Sexual Harassment of females in public places – Dec 01 2010

The term ‘eve teasing’ is very Indian- in other countries it is called ‘sexual harassment in public places’ whether it is the street, college or work sites. Eve teasing is experienced by almost all young girls once/ twice or several times during their life. The young ones are more vulnerable as they leave home to catch public transport to go to school, college or work. I remember being pinched at the railway station when I experienced it for the first time and the horror I felt after that for years to come. It is not a laughing matter for it put the fear of public places into my sensitive mind for all times. I started being extra careful and sticking to my mother or parents losing all sense of confidence which I displayed earlier. It affected my sense of mobility and free will. It took me a long time to get over it and learn to protect myself. I remember my elder sister being bolder and assertive than me. She had decided to teach them a lesson instead of being afraid. She once, after a late evening cinema show with parents, had run after a boy who had brushed her among the crowd, caught him from the back, as he tried to scram off, and tore his shirt and clawed him! She always grew her nails long being proud of them as they proved very handy that day! Never be afraid she said to me for they are actually cowards who run away after misbehaving. Thrash them in public she would say and she did just that.

But not all girls are like that but that’s precisely the point I want to make that the first thing we should teach our girls/ daughters as they grow up is self defence. Teach them to protect themselves in public places, not just instil fear in them, but teach them to tackle it effectively. They must learn to live in society with a sense of respect and dignity fully equipped with their self preservation skills. I remember some friends from college who would carry safety pins, sharpened pencils or any sharp objects to protect themselves when they travelled by bus. preferred walking the three km to my department from the hostel rarely catching the bus.

There are laws against eve teasing but girls/ women hesitate to report the incidents for fear of being blamed for it and for fear of being exposed in society. To catch the culprit in the crowd and then to report it to the police also proves impractical. Harassment in public buses and rails, in crowds and in the streets are difficult to report. The sexual harassment at workplace bill has now been approved by the cabinet which is a good safety measure for working women. Even if cases of sexual harassment at public places are reported the law takes it own cumbersome course and is frustrating. The law should be the last resort in fact. Girls and women should learn to deal with such matters at their own level by various measures like my sister’s response.

Some cities are safer than others and some are extremely unsafe depending upon the cultural climate of the state. Just last Sunday, actress and former Miss India, Gul Panag, called Delhi unsafe for women, alleging that she was touched by men inappropriately many times during the course of the Delhi Half Marathon held in the city. Gul Panag had participated in the Half Marathon that was attended by around 30,000 people. Panag told reporters that ‘Delhi men won’t let go of any opportunity to eve tease or behave indecently. The people’s mindset has not changed despite hosting a mega event like Commonwealth Games in October and it is definitely not an ideal place for women’. She added that Mumbai was a much safer place for women and Delhi continued to be unsafe. Some people would be quick to react that film stars are to blame because they may dress provocatively and hence get teased. But this is crap all women would agree because on the contrary a woman’s dress has nothing to do with the dirty fact of sexual harassment. A woman fully clad with no skin showing or a woman in burqa too will not be spared from this. All women irrespective of dress, address, caste and religion could be subject to sexual harassment in public places.

Taking off from Gul Panag my personal experience is also that Maharashtra is a much better place than north Indian cities like Punjab, Delhi, U.P and Bihar where I have had first- hand experience of having lived there during my formative years. Coming to live in Maharashtra was like living in a haven relatively! Having been born and brought up in Bihar I know what I am saying and have lots of stories to share of my school and specially college days where we literally lived in fear in the hostel.

It is a sick mind of men who indulge in sexual harassment of women. A corrupt and dirty mind would think about it doing such an act. Besides the sickness of mind it is also a part of the politics of power. A man wanting to intimidate a woman whom he cannot tolerate for whatever reasons, would harass her sexually so that she gets the message loud and clear.

A healthy sane boy /man would never dream of doing such a thing even though he may be influenced by his peers to do so. He would resist such harassment of girls /women. He would respect them and give them the same sense of dignity and freedom that he enjoys in this world. For, he thinks them as human beings who constitute at least fifty percent of the world.

Published in The Hitavada – Womens World 01 Dec 2010

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