Update: 31st July 2011

The walk had postponed, and was scheduled to happen today. I have so far not recieved any confirmation whether it did happen or not, also didn’t see any photos or any reports online. I will keep updating this space with more info.

Twitter is my central portal for information related to the city, country and world and Facebook is the place for updates on real life friends. Couple of days back I noticed a certain hashtag #slutwalk was trending on Twitter. In no time my Facebook friends started sending me invitations to a certain event Slut Walk Delhi. And then IBN Live reported that on 25th June 2011 Delhi will see its ‘first ever’ slut walk.

When you hear the words ‘first ever’ you perhaps assume that it is something that has been there for a long time and only now Delhi will see its ‘first ever’. But that’s not the case. Slut Walk is a brand new movement that started in Toronto, Canada in April 2011 and have since then spread to various other western cities like, London, Melbourne, Brisbane, Montreal, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Hamilton, San Diego and Vancouver to name a few. Delhi is the first Asian city to follow suit.

Now what does a slut walk in Delhi mean?

‘Slut’ – the word entered Indian people’s vocabulary through international movies and TV series as part of the cultural change that took place post the cable TV. The exact dictionary meaning of the word is unknown and irrelevant to most Indians but the most common meaning is ‘a woman who is ‘easy.’ While there is no doubt that the word is an abuse the ‘abuse quotient’ is not clear. For one, it was rather surprising for me to see the characters of the popular TV series FRIENDS using the word quite frequently in their conversations, although the series had a clean language policy and had never used the F word or middle finger.

Every word has a different meaning in different culture. So I am curious what does the word slut mean in the Indian context? Consequently what does a slut walk mean?To begin with the word is not in common use. Surely we have a parallel Hindi abuse word, Randi  and the other commonly used abuses are C word, MC/BC words, DK Bose word but through my growing days till now I have rarely heard the word slut in any context. I believe ‘slut’ as an abuse is a recent entry and is mostly in use amongst the upper class English speaking urban youth.

The original Slut Walk aims at reclaiming the word ‘slut.’ A reclaimed word is a word which has been historically used as an abuse but is brought back into acceptable usage by the same group who were abused by that word. For example, historically homosexuals were abusively referred to as ‘queer’ which literally means ‘strange’ but the gay rights activist started using the word to describe themselves in their political conversations and have since then taken pride in that word. They reclaimed the word as their own stripping it off the abusive connotations.

The original posting (now removed) on the info section of the Delhi slut walk mentioned “SlutWalk Delhi 2011 is an attempt to reclaim the word Slut, to remove the shame, to replace it with pride!

This reclamation of the word ‘slut’ is important in the context where women are constantly shamed, judged and attacked by this word. But it is irrelevant in a city where woman get raped and killed with or without the label of slut or even randi for that matter. To quote a few lines from the slut walk Toronto website which speaks of how and why the slut walk started

On January 24th, 2011, a representative of the Toronto Police gave shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.

Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation. Aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

Clearly, the word slut does not have the same historical presence as above in the Indian vocabulary. We never used the word ‘slut’ in the same way, so what are we reclaiming? Who are we reclaiming it from? Why do we have to reclaim it when most people in Delhi do not even know what it means? And if the point of the event is only to say that we never asked for it, then you don’t have to call it Slut Walk just because that phrase sparked interests in other countries.

The idea of a ‘slut walk’ has good intentions behind it but sadly it is a flash campaign without a context.

When these flash campaigns are floated or adopted nobody thinks through the entire process of executing the campaign. Questions like, who are we addressing through the campaign, what is it that we are trying to change, who are the change partners, what language do they speak are seldom considered. What becomes more important is how quickly can we spread the word, gather crowd, gain popularity, how many people Liked the campaign’s Facebook page, how many followers on Twitter, the poster, the logo, the t-shirt and the ‘awesomeness.’ The campaign becomes bigger than the cause itself.  It becomes a fun day out for the participants who would come in their loudest dresses, makeups and fancy props; becomes a field day for the photographers and film makers and a street spectacle for the public. In the end the campaign fades out leaving the public often unmoved and sometimes confused.

I am afraid that is the exact fate of the ‘slut walk’ in Delhi. With the noise around it on social media and with mainstream media picking it up as the next cool youth led campaign since ‘Pink Chaddi,’ an average Delhi man, who is the habitual ogler and groper on the DTC buses and have never heard of ‘slut walk’ before, would in his curiosity, look it up on Google. This is what he is likely to find:

google slut walk

And If he, in his even more curiosity, looks it up in Google Image Search he would find jaw dropping images such as these:

google slut walk imagesThe man would then be excited with the idea and would look forward to the event. On the specified date if he happens to be at the spot where the slut walk is being held he would ogle some more at the participants and once the show would be over he would go back home in a DTC bus rubbing his erected dick onto the shoulders of some girl sitting on the ladies seat in front of him and pushing it against the butt of another girl standing in front of him at the exit door.

These girls would not be participants of the slut walk and they would not be able to save themselves from the harassment. These girls by all means would also not want to ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut.’ Women of my mother’s age are routinely harassed, ogled at and groped by men in public spaces. These women neither know the word nor do they want to reclaim it.

I have all my empathy for the young people who presumed that just because a new movement is gaining popularity in the US, UK and Australia, the same is required to be adopted in India in exactly the same fashion, but I have to say that it is a misplaced campaign with a good intention.

Sometimes we become victims of euro-centrism, we assume that whatever the west does is good for us and we must adopt it. The wikipedia entry for Slut Walk says its an ‘international movement.’ So far it has been held in just a handful of cities and is already claimed to be an international movement. And we must adopt it in order to be part of something ‘international.’ It is not wrong to adopt a movement that started in a different country but sometimes there is a need to contextualize it.

The Slut Walk happened in Canada because  a cop there made a speech in which he justified sexual violence against women by calling them slut. In India, few months back a movie was released which had a line,

“tawaaif ki loot ti izzat bachana aur tees maar khan to kaid karna dono bekaar hai”

Attempts to save the modesty of a prostitute being raped and to try to arrest tees maar khan, both are useless. [see video]

Perhaps we needed a ‘tawaaif walk’ back then. We still need one. But a ‘slut walk’ we just don’t need.

Comparison with other campaigns

Since its announcement some people have compared ‘slut walk’ with another campaign also addressing the issues of street harassment and sexual violence against women, the Blank Noise Project. In my opinion the two are not the same and in fact cannot even be compared. Blank Noise Project is a more meaningful campaign that started out by some girls and women sharing their real life stories of how they have faced street harassment at one time or the other. It inspired women to lose their inhibitions and speak up against street harassment or eve-teasing and many women who shared their stories felt empowered. The project then organized a walk where they asked girls and women to show up in a dress in which they had faced eve teasing. Several turned up in ‘decent’ clothing such as salwar suit or saree. The idea was that no matter what the dress was every woman had faced eve-teasing at one point or the other.

Blank Noise Project started with a blog and gradually became a national movement

Another comparison is being drawn between the slut walk and the annual gay pride parade that takes place in Delhi and other cities. Again, the two are not same.

Gay parades are about celebrating identities. The LGBT community come together in bright colors and march to the beats of peppy music carrying amusing banners and posters to celebrate their sexuality in which they take pride. Indian women on the other hand have never identified with the word ‘slut’ and they certainly don’t want to celebrate being one. Because the word is always used, albeit in a niche group, as a form of abuse even by women themselves.

On the question of usage of the word ‘slut’ Dr. Jyotsna Chatterji founder of Joint Women’s Programme, a National Women’s Rights_Organization based in Delhi  said, “the words that have the most significance in the Indian context are Randi, Dayen (witch)  The English word ‘slut’ might have less significance as use of abuses such as Randi and Dayen are rampant and are a part of the language conditioning.” On being asked to share her opinion on the Slut Walk Delhi she seemed to agree with the basic cause of the event. “A woman’s dress can in no way decide a man’s behaviour. It is his  mind and attitude towards women.  If a woman’s dress is criticized for being the cause of a man’s behaviour, and a  dress code is prescribed for women, that is wrong. It is a different matter if a certain dress code is decided for a particular occasion, in which case women should adhere, provided no such dress code is  imposed on women alone. Every woman has the right to dress according to her choice without being subjected to violence and criticism,” she explained. She further opined that even though such an event is less likely to make much of difference there is no harm in organizing the event. “At least public will know girls and women are protesting against inequality,” she said.

When Bangalore based flim maker, Madan Ramvenkatesh was asked if has heard the word slut he said, “it’s a rare word and one only comes across it in Movies.” Regarding the slut walk in Delhi he said, he wasn’t aware of any such thing. But so far as the word slut is concerned he mentioned, “it’s an unhealthy word not much in use in India and so a movement to reclaim it doesn’t make much sense.”

Delhi based photographer Udit Kulshrestha is of the opinion that the word ‘slut’ is often used in India by both men and women and that a movement like Slut Walk Delhi is important to make people aware of the gender equality and dignity. “That we are all equal human beings and not toys for somebody’s sexual appetite,” he exclaimed when asked about his support for the Slut Walk.

Documentary film maker Tarini Manchanda believes the movement has a lot of significance in spirit in so far as the practice of blaming the victim of sexual harassment goes and is curious to see how the movement is contextualized  in Delhi. She said, “The issue of branding women as slut and further victimizing them is the same all across the globe but I wonder how will a slut walk go down with the Indians, will it give the right message or a distorted one?” On the question of whether the word slut is in use in India she said, “only in a small section of young people who are used to watching American Television”

To conclude, Slut Walk is an important event for some cities, in some other cities it has to be introduced after putting it in the right context. The cause behind it is very genuine, but a genuine cause with a misplaced campaign is even worse. I only wish this amount of zeal and enthusiasm were used to strengthen and sustain an already existing campaign rather than floating a new one.

You have got to hit the right nail at the right time and you’ve got to keep hitting it.

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