'Slutwalk' Plan Triggers Debate on Women in India

June 22, 2011 - 5:03 AM

NEW DELHI (AP) - Plans by a group of women to hold a "SlutWalk" in New Delhi to protest sexual violence have triggered a debate on whether such marches are appropriate in India and can change mindsets about women's status in the conservative society.

Organizer Umang Sabarwal said Wednesday the march is aimed at shifting blame from victims to perpetrators of crimes against women.

Similar marches have been held in cities around the world. The protests, which originated in Toronto, Canada, were sparked by a police officer's remark that women could avoid being raped by not dressing like "sluts." They protest the notion that a woman's appearance can explain or excuse attacks.

Millions of women are working in most sectors of the booming Indian economy but social attitudes have been slow to change and women face a daily barrage of sexual harassment.

Sabarwal, a Delhi University student, said the objective of the walk is to get people thinking about how women's lives and actions are restricted by the threat of harassment.

"We want to focus on changing social attitudes toward women," she said. "Every time a woman is assaulted, people don't blame the perpetrator of the crime. Instead women get a lecture about what they're supposed to wear and where they can go or not go."

However, plans for the walk have also drawn criticism from many women who say the use of the term "slut walk" is derogatory.

"Naming the protest 'slut walk' degrades women even if it has shock value," said Shobha De, a best-selling fiction writer.

"It's a campaign driven by women in the West. It does not connect with women in the Indian context," De said Wednesday on the TimesNow television channel.

Others accuse the organizers of craving media attention.

"How is this walk going to help millions of women in India? They are doing this for sensational footage on television," said Shaina N.C., a Mumbai-based designer.

India, a rapidly modernizing country, has a high incidence of rapes and sexual attacks on women. A government-backed United Nations survey found that about 85 percent of women in New Delhi are afraid of being sexually harassed while outside their homes for work or study.

The march, scheduled for late July, has been renamed "Besharmi Morcha," which means "Shameless Protest" in Hindi.

"The idea is to reach out to a maximum number of people, and people in India are better versed in Hindi than English as opposed to other countries where the 'SlutWalk' has been a success," said Mishika Singh, a college student involved in the campaign.