Thursday, October 6, 2011

India’s Immoral Police

“You can leave one more button open as well,” a voice murmured past me in Hindi.

Before my brain worked out the meaning in English, the man had disappeared and except for narrowing my eyes a little, I did nothing.

I was on Pedder Road, clad in jeans and a formal shirt.

Back home in Manama, this would be considered demure.

In Mumbai however, regardless of what you wear, you’ll hear whispers saying, “Sexy”, “Hot”, “Oooh”, “Aaah” and some animalistic groans.

The fact that I was raised in an Islamic country and never had to face reproving stares but bore the brunt of it in ‘all-embracing, people-friendly democracy’ called India is a bit of a joke.

Bahrain maybe an exception as a liberal Arab kingdom with expatriates outnumbering locals in terms of population but I don’t remember receiving sleazy whispers or stares in Sharjah or Dubai.

That maybe because there are more buildings than people in the Emirates.

However, the big question is why are women in India which is supposedly ‘liberalised’ harassed everyday on an unprecedented scale?

Didn’t both societies at some point in their history, commodify women?

Though conditions for certain sections of Arab women haven’t improved, why do Indian women in metros such as Mumbai still get ‘eve-teased’ as Indians refer to sexual harassment?

I was at the Mumbai International Airport a few weeks ago with a male friend when an airport maintenance worker approached us.

“Who is he to you?” he seemed to ask in Hindi.

“Pardon, what’s that?” I asked.

Woh kon hai?”

I stared.

“Where you from?” he finally blustered in English.

“Bahrain,” I said cautiously eyeing him.

My friend, at this point lost his temper and said, “It’s none of your business.”

The man affronted at being told off by a foreigner, pointed to the little flag of India he had pinned to his chest.

“Today...India Independence Day,” he said proudly.

“Gandhiji got freedom,” he added knowledgeably.

And in a furious tirade he lambasted us for standing together and said that such things were not permitted on August 15.

Eyeing me with disdain and following us around the airport, the man seemed to think he was doing the public good by policing the world around him.

Not too different from Saudi Arabia where there are vice squads and moral police to ensure you don’t breach the Sharia code that governs the country.

India though not governed by Sharia is ruled by chauvinism.

The men who wolf whistle at a passing woman may or may not be employed but the very fact that a woman dares to step out of the house to earn a living, somehow injures the male ego.

Regardless, Indian women battle it every day.

I’ve no idea why women in Delhi thought it fit to take to the streets as part of the global feminist march ‘Slutwalk’.

It’s about shaking the dust off your feet and walking ahead with elegance that makes a woman a far better form of the human species.

And I think that Indian women have for long taught men a lesson in civility, it’s a pity that some feel wearing skimpy clothes and marching with placards will make all the difference in the world.


  1. So you were asked awkward question by one maintenance worker at the airport? I am sure the rest would have been minding their own businesses or getting amused by the awkwardness of the scene at worst. How is one person obviously out of tune with the world became the representative of average Indian male and entire Indian culture and not perhaps hundred others who throng Mumbai airport at any given time? beats me.

  2. I am all for just walking on. But a question, Does dressing in skimpy clothes make me a slut? Raising our voices against the men who think that dressing in so and so way makes us sluts is the point of the slut walk.

    I agree with you, all till the end. :)

    Chauvinism is a pain up most women's ass. We are told to be respectable and act in a particular fashion. I am fed up of someone else defining the role I must play or the person I must be. Man or woman.
    I believe that women must conquer all areas and put these voices behind. but not silently. With a fight. And I believe the slutwalk is part of the fight. :)
    Well written piece. :)

    P.s I am new here. :)

  3. Excellent points made here. This in Mumbai, the "safest" city in India for women. Perhaps your class should start campaigning to purge the word "eve-teasing" from Indian media and call it what it is - harassment.

  4. Thank you for the comments and for your interest in our blog.
    Oh no, the ending wasn't meant to sound damning of clothing, if that's how it's been interpreted. The point I tried to make was that participating in a march that calls itself 'slut'walk, is not going to make an instantaneous difference. I don't a reason why women should label themselves that to make a point. We've made our mark for some thousands of years by just the way we've always behaved-a tad a more civilised than men. A couple of sporadic marches, just won't make men think different or change their attitudes towards women overnight.
    I agree with you that we should still walk on to keep the fight alive!

  5. My comment is not about the post - just that my Dad was born and lived for a while in Bahrain and my Mum is a Sophia college alumni...