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Ode to all immodest women

Posted: May 12, 2011

Yesterday, a National Conference Minister in J&K, Ghulam Saloora, was arrested for abusing a woman in an incident that seems to have begun as a spat on the road. One of the sections under which the Minister was charged is Section 354, which deals with “Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty.” Now, it is not clear whether Saloora attempted to sexually molest the woman, or whether it was an incident of road-rage and abuse of power, as is becoming all too common.

What struck me though is how our IPC is still stuck in the coat-skirts of Victorian morality that deem it essential for a woman to have her modesty intact. After all, if a woman has no modesty, how can it be outraged? Instead of calling it sexual harassment, which describes the actions of the culprit, the law itself focus on the actions of the victim! And immodesty could be defined in any number of ways, which our knowledgeable legal experts do by asking questions such as:

– What was she doing there?

– What was she doing there at that time?

– What was she wearing?

– Why has she had so many partners before?

– Why did she have a drink?

– Why did she have more than one drink?

– Why is she divorced?

– Why did she agree to meet this man? (who later attacked her)

The list goes on and on. After all, modesty is a convenient catch-call – it allows us to worship women as Devis and at the same time, watch carefully for the smallest sign that they will fall off their shaky pedestal.

Well, guess what? We are not modest women. If we want to have a drink, we will and if we don’t want to, we won’t. If we want to wear jeans, we will, just as we will turn around and wear a kanjeevaram tomorrow, and load flowers into our hair – if we want to. We will sleep with no men that we don’t want to (just because you set an imaginary cut-off age for marriage), but if we sleep with every man that we want to (and who wants us!), what bugs you? We have as much rights to the road as anyone else, because we are as much citizens of this country as anyone else. We pay our taxes which pave the roads and no one dare tell us that we shouldn’t be walking on it.

We don’t believe in vekkam, maanam, haya, sharam, shame – whatever you choose to call it. What do we have to be ashamed for? Our reproductive system, which is the one thing that differentiates us from men, and without which, no one else would be here – that is a cause for shame? Sorry, we refuse to buy it.

We do not ask for protection ‘because’ of our modesty. We ask for protection not because we are special creatures. We demand protection, and for culprits to be punished effectively, precisely because we are no different from any other citizen of this country.

As for those who believe that modesty guarantees protection, ask the innocent little girls in this country who are abused, the women raped when working in the fields in rural areas – who wear sarees and cover their heads, the widows in sombre clothes, left to the depradations of men in the family – ask them what modesty has done for them.

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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Vaginal Health & Reproductive Health - योनि का स्वास्थ्य एवं प्रजनन स्वास्थ्य (in Hindi)



  1. So very well written. Somehow I keep remembering one scene from the movie Gandhi where he mentioned that independence means not only independence from English hands but independence should be for every one, including lower casts and women. We are independent now for more than 60 years but women are still looked upon as dependent in India.

    • I do think we need to change the way women are perceived as dependents. I feel no application form should allow a man to say that his wife is his dependent. She is his equal and should be given that status.

  2. Spot on. BTW, protection is what an evolved society ensures that all its law abiding citizens have by default. You don’t let the thief roam the streets after you’ve caught him and hide your valuables do you? So why hide the woman and let the perpetrator roam the streets free?

  3. We have a long way from the definition of ‘Karpu’ or chastity which generally applied to womenfolk. Even as a teenager I have wondered why men were never expected to be chaste. It was okay for them to have a ‘chinna veedu’ and to visit prostitutes. No wonder then that the law questions the action, modesty and what not of the victim of harassment/abuse rather than that of the culprit.

    To my mind the only way to be allowed to stand up for a woman’s right is to educate and empower her and enable her be part of law enforcement/enactment etc. In a country which endorses the wife beating tendency of husband saying that the wife needs to take care to keep him happy or be prepared to get thrashed it won’t be easy to change the mind set of the society. However, that does not mean that we ought not to speak out and stand up.

  4. Ekdum absolutely correct. Very well said, and I thank you for saying it like it is, right there for everyone to read and understand.

  5. Thanks all for your comments.

    @Chandrima – absolutely. and there are many who would like to keep us submissive – in the garb of safety or culture.

    Agnija – your analogy is spot on. We should lock up the rapists and molestors, so that all decent people can live in peace!

    @Hip Grandma – for a man, having a second wife is symbol of both his virility and his wealth; of course, a woman who does the same is simply immoral!

    @Vidyut – welcome, and thanks for your good words.

    You may all also like to read this article about Niira Radia that I came across today – http://www.firstpost.com/politics/the-unconscionable-hotness-of-niira-radia-8589.html – it is on similiar double standards.

  6. Oh, well said! *applauds*

  7. Pingback: The Women Behind Women’s Web: Aparna V. Singh | Women's Web: Online Community For Indian Women

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