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India: Was Delhi's SlutWalk More of a Media Hype?

This post is part of our special coverage SlutWalks 2011.

So finally, on Sunday 31 July, 2011, Delhi held it's own version of the SlutWalk – titled ‘Besharmi Morcha’ to make it more relevant to the Indian context.

The mainstream media was there in full force, perhaps expecting something sensational to take place. But nothing of that sort happened. For all the discussions and debates raging on social media about the event, what actually happened that morning was a pretty muted affair and according to some observers, at one point there were more media people than actual participants. This apparently led to some moments where the members of the media ended up requesting colleagues for soundbytes. On her personal blog, Akhond of Swat, journalist-blogger Nilanjana Roy writes:

The really dangerous part of Slutwalk Delhi is dodging media cameras and avoiding the mikes thrust in your face. When it starts, the media-aam junta (ordinary people/participants) ratio is 3:1, which leads to the spectacle of a reporter trying to persuade a younger colleague from another magazine to give her soundbytes. “You're marching too, no? Say something as a woman, na?” The younger reporter declines.

Supporters of the Slut Walk holding banners against eve teasing and crime against women. Image Courtesy Youth Ki Awaaz. Used with permission.

(For more pictures please go to this post at Youth Ki Awaaz)

In the end, about 500-700 people walked the walk (the numbers certainly were better than Bhopal where a few days earlier only about 50 participants had turned up for the actual walk, although over 5,000 people had pledged their support to the cause on Facebook).

Bloggers have reacted to the Delhi event with mixed feelings. On her blog, Diary of a White Indian Housewife, blogger Sharell writes:

I had grave misgivings about what could happen if Indian women followed the lead of women elsewhere in the world and walked dressed in revealing clothing. What kind of message would it give out? And could the men attending the event be trusted to behave?

I needn’t have worried though, the tamed-down name of the event (Beshami Morcha equates to Shameless Rally) set the tone for the proceedings. Unlike SlutWalks in other countries, there was nary a skimpily dressed Indian woman in sight. Instead, kurtis and salwaar kameeze were common attire. Volunteers explained that the idea was to “shift the focus from clothes to the cause”.

Some netizens pointed out that perhaps the less-than-expected turnout in Delhi had something to do with the fact that the papers had carried news of a Delhi police decree that the walk would not be allowed (given that Delhi and especially the proposed venue, Jantar Mantar, is currently one of the protest hotspots in the country, the duration and length of the walk was indeed curtailed by the police – so the event finally was a short walk round the block). Others felt that the press ought to have done more to publicise the issue, date & time. Still others debated whether the lack of public support was because a large section of women could not identify with the semantics and/or imagery around the campaign and that perhaps such a walk was not the right vehicle for campaigning against sexual harassment in a place like Delhi. In fact many of the observers pointed out that unlike in other countries, here both in Bhopal and Delhi, the number of men almost overtook the number of women in the walks. While some netizens saw this as a welcome step, others felt a bit baffled at this skewed ratio. Well-known feminist author Taslima Nasreen tweeted:

@taslimanasreen: It's good that men led Delhi's #slutwalk. Men's involvement in ending sexual violence against women is very important.

Anshul Tewari of YouthKiAwaaz.com captured the views of Trishla Singh, Media Coordinator for Slut Walk Delhi. She told about the importance of Slut Walk in India and explained the relevance of the word “slut” in this video:

Many of the bloggers were upset with a section of the mainstream media's reportage of the incident, where pictures of a few foreigners wearing tank tops and/or baring their midriffs were made the focus of attention. Sharell commented:

The foreigner participants dressed in their usual revealing style. And the Indian media capitalised on this by showing them as the most publicised images, with traditionally dressed Indian woman walking sedately behind.

Some of the tweets also echoed this sentiment. For example,

@womensweb -The Indian media's reporting on #slutwalk is what “disappoints”, not the clothes worn.

In an article titled Indians, Foreigners And The SlutWalk Legacy, published in the online magazine NRI, writer Barnaby Haszard Morris asks “Did brazen foreigners and reserved Indians ruin Delhi's Besharmi Morcha (aka SlutWalk)?” Barnaby goes on to wonder if such a ‘misrepresented’ depiction of the Besharmi Morcha:

Carried out with men as the loudest voice, foreign women in revealing clothes as the most publicised image and Indian women in saris and salwar-kameez walking quietly behind…has done less to combat sexual harassment of Indian women than it has to promote the notion of foreign women being ready for action anytime, anywhere and with anyone… the aam aadmi (common man) could get the message that Indian women remain conservative and motherly, while foreign women are up for anything and dressed to reflect that.

Supporters of the Slut Walk holding banners. Image by Anish Nair, courtesy Youth Ki Awaaz. Used with permission.

Some of these bloggers felt that by focusing on the ‘provocative’ clothes or lack of it, a section of the mainstream media had perhaps failed to capture the true essence of the Besharmi Morcha. Others however contradicted this opinion by saying that ‘harping on the clothes’ was necessary as it is the most common excuse used be perpetrators of sexual harassment to blame the victims.

Regarding the impact of the Besharmi Morcha too, opinion was divided. Some felt that it had had no impact, partly because of the organisers’ stance of being “conservative rebels”. Comparing this tame version of a protest to the more fiery protest by the women in Manipur in 2004, authors Makepeace Sitlhou and Urvashi Sarkar commented that the Delhi SlutWalk, aka Besharmi Morcha, with its self-censored need ‘to avoid ruffling feathers’, had “little Slut, even lesser walk and no message”. Others however were slightly more upbeat. They saw it as a positive step in the right direction. Christine Pemberton, who took part in the event, writes in the blogzine Commentarista:

Obviously, no one honestly expects one walk to change a city’s mindset, but the very fact that hundreds of  women (some with babies or children), grannies, and even men came out to walk and protest against sexual harassment on a baking hot Sunday morning shows that some change is afoot.

Despite calling the event ‘an ambitious march with little reach’, Gender Matters|India Blog also pointed out that:

The upshot of Delhi’s Besharmi Morcha is that students actively displayed awareness of sexual aggression towards women.

Barnaby has a word of advice for both sides of the debate. He says:

The organisers could learn from this inaugural march and come back stronger, better coordinated, better promoted in 2012. Critics of this Besharmi Morcha have to acknowledge it as the first release of pressure and reserve final judgment until at least a few years down the line. The social norm being challenged – disrespect and institutionalised harassment of women – is a powerful view that has centuries of momentum behind it. Like the American civil rights movement in mid-20th century US or the suffrage movement in 1890s New Zealand, change will take time. It will also take perseverance, not only from the chief organisers but from supportive onlookers who hope for the movement’s success.

This post is part of our special coverage SlutWalks 2011.

  • Okay! I was there at the walk throughout. There was no one skimpily or provocatively dressed. But yes, I do agree that the event was a BIG media hype. It was a hype not just on the part of the media, but also on the part of organizers. A walk can never solve such a grave problem, much more needs to be done.

    I was disappointed when I talked to the volunteers and learnt that they had no idea why the walk was called “Slut” walk. I was also disappointed at learning that most of them were not sure where they would be heading the movement after this walk.

  • Today in India, the mainstream media creates a certain ‘event’, hypes it and then accuses certain ‘other sections of the media’ of being irresponsible in their coverage. Having said that, I think that the success of any campaign or movement does not entirely depend on the turnout it generates, rather it also depends on the level of awareness it generates. In this regard, I feel, the ‘besharmi morcha’ has been a huge success as it has led to a debate not only amongst the educated citizenry of our country, but also in the middle class underbelly of the society where the victimization of women based on the choice of clothes in acute in proportion.

  • I think the slutwalk was a step in the right direction. It was needed, the time was right. The meaasge was probably mixed but if they keep doing such walks, the message will become clearer if reinforced in the right way. I hope they make it a regular yearly feature!

  • Pingback: Global Connections: What ‘Eve Teasing’ in India, the ‘Slutwalks’ in North America and Sexual Assualt in Australia Have in Common « The Other Sociologist()

  • Nick

    I DON’T LIKE WHEN INDIAN WOMEN PARTICIPATE IN STUPID, SECULAR, WESTERN EVENTS LIKE THIS. I LOVE, ABSOLUTELY LOVE my indian culture

  • Others however contradicted this opinion by saying that ‘as it is the info http://www.jaideepinfo.blogspot.com

  • Shireen Baxter

    evrybody is goin onb about the rapes in India,does anyone even know what is goin on in Kashmir?More than 9000 women gangraoed there by indian army,and still counting,tortures,murders,what not!!!all human rights are bein violated there by India,and it’s gettin worse and worse evryday…the cry for war among kashmiri citizens is getting louder and louder as India is getting more and more blood of innocent people on their hands,paradise Kashmir has turned into a hell….

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