An Essential Outfit

A Chinese businessman in Indonesia has turned his adversity into an opportunity. During the uprising against the Suharto regime, and the riots that followed it, a number of Chinese business establishments were looted, their houses burnt and their women molested and raped.

To safeguard the honour of their women in the case of recurrence of such incidents, a Chinese entrepreneur rose from his ashes, as it were, and started manufacturing chastity belts. B.B.C even showed the process of manufacture — and the finished product. It was also reported that he was doing brisk business and making up for his losses during the disturbances. The American Business Schools which teach SWOT and similar analyses and preach conversion of threats into opportunity will, no doubt, make it into a case study.

The story of the ethnic Indonesian Chinese entrepreneur throws up an idea for India. We hear about rape cases day in and day out. Poor, helpless women in rural areas and urban sprawls, house- maids, social workers and even foreign , tourists – no one seems to be safe. Cases are not wanting when policemen themselves are alleged to have committed rapes. Of course the authorities always promise that they would look into the matter and take stringent action against the perpetrators of the crime. But that is a routine reaction. Our administration seems to be following crimes, not anticipating them.

Traditional wisdom says that prevention is better than cure. And so, it seems that it will be a good idea to distribute chastity belts – at least one per family through our Public Distribution System. Their colour, like our ration cards, may vary according to the status of the beneficiary. Care should, however, be taken in inviting tenders to select a competent and reliable manufacturer so that no loop-holes are left in the belt. Alternatively, they could be manufactured in our ordnance factories. After all they are equipment for self – defence and so the Defence Audit would, hopefully, not object to such an activity being taken up.

The libbers of both sexes might object that it is a primitive practice. Yes it is. But so is rape – and adultery. We all know that as a precaution against possible rape –and adultery, the ‘crusaders’ in the Middle Ages used to strap such belts on their women. We have heard the story of King Arthur of the Round Table fame who, while proceeding on a campaign, put a belt on his wife Guinevere and entrusted its key for safe-keeping to his trusted lieutenant, Sir Lancelot. Hardly had he rode out a few miles when Sir Lancelot came galloping after him and said, “Sire, you have given me the wrong key!”.

The government will have to open a safe depository for the keys for these belts. Perhaps they could allot a locker each in a nationalized bank for storage of these keys. In rural areas, the Mahila Grameen Banks could diversify their activities to provide this service.

These are broad outlines of the proposal. But the solution to the problem brooks no delay. Some thing has to be done fast to tackle the rising menace. If the Home Minister proposes to give arms to the inhabitants of Doda for self-defence, surely the distribution of protective belts should not be far behind.