Monday, September 16, 2013

Saying it with the body

There is something about a rally or protest that announces itself even when it is not announced audibly. Like girls walking down the street in rows two or three thick, a fantastic array of colour and style. You stop to look. When you see the first fifteen or twenty, you wonder if it is for a festival. When you see fifty, and none of them conforming to any particular dress code, you know it is a rally.

You see that some of the girls are wearing clothes that would be considered outrageous on the street even in a foreign country where skirts, leggings and shorts are the norm. Then you see a girl wearing nothing but a thong (or a g-string; it is difficult to tell from a distance). Another whose breasts are bare except for her nipples. A few brave men too.

Only after hundreds have walked past, you see the placards. It is a Slut Walk in Melbourne. But you no longer need placards to tell you what this is about. Girls wearing next to nothing march beside girls in frilly frocks down to their ankles – they said what they had to say with their bodies. Mainly, that bodies are what they are. Clothes are what they are. What they are not is an excuse for violence.

Witnessing this Slut Walk reminded me that flesh has its own power. Not just the power of sex or seduction, but the power of truth. To bare oneself as a statement of fact: “This is what a woman looks like. So?” To wear their womanhood on the streets was inconvenient (for one, it was just too cold and windy) but it is not a call for violence.

                                             [Photo courtesy Nicolas Low]

Watching those women put to rest certain doubts for me, personally. In India, there had been several debates about Slut Walk – its viability or lack of cultural sensitivity. Did it make sense in a nation where little girls are raped everyday, and where women are often raped in front of their families?

Finally, I think it does make sense. Because people all over the world are frightened of the power of the human body. They are also afraid of those who veer from the norm, for there is power in both – conformity and non-conformity. And all human societies are based on power struggles.

Since it is easier to gain power through attacking a woman walking down the street than to lead an army, or build a fortress, or even just to fight a court case against neighbours, that is precisely what happens. That is why, in India, a bunch of village 'elders' can order an eight-year-old to marry into the family of her rapist. Because it is easier to impose further punishment upon her and her family than to punish the rapist, or risk annoying his family.

And that is why a bunch of criminal men can attack a group of women in Mangalore, because they are at a resort. Because it is easy to do so. Because they can argue that women going to resorts of their own volition, for whatever purpose, is akin to prostitution. Because they claim to speak for India when they say such women deserve to be hurt. They do this because the rest of us are too frightened of the body, of its truth, to challenge them.

We find ourselves shamed by our body, again and again, because we fail to speak up for it. But watching those women in Melbourne, I was finally convinced that the only way to reclaim this power of the body is to stop denying it.

First published here

1 comment:

Maqsood Qureshi said...

Annie Ji: Adaab! Nobody is going to empower women -- They'd have to wrest it from men -- Our rural women must understand one fundamental thing: Concubinary / slavery / prostitution / victimization et cetera -- sanctified by patriarchal society wouldn't be tolerated anymore -- at any cost. Awareness at grass-roots level -- that's the keyword.

Tweets by @anniezaidi