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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.
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