A 74-year-old man from Kozhikode is in news for getting bail twice in a sexual harassment case. The first time, activist Civic Chandran was granted bail because of his age and health conditions. The second time, he was released because the judge cited the sexual harassment charges as irrelevant because the survivor was wearing ‘sexually provocative’ clothes. Yes, you heard that right. A man with two complaints of sexually harassing women was let go on bail while the survivor was shamed for what she wore.
It is 2022, how long will society and our lawmakers hold women responsible for sexual harassment? How long will women be shamed for the way they dress, laugh or breathe, whenever they raise their voices against the predatory behaviour of men?
This is not the first time that a survivor of sexual harassment has been victim-blamed, and scrutinised for their clothes. In February this year, a BJP MLA from the Honnali region of Bengaluru M P Renukacharya said, “A lot of incidents of sexual assault occur due to the clothes that women wear. Men tend to get provoked by the clothes worn by women.” Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan too was slammed for his statement blaming women’s clothing for the rise in rape cases. He said, “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men unless they are robots. It’s just common sense.”
Provocative clothes or problematic mindset: What’s the real problem?
Rape and sexual harassment in our society are either taken lightly or are dealt with by reminding women about their limits, as prescribed by patriarchy. On Independence day, 11 men accused of raping Bilkis Bano and killing numerous members of her family, including her toddler daughter during the Gujarat Riots were granted bail under the state’s remission policy. This case clearly showed how our government considers raping a remittable offence. Then last year, National Commission for Women member Chandramukhi Devi victim-blamed a 50-year-old woman for going out alone in the evening which made her susceptible to gangrape. All these cases and statements prove how justice and equality remain a distant dream for women, while dignity remains a luxury that survivors of sexual crimes never have.
Suggested Reading: Bilkis Bano Case: Is Rape A Remittable Crime?
Keeping aside other reasons for blaming women for sexual crimes committed against them, let’s talk about the most basic thing that is scrutinised- women’s clothes. It is said that clothes are used to cover our bodies and express our personality through our choices. But in the Kerala Court ruling case, a woman is being blamed for enticing a man by wearing “provocative” clothes.
In our society, women will be blamed for wearing revealing clothes but men will not be taught to stop sexualising them. Women will be asked to cover themselves top to bottom to not provoke men but men will never be taught to respect women’s consent.
It is saddening that those who are supposed to provide us justice in matters of sexual crimes, end up reaffirming the notion of male privilege by always finding a way to blame a woman. Our society and judiciary needs to understand that crimes like sexual harassment happen because men feel entitled to sexualising women and treating their bodies as object that are meant to pleasure them. A woman can cover herself top to bottom but she will still be susceptible to harassment, because the problem isn’t with how she dresses, but how a man looks at her.
Views expressed are the author’s own.