Have you ever been whistled at while walking down the street? How about being clicked on a mobile camera by someone unknown whizzing past dangerously on a bike? Or being stalked menacingly down a block or two by someone in the shadows?
If your answer to any of the above questions is in the affirmative, welcome to a huge cross-section of women and men in the world, transcending class, country, age, religion and education, connected only by their shared experiences of being ‘eve-teased’, of being subjected to unpleasant harassments at the hands of delinquents thronging every other street and alley, lurking under the garb of civilized countenances and looking for the chance to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. .
‘Eve-teasing’ is a euphemism, merely a less offensive expression for what is actually plain sexual harassment committed on the streets, a term particularly popular in the South Asian countries for a phenomenon that happens all over the world. Often it is accepted without question as an innate part of our societal culture, or dismissed offhand as unnecessary but unavoidable, and hence suffered passively day in and day out.
However, rampant as it may be, ‘eve-teasing’ happens to be a downright offence that violates the victim’s essential right to a life of dignity. The endemic nature of violative or derogatory incidents doesn’t make them acceptable in the very least. The crux of the problem lies in the common mindset and attitude of mankind as a whole, which tends to brush off a transgression as a common prank or tomfoolery.
Blank Noise, a prominent volunteer-led collective that seeks to fight ‘eve-teasing’ and questions the public perception of it, draws attention to the general tendency of blaming the victim of ‘eve-teasing’ for purportedly having attracted undue attention to herself by her clothes, actions, or attitude. In the words of founder Jasmeen Pathja, women are constantly made to feel that they are asking for it, but noone ever asks to be humiliated, harassed or debased in any way.
The oeuvre of ‘eve-teasing’ stretches far and wide. Whistling, catcalling, touching or groping, flashing, blowing kisses, stalking, sexual gesturing or unsolicited photography are all instances of ‘eve-teasing’, suffered by all sorts of women far and wide, dressed in anything and everything from jeans and skirts to sarees and salwars. A close friend was once groped by an elderly commuter person in a crowded subway, while another was groped in on and stalked regularly on her way home from school during a certain period of time.
These are instances of sexually aggressive attacks on womanhood that reconfirm the criminal nature of this acute social evil. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, almost 16 cases of various types of violence against women are reported every hour in India, and many more go unreported. Although the term ‘eve-teasing’ doesn’t appear in the Indian Penal Code, Section 298 (A) and (B) sentence to prison a man found guilty of making a girl or woman the target of obscene gestures, remarks, songs or recitation for a maximum tenure of three months. Section 292 of the IPC declares 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. Section 509 of the IPC attaches a penalty of imprisonment for one year or a fine or both for obscene gestures, indecent body language and acidic comments directed at any woman or girl.
However, reality reminds us that no social evil can be successfully rooted out unless the attitude that it rises from manages to change itself completely. Neither can the situation be corrected unless we accept the onus of doing so ourselves. Let’s also keep in mind that a silent sufferer of a crime becomes as much of a partaker in committing it as the perpetrator himself.