India has launched a new initiative, its Culture Minister Maneesh Sharma announced in a televised address over the weekend, in which women tourists are receiving welcome kits upon their arrival in the country. The kits come complete with a list of ‘Dos and don’ts’ listed on a card and one of the ‘don’ts’ has caused widespread backlash in the country. “For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts,” Sharma said. “Indian culture is different from the western.” The kits are aimed at addressing declining rates of tourism among women following several shocking cases of gang-rape that have made global headlines in recent years. The denunciations to what was seen as a dress code came fast and furious on social media from users who invoked the “patriarchy” and from other officials who saw it as a form of victim blaming.
“It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based think tank that focuses on gender equality in India. “The minister doesn’t realize the implications of such irresponsible statements,” she said. “The problem is men and boys in India,” Kumari continued. “They go for all kinds of misogyny and sexual acts, rapes and gang-rapes. It’s important for Sharma to have said how to punish the perpetrators of crime and stop the nonsense of ogling women and following them. Why should any girls come to India when it is becoming famous for not being safe to girls?”
Sharma defended the measure saying that he’s a father of daughters and that the government isn’t dictating what women tourists should wear while inside the country. “We have not given any specific instructions regarding what they should wear or not wear,” he said. “We are asking them to take precaution while going out at night. We are not trying to change anyone’s preference.”
Interestingly, as The New York Times points out, the guidance given in the welcome kits is similar to advice the U.S. State Department gives American travelers heading to India. The State Department warns women not to travel alone and advises female tourists to “respect local dress and customs.” The State Department notes that traditional dress for women in India includes “clothing that covers their legs and shoulders,” and adds that “although most victims have been local residents, recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas across India underline the fact that foreign women are at risk and should exercise vigilance.”
Read the full story at The Guardian.