The Thing About Sexual Harassment In India…

Posted on May 4, 2015 in Gender-Based Violence, Society, Taboos

By Simrith Hundal:

A few days ago, I met some of my friends for dinner. We were three guys and two girls, and it was arranged that the guys would drop the girls on the way back. As we drove back, the topic somehow got around to that of ‘eve-teasing’ (an exceedingly innocent-sounding term, but let’s not digress) perhaps because it was 9:30 p.m. and an ‘unsafe’ time for girls to take a bus back home.

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One of my friends (let’s call him Arvind) remarked, “But all that happens in the North only and that too rarely. Not here in Bangalore.” I was taken aback. Deciding that he was feigning ignorance in order to rile me up, I said, “You know it happens everywhere and every day. Don’t pull my leg on something like this.” He continued in that matter-of-fact way, “But it doesn’t happen here, and definitely not to not-so-good-looking girls.” Now he was definitely teasing me with that second bit. However, his body-language and confidence while stating everything else made it amply clear that this poor chap was completely oblivious to both how rampant eve-teasing is and also to the thought behind it.

Still, it was unthinkable- that these guys, living with mothers and sisters, and surrounded by female co-workers and friends, had not a clue about such a prevalent problem. So I gave him one last chance. I said, “Wait a minute, do you really not know or are you pretending? Be clear now, no jokes.” To which he said, “What? Dude, these things don’t happen in Bangalore- Bangalore is safe. They only happen in the North. In places like Delhi.” The other two nodded their heads in agreement. I was shocked. Shocked that three men, born and brought up in a city, educated in a city, working as IT professionals, reading the news daily, my friends and most importantly, surrounded by women with whom they spend time, talk, work and eat, were so out of touch with reality. They had no clue!

I proceeded to give them a comprehensive talk about how they had no business being so ignorant about something that, for all they knew, the women in their own families had faced. How was it possible that these guys were so oblivious? How was it possible that they were so confident about eve-teasing being something one only read about in the news? How did they equate it with being something only ‘pretty’ girls faced?

So here I am, explaining some things that need to be known about sexual-harassment in all its forms. This is for all those men and women out there who think they know what the state-of-affairs is like in India, but don’t. Unsure if you’re one of them? Read on anyway. You never know what you may learn.

1. This happens all over the country:

There are no exemptions. No exempt states, or exempt social strata, or exempt age-brackets, or exempt kinds-of-women. It happens in villages and also the most cosmopolitan of cities. It happens at schools, and also at high-flying workplaces. Everywhere. Don’t assume.

2. Every woman you know who lives in India, has faced sexual harassment:

A reckless claim, you think? Here, try this. Ask the next woman you meet today whether she has ever faced any kind of sexual harassment in her life. She’ll probably have more than one incident. And I do really mean the next woman you meet- it could be your boss, you mother, your sister, your friend, your wife, your partner, your teacher, your grandmother. Ask, I urge you. In fact, here’s something even better. Gather all the women at your workplace, or at home, or at any gathering, and pose them with this question. Ask how many of them have not faced harassment of any form. See if even a single hand is raised.

3. Harassment has nothing to do with lust and everything to do with violence:

Leching, making lewd passes, groping and more- all these are forms of intimidation and power-display born out of an urge to control, demean and show victims ‘their place’. Which is also why ‘dress sense’ and ‘looks’ and ‘time of the day’ have nothing to do with how safe a woman is. Women wearing astronaut suits or sarees are as likely targets as those wearing shorts. Women perceived as being plain are as likely targets as those perceived as being beautiful. Women going to work at 10:00 a.m. in the morning are as likely targets as those getting back from it at 10:00 p.m. Sexual and consequently, mental harassment is perpetrated either by males who are threatened by females wielding free-will, or those who think that females are usable objects.

4. Harassment is harassment. There is no ‘big’ or ‘small’:

We seem to think that only rape is an unpardonable crime. But assault, is assault. Non-physical harassment like staring, whistling, passing comments and making lewd sounds also do damage. The exact same mindset is at the root of all these kinds of harassment, and as mentioned above, it is that of violence and control. Imagine being stared down by a bunch of people as though you were naked. Or your crotch getting stared at with a violating look reeking of objectification and disrespect. There is nothing normal or acceptable about leching and lewdness.

I’m hoping that this removes those blinkers (probably unintended) from around your eyes, and makes you aware of what’s happening around you. And that you won’t be so blatantly ignorant of one of the most prevalent crimes in society today.

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