On an evening last year in February, Neetu Solanki was travelling home in a conservative west Delhi neighbourhood via auto-rickshaw (a three wheeled equivalent of a taxi in India) when she was harassed by some young men. Her response was to stop the rickshaw and grabbed one of the young men’s collars in order to yell at him. She was picked out because she was wearing western clothes, a top and a pair of hipster jeans revealing a peacock tattoo on her lower back rather than a more traditional salwaar kameez.
In India there is an amusingly named crime called Eve Teasing, named after the biblical idea that women cause men to sin by their lack of modesty. It involves men usually in groups harassing women with inappropriate comments and often very inappropriate groping. A crime born out of gender bias, a lack of sexual equivalence and the objectification of women. Yesterday a woman leapt from a moving train to avoid “eve teasing” losing her leg under the wheels of the train.
Neetu Solanki was found dead on the 11th of February with her throat slit and dumped into a suitcase which was left at New Delhi’s railway station. The tattoo became a talking point around which a string of tales about her love life, her dress sense, her habit of returning home late from her job at a call centre. The man she was allegedly cohabiting was missing and believed to be the suspect. India is a large nation and chances are he has gotten away with it.
Neetu Solanki is what a lot of Indians regard as wrong with today’s generation. The fear is that women are becoming like “Western Women”. To the conservative older generation of the middle classes it is a shot across the bows. Women prefer jeans and tops to their traditional outfits and even their traditional outfits bare a lot more skin than they used to as fashion marches on. India is seeing the beginnings of a sexual revolution with couples beginning to cohabit more. Arranged marriages are dying in number and even now the modern arranged marriage is akin to the Jewish Match Maker where the boy and girl meet for dates rather than the traditional idea of the event. Some Indians even have sex outside marriage. Indian women even have come to understand that sex can be fun.
One of the biggest Indian authors in India is someone I would consider a feminist. Shoba De, writes trashy chick lit, a world of crummy plots, gaping plot holes and a lot of sex. This is not a bad thing, it is the Indian equivalent of a harlequin novel. And it is a kind of revolution. Indian women who traditionally married out of compulsion (it was the done thing to do)often to men who had no clue and indeed no attraction to them were learning about love and more importantly lust. Like Anais Nin’s work for feminism in the west, Shoba De raised the important idea in women’s subconscious. That it is possible to have an orgasm and to explore sexuality beyond the concept of birthing children if you are an indian.
The sexual revolution in the west marks a point where feminism began in earnest. Across the western world women realised that they are just as important as men and can demand the same rights, building on the work of the suffragettes. In addition their cohesiveness was supported by men who didn’t really believe in the ideology of their parents and the conservative ideas of the period.
These developments are not seen as progress in India. These are seen as something terrifying, of an assault on traditional mores that have kept women under control for millennia. To the conservative, the blame firmly rests in a straw man called the Western Woman.
“The western (usually Americans/british) woman is not like Indian women. Indian women are chaste and well behaved. Western women often are rude, badly behaved and are half naked. They have affairs and divorces and sleep with many men. Indian women are too chaste for that and should not become like that.”
The ideas is that back home in the UK (for me) and indeed across Europe and America women have all the freedoms imaginable, they are free to associate with who they like, set their own goals and to live an independent life away from male influence either parental or spousal. And that in order to do so the woman has to be a slut, that women’s freedom comes at the price of clothes, morality and tradition.
However the issue is what is immoral rather than the immorality of western women. The straw man is built over what people find immoral and shocking, which is the lifestyle of the west because they assume that giving freedom to women results in orgies and women dressing like prostitutes. The Victorian standard applies, an indian movie is a charged affair with dance sequences replacing the sex scenes. Women prance around in skimpy outfits that no one in their right minds would wear in the UK unless participating in a rap video.
The attitude is that it is better to protect a woman’s honour than for her to lose it through equality. That men will always be fools and that it is upto women to dress sensibly so as to not encourage men. That if allowed to do what she wants like the western woman, she will be seduced by nefarious men. And thus she must be kept under supervision, she is free to do as she wants but without affecting her modesty.
The western woman is used as a method of scaring men and women into following the old ways. The Men are scared of the western woman because she has the choice and the independence both mentally and financially and that most Indian men know that they may not measure upto her demanding standards. The women are scared of her comparatively raw sexuality which is regarded as vulgar. They portray her life as empty and pointless, with no greater purpose but sexual gratification. They see the western woman as prostituting herself for her freedom which they are quite rightly not willing to do.
Remember, the freedom comes first, then the sex.