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Trivialising the aggressor

MITA KAPUR

It is a mystery, but society has to wake up to the gross inaccuracy of the term "eve teasing".



HELP AT HAND: A complaint box. PHOTO: K. PICHUMANI

JUST six months ago, when driving in Jaipur with a young friend, I saw her suddenly display revulsion and shock. Psychological rape is apt to describe what happened. Why? A lecherous, macho male on a two-wheeler flashed at her. That moment spoke volumes about how perpetrators of incidences like these largely escape the law because they are difficult to pursue. If we ignore reporting cases like these, we bring on the assaults, acid attacks and rapes on us. The recent incident of rape of a Delhi girl in Haryana over 11days by her kidnapper, his father and brother-in-law reveals the psyche of the male-left-scot-free for his earlier seemingly "teasing-adventures", dismissed with an attitude of that "this is a common occurrence".

Men, armed with over-active hormones and an upbringing that gives them the self-delusive aura of male supremacy, take their role as "eve teasers" very seriously. When convenient, it is attributed to "with the way she was dressed, she had it coming" and at other times, these epitomes of virility justify their leering at a sari-clad woman, with a flippant "boys will be boys". If it is only about the clothes that the female gender wears, then I think that as a mass crusade against eve teasing, all women at large need to don a pair of shorts, forcing the men to delve further into the reasons why they consider teasing hapless eves their proclaimed birthright.

It is a mystery, but we have to wake up to the gross inaccuracy of the term "Eve Teasing". It is indeed shamefully ironical, that sexual harassment on the streets of India is given a Western nomenclature — "Eve". It trivialises the aggressor as a Romeo, suggesting that his acts of sexual harassment are a part of the culture of romance while making "Eve" out to be a seductress. Strangely but true, this term is peculiarly "Indian" in origin, making light of the seriousness of the issue and not recognising it as a violation of the right to equality, liberty and life itself. The deceptive stage name legitimises male aggression.

Notions of masculinity

"If a woman shows a lot of skin, she is branded a woman of questionable character and is the target of cat calls and whistles — that's how we've grown up," said Rahul, 45, an entrepreneur. Men are themselves victims in their role as the oppressors. Behind the masks of "masculinity" imposed on them by the society, men have accumulated layers of suppressed emotions, desires, needs, pain and hurt. The perverted notions of masculinity fired by the sexually repressive patriarchal society are the base on which such pressures pile up. Fuelling this is evidently the role of women as the suffering weaker sex, voiceless and defenceless.

An Indian in London, Ritu, said, "I've travelled all over the world but nobody harasses the way men do in India. I never look forward to visiting my own country."

"After living here for two years, I will be truly glad to leave, because of the incessant verbal, visual and physical sexual harassment I received from men on the streets. I am a white woman and that made me a marked target. From 12 year old boys shouting `hi sexy', to careening pairs of men on motorcycles promising to make me their rani, I have borne it all." This is Christine, a British national who came as a student to study Sanskrit. Is this the India we would like to project on the global scene? It is of no use recounting tale after tale, only the names change — the suffering caused is common, the inaction as horrendous "for being a woman".

"Eve teasing" has been accepted as an occupational hazard even by the women who suffer. For fear of retaliation and losing face, women keep away from registering complaints. "The law is weak, it is not a strict legal offence, there are logistical and administrative hurdles in following up cases of `eve teasing'. The women, after a few months of pursuing their complaints, also lose sense of conviction as they realise that under the existing laws, there is no solution," said Jasveen Alhuwalia, IFES, Jaipur.

A woman police officer in Bhopal said, "nine times out of 10, when an incident of `eve teasing' is reported, the thana-in-charge takes the view that the woman called it upon herself, and no case is registered."

`Operation Garima'

"Operation Garima", initiated by the Collector in all schools and colleges in Jaipur since March 2004, has installed complaint boxes. Of the 504 complaints registered, only 15 cases are pending. The offenders have been taken to task under Section 116 and 107 IPC. But all is not as rosy as it looks. Nisha Sidhu, Mahila-Thana-in-charge said, "if you can meet the Collector, action is taken, but if it reaches the thana, then you can forget about your case."

Forty-five per cent of women in Delhi have stated that sexual harassment has affected their personal and academic development in one way or the other. A study conducted by the Gender Study Group of the Delhi University shows that 91.7 per cent women have faced harassment on the roads. And these figures are based largely on the student population. If the entire female population was to be considered, then another study by an NGO revealed that 83 per cent women have experienced physical eve teasing.

The police have been quoted as discouraging complaints from coming in.

Healthy interaction encouraged between boys and girls in an atmosphere where they grow to understand and respect each other as individuals, will tone down the levels of violence against women. Attitudinal changes taking place at the microcosmic level of the family unit is the starting point of this arduous process. Is it about gender warfare? Is it about power imbalances, a growing insecurity as women march out of their homes and out-perform men?

As Ms Indira Jaising, Supreme Court lawyer, said, "don't tolerate sexual harassment, you have to complain in writing, for it's even more difficult to remain silent." Silence is a killer here. A lady with her grown up sons at the city mall was given a look-over by a passing group of boys. A whistle was heard. The sons noticed it, the lady did too. She turned around and told her boys, "let it go, don't even think of saying anything." The sons would have loved to collar the offenders but obeyed the mother. Why?

Another mother tutors her teenage daughters ever so often, "don't react to the passing lewd remarks on the roads, just ignore them, no point in speaking up." Why?

Fundamental Rights, Democracy, Freedom — that's why ... .

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