Indians to protest sexual violence with Slut Walk

NEW DELHI - Demonstrators in India's capital were due to hold the country's first "Slut Walk" on Sunday to protest at an alarming rise in sexual assault cases and the growing sense of insecurity among women.

Hundreds were expected to attend the rally in New Delhi organised by 19-year-old journalism student Umang Sabarwal, who says it is time for Indian women to speak out.

"Slut Walks", which have become a global phenomenon to protest against sexual violence, see women march dressed in skimpy clothing to challenge the mindset that victims of sexual assault should be blamed for the crimes against them.

"In India, no matter what we wear, even if we are covered head to toe in a sari or a burqa, we get molested and raped," Sabarwal told AFP ahead of the protest.

"If we are victimised, it is justified by saying we asked for it," the teenager said.

Last week, a case widely reported in the Indian media illustrated the danger in Delhi where 85 per cent of women fear being harassed, according to a 2010 survey.

A group of women were on their way home from a nightclub in a suburb when a gang of wealthy, drunken young men celebrating the purchase of a new SUV started following their taxi and forced it to stop.

A 24-year-old woman in the front seat of the taxi was dragged from the vehicle and kidnapped.

Police rescued her several hours later after a car chase, meaning she avoided the fate of numerous other women in the capital who have been forced into vehicles in recent months and repeatedly raped.

New Delhi now tops the chart of the most unsafe cities in the country, with 489 reported rape cases in 2010, up from 459 in 2009, according to police statistics.

In the 2010 survey by the Delhi government, the United Nations and women's rights group Jagori (Wake Up Women), 45 per cent of women said they avoided stepping out alone after dark and 65 per cent feared taking public transport.

"Not being free to do what you want to do is the biggest oppression for a woman that you can imagine," Jagori worker Prabhleen, who uses just one name, told AFP.

"You are constantly reminded that being a woman you need to have a checklist with you, be careful where you are going, when you are going and whether you are wearing the right dress or not," she said.

The country's rapid economic growth has thrown open new job opportunities for women, while attitudes to pre-marital relationships and sex have also transformed in middle class areas of major cities.

But women seen as modern and independent complain they are viewed by men as "easy".

"There is a lot of disrespect for women, especially if she works late into the night," said Poonam Mehra, a senior reporter in a national news agency.

"Men think such women are available. Even at eight in the night if you are waiting at the bus stop, you will see cars slowing down in front of you with their blinkers on. It is very scary and makes you cringe with fear."

The Slut Walk has faced opposition in India, with many viewing the title as provocative and distracting attention from a serious issue - forcing the organisers to soften it by adding the Hindi term for "shamelessness" to the name.

Its full title now is Slut Walk or Besharmi Morcha (shameless front).

"It is a copycat movement with a western concept. It won't work in India," said 22-year-old Sadhna Sarkar, a law student. "Let us not ape the West and make a mockery of a serious subject."

But Prabhleen defended the project.

"It is not only a woman's thing, it's about human rights. It is men's duty to understand why we are asking what we are."