It was a bad day for Dr Mahesh Sharma, the Union minister for tourism and culture when at a recent press conference, he once again brought into the spotlight the regressive nature of some of our politicians, a throwback to the dark ages.
When asked about general advice to be given to tourists, he said a booklet would be issued to them once they arrive, with a list of dos and don’ts which also included advice for female tourists to avoid wearing short dresses and skirts and to avoid walking alone at night.
When asked by an astute reporter about what difference a female’s clothing would have to do with anything, he clarified by saying that he did not mean to bring clothing into the discussion, but he was urging tourists to exercise caution. But the damage had been done with his first comment.
With outrage across Twitter and various media platforms, it was probably inevitable that he chose to retreat from his comments and issue a statement saying he meant it was not appropriate to wear such clothing to temples.
Many users labelled him a misogynist, some called him a bigot, even Mr Arvind Kejriwal did not spare him by tweeting that women, in Vedic times, could wear what they wanted, unlike now, in ‘Modi’ times.
Subjugation of Women
While all this can be taken as one ignorant
man’s opinion, this is one more example of what women are going through across the
world. While in Saudi Arabia, an abaya is mandatory, in France debate is raging on the move to ban the modern Muslim woman’s swimming costume, the ‘Burkini’. While in
Canada, a teenager was suspended for wearing a halter dress, jeans, and mobiles
have been prohibited for women in many villages in northern India.
And funnily enough, this subjugation can be found right in our very homes. Starting from the time a girl, when she becomes a teenager, is told she cannot wear short dresses, mini-skirts, even sleeve-less tops. Mothers fret and fume, saying it makes them look inappropriate, that men will stare at them and will bring shame to the family. Or the ever classic ‘what will the neighbours say?’
Fathers tell the girls, boys will target you if you wear something short or revealing, why invite trouble. It could be a mother’s anxiety and a father’s protectiveness, but what the girl is left with is a feeling of shame and a lifelong struggle with societal ‘norms’ and her own perception of self. It gives way to a feeling of shame when an auto-driver looks at one’s breasts through his rear-view mirror or when a bunch of teenage boys make catcalls, essentially making the victim a culprit in the eyes of society and the girl herself.
Justifying Crime Against Women
Comments like those by Mahesh Sharma reinforce the fact that women have no actual freedom in our country. Telling a woman how to dress points to the very fact that the miscreants who commit atrocities against women are somehow justified and given an excuse to get away with their crimes.
She was raped? Was she wearing a dress? Maybe she was asking for it. If
the clothes are the crime, what about the scores of women who are in the eyes
of the ‘powers that be’ dressed appropriately, who are still raped and
tortured? What about the women who face harassment at work, just because they
One may laugh at the silliness of Dr Mahesh Sharma’s comment, but it does point to the harsh truth of us living in a
bigoted and misogynistic society , giving us a glimpse of what lies underneath.
And it points to a much more sinister aspect, that of women’s safety in
our country. It paints a very poor picture of the state of affairs when
countries across the world have issued their own list of dos and don’ts while
traveling in India.
For instance, women travelling from the United Kingdom are advised to exercise caution since ‘reported cases of sexual assault against women and young girls are increasing’, it also urges travellers to think about how their clothing will fit in with the local customs’, it also advises women to wear a wedding ring to help avoid harassment. The USA tells its women travellers to ‘avoid use of public transport after dark without the company of known and trust-worthy companions.’
That comments like these are mere excuses to hide behind a curtain that propagates more subjugation and harassment of women is a sad reminder that women, as a sex, are treated as inferior.
Dr Mahesh Sharma is clearly not the problem, but merely a symptom of the problem of the general subjugation of women.
(The writer is a post graduate in radio-diagnosis and is interested in human interest stories. She can be reached at @virtualkarma. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)