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After years of silence, it's good that sexist assumptions are now being aired and exposed
Women's safety and agency have long been considered unworthy of public debate in India. But now, it seems that everyone has something to say — a story, an explanation, a theory. Abhijit Mukherjee's comment about "dented and painted" protesters was only the beginning. Since then, eminences from every political party and ideological bent have weighed in. Strange alliances seem to have sprouted between men who might disagree on everything else, but share perfect understanding on what a woman's place should be. The RSS chief would like a return to "Bharatiya" models of marriage, where a woman is a powerless drudge. The Jamaat-e-Islami thinks co-educational schools are the problem. Congress leader Botsa Satyanarayana suggested that the young woman who was gangraped had invited trouble by being out at night, and Asaram Bapu also thinks that she would have been spared if only she had appealed to the rapists, addressed them as "brother". Meanwhile, over in Puducherry, the education department has decided to tackle the problem by hiding schoolgirls in shapeless overcoats. In Rajasthan, the solicitous solution involved replacing skirts with pants/salwars.
The bad old tropes have all been aired, one by one — blaming the victim, suggesting the problem lay in women's freedom, their stepping out of the supposed domestic cocoon (itself a site of injustice and violence, a fact scarcely acknowledged). Women's bodies have been held responsible for tempting men to hurt and violate them. Women's rights to their cities and public spaces, their right to spend their time as they choose and wear what they like — rights that are automatically, thoughtlessly exercised by men — are being questioned all over again.