In an act of sexist vigilantism, Indian reality TV star, model and actress Gauhar Khan was slapped whilst filming for Raw Star, India’s reality TV singing competition.
In front of a live studio audience and dozens of professional cameras, audience member Akhil Malik, marched onstage to slap Gauhar for wearing a short dress. This act of violence came after several minutes of heckling and verbal abuse.
Immediately after the attack, Malik was escorted offstage and police charged him with assault and molestation. Justifying his actions, Malik was quoted by police saying “being a Muslim woman, she should not have worn such a short dress.”
Indian women are taught from an early age to develop a thick skin while carrying out the most basic daily activities
India has been the subject of global debate regarding the treatment of women over the last few years, after a student was gang-raped and killed in New Delhi in December 2012. The last few incidents of violence against women that have emerged from India have called for an increased awareness of women’s rights.
In a country where dressing modestly is a form of self-preservation, Indian women are taught from an early age to develop a thick skin while carrying out the most basic daily activities, such as walking on the streets or even taking the bus. Daily catcalling from lewd men and deliberate shoving are expected and as a result, best left ignored.
While laws in India have become far more stringent in the face of violence against women, it’s clear that women cannot rest easy. Isolated, this incident is incredibly shocking because it took place in front of a 2,500 strong audience and furthermore, the victim was a celebrity. While the issue may not lie with the Indian government and what they’re doing to punish crimes against women, the problem is actually far more difficult to solve – the challenge is manifested in the mind-set of men like Akhil Malik who appoint themselves enforcers of modesty.
Malik further attempts at justifying his actions resulted in the admission that he had been attracted to Gauhar for the three days he attended the filming due to her revealing clothes. He claimed that Khan’s clothing could also “damage the brains” of male audience members. Malik explained to police:
“Actresses are the face of society and they should not wear skirts and short clothes as they make youngsters get attracted to them sexually. These days, boys who are minors are also committing crimes such as rape and molestation and many of them keep obscene photographs of actresses in their pockets.”
But what gives Akhil Malik – and the hundreds of men like him who subject women to violence and or sexual abuse – the right to take female attire into their own hands and become crusaders for modest dressing? Why, in the 21st century, are women not free to wear whatever they choose without suffering the consequences of showing a little bit of skin? Does a woman ever deserve verbal, physical or sexual abuse because her clothes imply she is ‘asking for it’? In theory, absolutely not; but unjust as it may be, reality – particularly incidents such as these – suggests otherwise.
these men haven’t evolved from their Neanderthal ancestors
Akhil Malik is not representative of all men in India, but he certainly comes from a percentage of men who believe they are entitled to unacceptable social conduct because they find something a woman does offensive. Whether it stems from the fact that women must be submissive, or it’s because these men haven’t evolved from their Neanderthal ancestors, there most definitely is a problem in the existence of this mentality.
It’s an age old debate with global relevance: should the way a woman dresses have any sort of bearing on the way she is treated by society?
The problem isn’t specific to India, but occurs around the world. In their video 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, Rob Bliss Creative demonstrated that it doesn’t take much at all for a woman to be harassed - just jeans and a t-shirt apparently. No matter what country it is, society has come a long way from people acting on their primal, base instincts. It may be surprising to some but Emmeline Pankhurst didn’t throw herself under the King’s horse for nothing; women do have rights.
So if a harmless dress has the power to “damage the brains” of some men, then well, perhaps it says a lot more about their weakness of mind than it does about an inanimate piece of clothing.