Let’s concede that provocative clothing does constitute contributory negligence in cases of harassment and rape. That means if we were to control what women wear then we could reduce sexual offences in our country. Seems logical and a legitimate course of action. But wait! We can do better than that. Covering women in a cloth-bag, the types of burqas mandated by Taliban regime, will improve the situation further. Or, a cardboard box with radar inside for women to navigate will prove to be the panacea for the ill treatment of women in our society, while also countering the effect of wind in revealing the curves of women body.
This is the flawed reasoning that we hear from journalists such as Orya Maqbool, who in a recent TV show, went on to declare that 90% (which he later elevated to 99%) of the serial killers committed the crimes after being exposed to “nangi tangain” (bare legs).
Knowing the cause and motives of a crime does not immediately inform us about the right course of action to prevent it. If I leave my car door wide open and it gets stolen, it shows negligence on my part but I cannot be suppressed of my right to drive or own a car thereafter because of my negligence that contributed to the theft. Assume that in future we are provided with statistics showing that women donning jeans (being supposedly negligent) are more susceptible to harassment than those in burqa. Still, such statistics should not compel us to make the dress code in public spaces stricter. Criminals should not set the standards of morality and decency in our society. Whenever we decide to sit down together and determine what constitutes as indecent clothing in terms of body exposure, crime statistics should not be on that discussion table.
Unfortunately, when a TV program was conducted recently to discuss the objectification of women in Pakistani media, Mr. Maqbool started off with Jack the Ripper and his susceptibility to bare legs, then spiraled the discussion into provocative clothing of rape victims during the incident, thus successfully derailing a potentially fruitful discussion on women’s objectification.
It would be nice if we ran a disclaimer before any discussion on indecent clothing that says ‘People are free to express themselves in any clothing they like, with some limitations to be enacted in public spaces and anyone who trespasses that line can only be blamed for public indecency and not for any assault that he/she becomes a victim of’.
The writer is an Electrical Engineering graduate. His interests include popular science, poetry and political science.