With discussions about women's clothing inviting trouble making the rounds, I remember an incident from a few years ago. I went out for a drink with a large group of friends. I wore a comfortable pair of old knee length shorts and a t shirt. My shorts were a bit weathered and torn and one of my friends thought it would be no big deal to slide his hands up one of the tatters. He was wrong. The same night, I neatly folded my shorts, put them away and never wore them again. They gather dust in my cupboard but I miss them. They were the most comfortable pair of shorts I owned – old, filled with memories and a gift from a friend. That night this guy thought that since my shorts were torn, I was easy. And It wasn't just him that made that connection. My then boyfriend also said “Of course, with those shorts, what did you expect?”
I'll tell you what I expect. I expect that when I wear something, or smoke a cigarette in public, or go on a night-out with just my girlfriends, I am in no way asking to be touched. I wear the kind of clothes that I do because when I look in the mirror I feel good – I feel confident, comfortable and most of all, I feel me. It is my own right to choose what I wear and how I express myself. Be it a pair of shorts, jeans, three-fourths, a bright red kurta or a silk saree. What I wear in no way translates to permission to grope me.
Yes, of course it would have made a bigger impact for me to begin this piece with an anecdote about how I got felt up in a kurta or a burkha. But the focus isn't what I'm wearing but what happened. My thigh was grazed by fingers without my consent. And the fact that I was wearing a pair of shorts shouldn't be considered as evidence in this case.
In this whole discussion about the relation between clothes and rape, where do men stand? We are assuming here that regardless of what women wear, men are like hungry dogs. Salivating over every mini-skirt and spaghetti top that passes by. We assume that men have no self control whatsoever. And with that we assume that the only way to fix the problem is by telling women what to wear.
I understand that by what I've just said, you assume that I only blame this on the mindset of men. While actually the problem lies in the way all of us think, refer and talk about the things we see. A large part of this very thinking is enforced by women - Mothers who tell their sons and daughters that women dressing a certain way Is wrong. When you publicize your judgements about a woman's clothing on to your children, you endorse molestation. It's that simple. The only way that this relation between clothing and rape is going to stop is if we stop labelling people based on what they wear. If you tell your son that a certain woman is dressed inappropriately, he will think the woman is easy and that touching her without her consent won't be wrong.
This is not a feminist issue. It is a human rights issue. Men are also groped, molested and raped. Every man I know has been groped by men and women. Nobody likes to be touched when not asked for. Touching somebody without their consent is simply an inhuman thing to do. Period.
I am forced to return to talk about sexuality. The lack of sex education in this country causes us to repress our sexuality so much that the so called “eve-teasing” is so common that it is expected. As a woman, I can safely say that I get cat calls, felt up or flashed at least once a week. That's over 50 times a year. And this is one woman's experience. And at the end of it, it doesn't matter what I'm wearing.
Today, I'm ashamed to say that I am from Bangalore City. The first city in the world to cancel SlutWalk. A global movement that was cancelled simply because the Bangalore Police succumbed to the protests from right wing groups. Instead of protecting the thousand citizens that wanted to walk for safety of their men and women, they cancelled it because right wing groups protested. What does that say about our police? That when I'm out on the streets in the night, wearing a pair of jeans and a t shirt, I will always be the victim and I will always be the cause. My safety along with so many others is compromised.
Regardless of all these people who make up the terrible world we live in, I see hope and therefore applaud the vice chancellor of Bangalore University to say that what this city needs is a change of mindset. That is what will stop victim blaming. Educate your children, let them know that nobody asks to be touched without consent – their clothes don't, their habits don't, their lifestyle doesn't. A sexual act without consent is wrong. There are no two ways about it. What we need is for people to start treating each other like human beings. Nobody asks to be raped – and most importantly their clothes don't.