31/08/2016 5:26 PM IST | Updated 02/09/2016 12:46 PM IST

The Danger In Asking Women To 'Dress Appropriately'

We were in the recreation room watching the news on TV, after a 12-hour shift on the rig. A minor was allegedly raped by army jawans on board the Howrah-Amritsar Express train.

"Why did she travel alone in a compartment reserved for the army? She should have known these men were going home after months of isolation," said a colleague who hails from Meerut.

"Bhaisaab look what it says, she accepted liquor from the men. She must have gone to the loo with them willingly," said another fellow on my crew.

Policing the victim is a lot easier than addressing deeply entrenched social paradigms and regressive dogma.

"Most of these rape allegations are manufactured," said a third. "Impossible for a man to pin down a hefty lass like her," he declared, and then went on to perform a barf-inducing "thought experiment" wherein he asked me to thread an imaginary needle held between his fingers as he waved frantically. That was his rebuttal to my protestation.

These were folks who hailed from cultures that are so conservative that most of them didn't see their spouse's face until the wedding day. Even those who were married as recently as 2010.

The next day, India Today's Twitter handle tweeted:


The tweet was deleted within a few hours, after the handle was inundated with protests from readers.

People who have been defending Mahesh Sharma's recent comments as merely "cautionary advice" are missing the point. When a Union Minister suggests that tourists should refrain from wearing skirts for their own safety, it sends a dangerous message -- that the onus of not being sexually assaulted lies on the shoulders of the victim. It is an implicit admission that the mentality depicted in the anecdote I narrated above is an intrinsic part of our culture and impervious to change. It tacitly implies that women are responsible for a sexual predator's lasciviousness.

Sharma's comment is a symptom of a wider affliction plaguing this democracy. We would rather prosecute an individual under archaic laws, than deal with religious hordes that go on a rampage for perceived slights to their fairy-tale beliefs and godmen. We will silence comedians, ban books and censor films rather than rein in a mob that believes its fragile ego and infantile sentiments take precedence over human rights and free speech. Policing the victim is a lot easier than addressing deeply entrenched social paradigms and regressive dogma.

Nirupama Rao, former foreign secretary, ambassador to US & China.

This former Indian Foreign Secretary and our incumbent Union Minister may not be rape apologists, but they are unwittingly reinforcing a grotesque culture of victim-blaming. A culture wherein a wide-eyed 14-year-old who travels alone across the country to meet a person she befriended on Facebook is "asking for it". Perhaps the good Minister should now inquire if she was wearing a skirt on that day.

Zubin Madon