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In Defence of the Besharmi Morcha
|by Pratiksha Baxi|
There has been much debate on whether the naming of the recent protest against violence against women in the city as ‘slut walking’ is a serious modality of protest for women, or simply mimetic of a western model of protest.
Is it feminist to reclaim the word ‘slut’ to describe all women, or does it trivialise the project of feminism, which begins to reclaim the world by renaming the word? Is its re-naming of ‘Slut Walk’ as ‘Besharmi Morcha’ (in India) really radical? Is the fact that young middle class students’ articulations equate the city with its elite? Are these students merely articulating their protest through categories that intend to shock, trivialise or titillate the many publics in the city?
Yet, is it not really admirable how a group of young students have dealt with the avalanche of criticism from all ideological quarters? How about a little bit of solidarity to one of the few ventures in Indian cities that has brought the issue of safety of women back on the agenda?
Why can we not link interpretations of “besharmi” (roughly translated to mean shameful in northern India) to our lived experiences, which are not confined to what we wear and whether we walk alone on the streets of a city at night? Who is this “besharam woman”? Is she not me or you?
We are told repeatedly that a ‘besharam’ woman should be confined and regulated. She is routinely stigmatised, medicalised, sexualised, maimed, stalked, harassed, raped, burnt or killed.
The idea of the Besharami Morcha refuses silence. It proposes protest. It reclaims the very idea of women’s autonomy, in the very categories that men use to divest women of their autonomy.
The Besharami Morcha uses the category of shame to inverse it – to challenge the meaning of what it means to be without shame, to question why women are thought to be without shame when they make choices, protest against injustice and fight for their dignity. It attempts to create a community or even a movement to fight against the injustice of tolerating violence.
If it is an experiment to name violence in an ironical way, why has this irony met with overwhelming patronising sermonising from older activists, and unwanted excitable attention from the media?
Perhaps some change may follow the efforts of the Besharmi Morcha, perhaps not? But since we tried, and abysmally failed – perhaps it is time now to support a new modality of protest rather than demoralise a younger generation that demands change.
It is really very simple. In India, for women to reclaim their rights whatever their class, caste or community, it amounts to attracting an allegation of being without shame. Surely we have all been ‘besharam’ for a good part of our lifetimes, and one would hope that we will continue to be – if being autonomous continues to mean being besharam in our culture?
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