Sunday, March 15, 2009
“Eve-teasing”, the euphemistic term used for public or street sexual harassment of women by men, is one of the most pressing problems faced by our country today. May it be in the political scenario, colleges, workplaces, movie theatres or just anywhere, this has become an outrageous act of disrespect shown towards women. Street harassment ranges in form; from verbal abuse or sexually suggestive remarks to brushing of body in public places, catcalls, to outright groping. Almost every girl in India is a victim of eve-teasing. So is the situation that its almost like a disease.
“Hi darling," says a leering man brushing past a lady, his outstretched hand inches from her chest. Before she can respond, he disappears into the crowd.
The pivotal point of this problem lies in the false mindset of the society that women are meek and inferior. The fact that many men have upheld this notion and many women have given in, have acted as boosters for this mockery. The graph of street harassment cases have steadily risen in recent times especially after the Mangalore and Bangalore attacks by the political party. Besides on roads, clubs, buses, cinema halls, beaches, street corners, and tea stalls or roadside vendors, now students are also found practicing such activities in classrooms and canteens. Thus, the shocking revelation of youth being both the culprits and the victims comes into light.
Street harassment is not restricted to one kind of woman. Women across the various strata’s of society and age group have experienced it. My mothers’ friend, herself has been a victim of such atrocities. Once when my mother and her friend were taking an evening walk, they passed by a group of young boys. The moment they walked by them, one of the boys came running behind them and hit my mum's friend on her private part and ran away. What was the twosome to do? At the spur of the moment all they could do was fling a few abusive names at the culprits..
The recent attacks against women were targeted on their clothing styles, the kind of lifestyle they seem to adopt and the very fact that they were out as independent women on streets at night. The victim's clothes, her companions, her occupation and her habits are all used to put her on trial. The patriarchal society that we live in poses challenges to girls by treating her with indifference. Women are increasingly venturing out of the home, taking jobs, wearing Western clothes, going to college. Many men feel threatened by this, and sexual harassment is the easiest way to put a woman in her place. The hooting, ogling, close body contact, whispering, and passing of vulgar comments will certainly disturb the psyche of a girl who will then be afraid to access any atmosphere may it be insecure or secure. The more recent attacks show that the victims were well dressed, decent and had no hand in provocation. This shows that it is not because the woman did something or wore something indecent, rather just the fact that these individuals may not take any action against the miscreants. Young Girls in Hyderabad and Secunderabad tolerate “eve-teasing” silently because of the fear of loosing their social status and becoming the laughing stock of town.
Some other cases of street harassment victims are as follows:
• Hemangini Gupta, a journalist, is one of them. On an overnight train journey in June 2005, she was molested by a man who repeatedly touched her breasts and legs when she was asleep. She filed a police complaint, despite the ticket collector and police pleading with her not to "ruin the man's life." She says she got no support from the other passengers and the police refused to believe her at first. After Gupta filed the investigation has dragged on for a year and a half; the outcome remains uncertain.
• 24 Feb, Lakshmi was attacked by four men who
punched her, hit her, and abused her for wearing jeans.
• That week, Jasmine was attacked by four middle-aged men at
when her auto broke down. They physically assaulted and tried to
disrobe her while yelling obscenities.
SO HOW TO CURB STREET HARASSMENT?????????
If not curb then,atleast,how to reduce the cases of street harassment taking place in our country? Those who fight back occasionally suffer violent repercussions, but some individuals and organizations are braving the risks. This past February, a 52-year-old woman in the north Indian town of Lucknow was shot dead for protesting against the harassment of her daughter-in-law. For the past three years, Indian women and a few men in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai have been tackling sexual harassment. They are part of Blank Noise (www.blanknoise.org), a still fledgling but gradually growing nationwide movement. They do this in several ways; through street plays, posting photos and pictures of harassers in the Internet, and public forums. The founder of this organization, Jasmeen Pathija felt the need for action to be taken. ‘Nirbhaya Karnataka’, ‘Alternative Law Forum’, Maraa’, ‘Samvada’ and ‘Vimochana’ are some of organizations that also carry out campaigns and projects since the increase in street harassment cases since 2000.
The Indian Law too contains certain measures to abolish this social evil. The Section 298 (A) and (B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), sentences a man found guilty of making a girl or woman the target of obscene gestures, remarks, songs or recitation for a maximum time of three months. Section 292 of the IPC clearly spells out that showing pornographic or obscene pictures, books or slips to a woman or girl draws a fine of Rs.2000 with two years of rigorous imprisonment for first offenders. In case of repeated offence, when and if proved, the offender will be slapped with a fine of Rs.5000 with five years imprisonment. Under Section 509 of the IPC, obscene gestures, indecent body language and acidic comments directed at any woman or girl carries a penalty of rigorous imprisonment for one year.
Now the million dollar question is will law alone be able to stop street
harassment?? The answer to this being -NO!
Girls these days are courageous to take action but they require the support of the society. They hesitate to go to police due to the fear that the response will not only be poor but also that the police will treat them badly and pay no heed to the sentiments of the injured. They will be condemned as the perpetrators instead of being the injured party and the police should be sensitized to deal such cases with some compassion and concern. Every girl should be reminded that they are not weak as considered by the society. They should be given training in self-protection. Watching a crime silently is as sinful as committing it and this thought should be instilled in the minds of every citizen so that they too feel responsible. Creating awareness among the masses and specially the ‘youth’ about the pros and corns of such acts will go a long way in curbing it.
Media can play a pro-active role by highlighting the people who indulge in such horrendous acts. The fear of being caught on the camera and appearing in the newspapers will discourage the boys to a great extent. Media should open separate lines so that girls can complain easily. This will encourage or rather force the police to take quicker actions. Generally eve-teasing is done for pleasure. This pleasure has to be dominated by fear, fear of punishment. Police can’t be made totally responsible for this, public also has to help in this. Men indulging in these atrocious acts should understand the insult the girls go through. Remember that the same can happen to your sisters and mothers or friends.
“Anatomy is destiny” said Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalycist. The destiny of women now lies in the narrow perceptions of men of the holy sanctuary of her body. Will she ever be free of this curse?