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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 16

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Monday 7 April 2008, by Krishna Majumdar



This is with reference to the article “Strengthening Molestation Law for Women’s Safety in India” by Minakshi Sethy and Prabira Sethy in Mainstream (March 8, 2008).

The menace of sexual harassment faced by women everyday is undeniably taking on dangerous proportions. It needs to be looked at very seriously because without a clear understanding of why this phenomenon is spreading so widely across the country, we cannot really hope to combat it, much less get it under control.

In analysing the problem the writers seem to have fallen prey to the commonly held notion that the way ‘women dress and behave’ has something to do with the way they are perceived and treated. In other words, women who follow an approved dress code are safe, others are not. It follows therefore that a women has it in a power to avoid unwanted attentions. If she is victim of such attentions, then she has only herself to blame for she did not try hard enough to dress and behave demurely enough. A classic case of blaming the victim for her woes!

Nothing could be further from the truth. A look at the newspapers reveals that no woman is safe from sexual harassment and/or violence. Little children, young girls, old women; urban or rural, educated or uneducated, poor or not, - there is no female who is secure. Further, statistics show that more than 80 per cent rapes are committed by men known to the women— relatives, neighbours etc. Revealing clothes and suddenly inflamed passions have little to do with it. Indeed in a country like ours where a third of the population lives below the poverty line, millions of women would probably possess no more than a rag to cover themselves with anyway.

(And what of the tens of thousands of poor, rural, lower caste women who routinely face sexual exploitation and violence?)

Neither wearing the ‘correct’ clothes, nor, as the writers’ prescribe, being ‘modest and submissive’ will keep women safe. That is barking up the wrong tree altogether and trivialising something that is a far deeper-rooted and darker side of the patriarchal society that we live in.

Krishna Majumdar
- New Delhi (Editor, Women’s Watch)

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