We love wearing saris (in my case, also the two-piece mekhla-chador from my home state Assam), but being “Western” is never about what we wear. Wearing long kurtas with full sleeves and high necklines anyway won’t keep us safe from men looking for a quick grope or rub. We don’t even have to step out of home and family to be molested or raped.
These are the last numbers released by the National Crime Records Bureau in August 2016: 34,651 rape cases reported in 2015. In 33,098 cases, the offenders were known to the victims. Madhya Pradesh was the state with the highest number of reported rape cases, and Delhi, the Union territory with the highest number of reported rape cases. Two numbers can’t tell a story, of course, and statistics alone can’t always tell the whole story, but that is still a huge number, and it at least points to the fact that you need not be a “Western girl” or be out on the streets to be assaulted.
The “Western” girl is less in number perhaps, but she is everywhere. She rejects pan-Indian expectations of what an Indian woman should be: Work for money, but don’t forget your womanly duties of cooking and nurturing family; give up your career for your children; don’t go out at night unless you are in the company of your husband, brother or father; don’t attract male attention by wearing non-Indian clothes (because men are natural predators, they can’t help it); don’t drink and smoke in public. I am sure the list of expectations is not this short.
The “Western” girl is an eternal optimist. She goes out with friends, boyfriends and colleagues after dark, without her brother or father accompanying her, wearing what she wants, because she takes her freedom and the adult right to move freely in her city seriously. She chooses to wear clothes which are in vogue and clothes she loves on her body. She votes, and follows rules that citizens are obliged to follow in their country, but is not narrow in heart and mind. She embraces what excites her about other countries and cultures. She is bound to gravitate towards any culture or people that accepts her without constantly making her conscious of her gender and body parts. In India, she is never just a citizen or a human being.
What G. Parameshwara, the home minister of Karnataka, thinks of as being “almost like Westerners”—the reason, he suggested, that girls in Bengaluru were mass-molested on New Year’s Eve—is just a pathetic excuse not to take the assault on these citizens of Bengaluru seriously. Blame it on the “Western” girl, she deserves it, he and other politicians have suggested.
We need more “Western” girls on our streets and in homes. Get used to them, millions of them—it’s possibly the only way to keep predators away.