Feudal attitude

The comment made by Mamta Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women, that women should be careful about their dress, lest they should attract unwelcome attention from males, is wrong and ridiculous, especially as it came from the head of a body which is mandated to protect the interests of women.

She has also  found that “aping the west blindly is eroding our culture and causing crimes (against women) to happen.” This was in the context of the attack by a mob on a girl in Guwahati which attracted national attention. The views and sentiments expressed by Mamta Sharma have been heard before also from other persons, sections of society and officialdom, including  police officials who have been found wanting in their duty to protect women from crimes.

The basic attitude behind such comments is a retrograde one which shifts the blame for an attack on a woman to herself rather than to the perpetrators of the offence. Women have the freedom to wear what they want and no one has the right to prescribe to them what they should wear. The implicit suggestion that the kind of dress worn may have provoked a sexual attack is an indirect defence of the attacker. There is no need to bring in Indian culture here. Culture does not prescribe a dress code.

 It is seen in the best behaviour towards and respect for women, whatever she wears. It is unfortunate that the head of the women’s commission has such wrong notions and is ignorant of the responsibilities of the body. A member of the commission also showed similar insensitivity and lack of sense when she mentioned in public the name of the girl who was attacked in Guwahati. All this shows that they are hardly worthy of the positions they hold.

There is not much distance from these views to the mindset of the khap panchayats in North India that seek to put restrictions on the conduct of women in public. Recently a panchayat in Baghpat district in UP banned love marriages and forbade women under 40 from going out for shopping and keeping mobile phones.

Local political leaders have not found anything wrong with such diktats. These feudal and archaic attitudes are pervasive in other places also in different ways and degrees. They seek to define unequally a woman’s place in society, denying her the freedoms and human rights that she is entitled to as equal persons. 

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