By Vini Bhati
Edited by Madhavi Roy, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Jonathan Swift, one of the most celebrated writers and scholars of the eighteenth century, once said “Principally, I hate and detest that animal called man” in a letter written to Alexander Pope dated September 29, 1725. These compelling words of Swift, which clearly declared his strong abhorrence towards mankind, may have made people declare him him a “misanthrope” at that age, but today, in the twenty-first century, these words have perfect resonance, owing to the diminishing levels of man’s action and “reason”. Man may appear to be the most civilized being of nature, but deep down, he is a dangerous animal who is out there hunting all the time, displaying its predatory skills and an insatiable desire to control and reign over all. The shameful slap on Ms. Gauhar Khan on grounds of her skimpy outfit reaffirms the bestial nature of man and the failure of society to tame the animal spirit of mankind, which is camouflaged under the garb of dominant ideologies, and which overrides the liberty of an individual to live, think and express independently.
It was supposed to be a night of a grand musical extravaganza as it was the finale episode of a popular musical reality show. This joyous celebration turned out to be a nightmare for the show’s presenter Gauhar Khan as she committed the “sin” of not fitting into the framework of an “ideal Muslim woman” as laid down by the patriarch himself, Mohammad Akil Malik. The Indian television presenter turned up in a sizzling silvery outfit at the event which was enough to provoke a “mighty patriarch” from the audience to first manhandle Ms. Khan, who was taken aback and resisted. Malik then slapped her and audaciously asked how she could wear skimpy outfits and dance to cheap songs despite being a Muslim. Instead of repenting his wrongdoing, he magnified his case by presenting his regressive stance, saying, “Actresses are the face of society and they should not wear skirts and short clothes as they make youngsters get attracted to them sexually. If actresses stop wearing short clothes, crime will decrease and lead to a better society”, accomplishing his agenda of upholding the patriarchal ideologies by shifting the blame of the rising crimes on “women’s inappropriate dressing” which ends up titillating males.
The slap received by Khan is symbolic of the slap which is given to every girl who dares to venture out from the captives of this stagnated social order. Malik, who blatantly endorses the woman’s code of conduct on religious lines, was audacious enough to touch Khan against her will which no religion promotes and when she resisted, he punished her for such a grave violation of daring to resist. This represents the hypocrisies and the follies associated with the status quo, which is being blindly upheld by the stakeholders of the society.
According to historian Toolika Gupta, short dresses are an ancient tradition in India. Although the country is most associated with floor-length saris and Salwar Kameez for women, this has not always been a case. Ms Gupta wrote on the BBC News website that what many Indians today believe to be home-grown ideas of decorum and modesty are in fact British imports left over from the Empire.
The earliest representations of women show them with minimal clothing, she said, including the sculptures from the Maurya and Sunga periods, which existed around 300 BC. “Modesty has had different definitions over time and in different regions and communities,” she wrote. “It was not always about covering your face and body, and in many respects India’s hot climate led the way. People just did what was convenient.” Even in the colonial era some women in southern in India did not cover the upper part of their body, and saris were routinely worn without blouses over bare breasts in Bengal, Ms Gupta said.
She concluded that Ms Khan’s dress, with a fully covered front and cutaway back, went far beyond the requirements of “modesty” dating back centuries. Thus, it was not her dress that was “inappropriate”, it was the confident assertion of her aspiration and individuality which was not tolerated by the regressive groups and thus was intended to be suppressed by them.
If a woman’s dress could guarantee her security, thereby decreasing the crimes against them, then why is there an alarming rise in the cases of child sexual abuse in India as revealed by a survey conducted by Child line in 13 states of India, which revealed that one in every two children in India has been sexually abused?
The courage displayed by Ms. Khan after this humiliating episode becomes my inspiration for finishing my article on an optimistic note. She strongly addressed the offender, and said that “She is hurt, but not out, shocked, but more determined, injured but stronger.” She is an epitome of strength as she has motivated every person to stand up against what is wrong, keeping her head held high as she yearned to give a well-deserved slap to anyone who possesses “Chhoti such”.
Thus, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, I end, hoping to make a difference using the power of the pen;
“Women will work out their destinies—much better too than any man can do it for them. All the mischief to women has come because men undertook to shape the destiny of women.”
She is a 2nd year English literature student at Hans Raj College, Delhi University. A passionate theatre artist and debater, she ardently believes in the power of self composed thoughts on paper as it gives her a sense of distinctiveness amidst the crowd and empowers her to think, believe and grow. Her interests range from public speaking, voracious reading and listening to vibrant music .She can be reached at [email protected]