that is: Sex Education. India was a pioneer but in modern time has not progressed much. So it would be good idea for education people to help achieve a basic structure for sex education from young to old no matter where they live in Indian rural or metropolitan areas. We have to give credit to media people to bring such criminal incidents to the attention of the core Indian mass for a great debate , better understanding and progressive development.

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