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2 Years Since 16th Dec, 7 Women Narrate Why They Did Not Report Cases Of Sexual Harassment

By Shambhavi Saxena:

December 16th, 2012 was a tipping point. The anger and outrage empowered many to take a stand in their personal lives, to call out against sexual violence, and hold the concerned authorities accountable. Two years hence, the personal accounts of seven women from different cities who’ve experienced sexual harassment, revealed a number of reasons that compel women not to report cases to anti-harassment cells or to the police, even though the consensus is for reporting, rather than against.

violence against women

“I was contemplating whether to file a report or not, a couple of days passed, and then a few more, and I eventually didn’t. I just didn’t want to think about it.” – Aparajita Singh, New Delhi

“Women like me who just prefer to walk out of the situation never let anyone know about it.” said 23-year-old Amreesh Bhullar, who witnessed a man removing his pants to reveal his private parts in front of the gates of Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Dehradun, where she studies. “Why put in so much of energy and time on such desperate people, you always have the option of ignoring it and avoiding further mental stress. I have never raised my voice as I am scared of what people’s reaction would be. I don’t want to be the one embarrassed at the end of it and have people singling me out by saying, ‘she’s the one with whom it happened’”

Rose Merlyn Nag, 22, a graduate from Lady Shri Ram shared her personal experience of sexual harassment- a balloon filled with semen was thrown at her during Holi, in her own locality. She raises a valid concern about the safety of the complainant: “I can’t drag these guys to the police station. It would be too much commotion unnecessarily. Indian mentality presents itself at the station, they will say theek hai beta, koi nahi, chale jao (It’s okay, just forget it and move on). What would I have said in the station? They’d probably just laugh at me. They’d give me false assurance. They’d threaten the boys but not take formal action”.

Fear of inaction from the police and other authorities has a real effect on the decision of women to report sexual violence. 21-year-old postgraduate student, Saswati Chatterjee describes how she was harassed on two occasions while travelling in a Volvo bus in Kolkata, “Once a man pressed his genitals against my shoulder. Another time, a man was masturbating while looking at me.” Her immediate reaction was of “shock and disgust. Mostly I don’t know what to say or do.” Saswati’s fear is that the people to whom she has to report are not likely to take her seriously. “The condition of the Kolkata Police is really bad. They are apathetic and unwilling to register complaints. It also doesn’t help that our CM tries to put these down as conspiracies (Park Street Rape), obviously women are not encouraged to report sexual harassment. People are encouraged not to take women seriously.”

Student of TERI University, Aprajita Singh shared a similar story of harassment in a bus in New Delhi, saying: “I pushed him away and started yelling.” In her case it was only the conductor who reacted at all, and even then the offender was allowed to remain on the bus. “I was so shocked” she says, “and to be honest, super scared. I just sat down, and was just trying really hard not to break down and cry. I skipped my stop and didn’t get off till he had, because I was scared he’d follow me home.” She eventually chose not to report the incident.

A Chin (Burmese) refugee living in Delhi since 2009, having fled from Myanmar (where the national army has been committing atrocities for over forty years) finds that life in India is not at all the escape she had expected. Her identity as a woman puts her further at risk. “Many refugee women hate it here and want immediate resettlement because we don’t feel safe. There was a case in the community when a Burmese woman was raped by an Indian man – the woman couldn’t even speak out, out of shame. It is the rapist who should feel shame, but people did not want anyone to know she had been raped. Even though we approached the police, they didn’t take any action.”

In her blog, 25-year-old environmental activist and development professional, Sonam Mittal details how her attempt to get justice after being molested by a hotel manager was actively thwarted by a Goa Police Inspector. Sonam was made the object of victim-blaming and moral policing: “The first thing he said to me was that girls from decent family don’t roam out late in the night drinking and partying with friends.” She received no support when she wanted to take up the case, and was forced to write a statement that would absolve the inspector of the duties he swore to undertake when he put on that uniform.

The practicality of reporting is called into question by the circumstances these women were in. Arshia Dhar, a Masters student at Jadavpur University who was catcalled by cyclists the day we interviewed her, has “no faith in our law” but she still believes reporting will “at least create some kind of awareness keeping in mind the bigger picture of social security for women.” Some are not as optimistic. Amreesh very plainly says that reporting sexual harassment “becomes a task for the woman” and even though “it is ultimately going to benefit the society it isn’t smooth sailing for the complainant, not by any measure.” Saswati backs this up, “I come from a family of lawyers and we all know how long-drawn legal procedures are, and nobody wants a prolonged problem. If I ever did register a complaint, my family would support me, but only up to a point.

Five of these seven women were in favour of reporting cases, but in the end, didn’t perceive the system to be welcoming enough, practical, or even safe. Much has to change also about the attitude of the public towards victims themselves. However, if women do make the choice to report, they should be able to do so in ways that are safe.

Have you ever reported an incident of sexual violence to the police? Fill in this short form to share your experience and join the #readytoreport movement. Amnesty International India has recently launched ReadyToReport.in, as part of an effort to ensure that women who choose to report sexual violence can do so safely, with dignity and without facing prejudice.

You must be to comment.
  1. Aditya

    Would you mind asking the ones who file false cases?….

    1. Avinesh Saini

      And here we go.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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