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Pruthvi Banwasi

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Eve Teasing Evils

Chapter Two


Thoughts on eve teasing - Trishna Pandey

I saw this in a movie once and I remain convinced that this is the best way to go about it. I think it was “Never Been Kissed” where Drew Barrymore writes in her column (at the end of the movie) that ‘A writer must write what he knows and this is what I know.’ Well, the quote is not reproduced verbatim but the effect is accurate.

This is what I know about eve teasing.

To me two months ago, eve teasing was a humiliation on the road to be suffered every once in a while. This ‘every once in a while’ happened when I decided to wear a tight pair of jeans with a short top or God forbid, a formal short skirt. When I think about it after the Information Technology boom its not that bad.

When I dress up people barely notice me in M G Road, however, I am not so lucky if I am in Nagashettyhalli, or worse, at K. R. Market. Over a period of time, I have kept my wardrobe to sensible long things with a few short tops (I couldn’t resist them – they are so pretty) and I make it a point not to go to places like Majestic, K. R. Market and Shivajinagar if avoidable. If I do end up there I try and get out as soon as possible. I would rather pay 500 Rupees more for an item rather than suffer the discomfort that I feel when I visit these places.

I have been whistled at, called names, sung songs at, groped, flashed and ogled at for 14 years now. By the way I am 24 now, yes… these things start at an very early age. These things have been happening for so long that I figured this was the way things were and I had to do all I can to protect myself, including not taking these incidents seriously or personally.

Now that I think about it I wonder how being felt up in a bus is not personal. The human mind and its ability to be rational in a manner most irrational is commendable. In a way, I guess it works because I didn’t follow the steps of many girls who think about killing themselves as a result of such incidents, and some do, that is if they are not raped and murdered by an “eve teaser.” That is not a pretty picture. The bottom line is that I dealt with it or rather avoided such situations as much as I could and didn’t give it much thought.

I am not a believer of fate or destiny or anything, so what happened next would probably be termed as a chance happening. I got involved in a project that sought to bring out a book on eve teasing. What was interesting about this project is that a man wanted to do it. More curious things have seldom happened. But in a way it seems fair that it is a man who teases and it is a man who at least wants to attempt to set this right. I was given a brief and I set about starting to start collecting matter and the journey that I have taken from the day I started to research this project to this day has left me stronger, surer of myself and not to forget… enlightened.

To me, any project starts with a Google search. It’s my information comfort zone of sorts. A Google search gave me about 30,000 hits and the links that tuned up on the first page were Indian. I realized that I had a misconceived notion that eve teasing was probably an international phenomenon. While there were several articles by journalists and women expressing the woes of eve teasing, the definition of eve teasing in an encyclopedia site caught my eye. Some of these sites were more eloquent than the others. However, this is what they said. They said that essentially “eve teasing” is a euphemism (I didn’t know the meaning of the word… so I went to the dictionary. Euphemism is a polite way of saying something when said in a blunt manner could be rude or unpleasant) used in India as a substitute for “sexual harassment” endured by women in the urban areas.

I worked out the logic behind this and was astounded! I have been harassed at least five to six times a month for 14 yrs and didn’t know it.

Ok! So I have been harassed and revenge should be mine. I decided I was going to report anyone who harasses me, only to find out that India has tardy laws and an even more flippant manner of enforcing them. No wonder out of every 20,000 crimes committed 40 were tried in court. I would rather kick the guy’s ass or avoid being molested than care about the judicial system in this country.

If that is not sad enough I hear that women and girls are not offered enough moral and social support in this country. Somehow, this entire thing is made out to be the girl’s fault for stepping out of the house, dressing in a certain way or walking in the wrong street. As if we haven’t made enough compromises in our lives already!

Another thing that struck me when I was going through these sites was that if “public sexual harassment” (an odious term, no wonder they chose to call it ‘eve teasing’.) was local to India, it didn’t exist in other countries.

What struck me was that if I was, perhaps a US citizen my bum would in fact be private property and not otherwise. The idea that I wouldn’t have to think twice about going to K. R Market to buy cheap vegetables was like a fairy tale dream, yet the thought that it could possibly be an option widened my horizon of thought, if not choices.

While most of the articles in the newspapers bring out ‘eve teasing’ as sexual harassment, some cases are related to plain bullying of women. The sexual aspect automatically creeps in because of the difference in gender. There was this incident once, when I was hanging out with a bunch of friends in Pune and one of the guys shouted out at this girl who passed by and later laughed his guts out. He was having fun, I didn’t see anything sexual about it. As for what the girl felt, I will never know. Hell, I have teased my friends in my time as well. The line however, gets drawn when it is obvious that it is unwelcome and it hurts the other person.

Sexual harassment, in India refers to any act that upsets the modesty of women while in the US it is any act that is sexual in nature including gestures, words and acts that are unwelcome. According to http://www.uml.edu/student-services/counseling/sexual_harass/ sexual harassment qualifies as an illegal form of discrimination against women in direct violation of a human right. That was interesting! I don’t have much insight into what men think, but I have come to understand that sometimes (or maybe - lot of times) women are viewed as commodities.

History stands testimony to women being treated like objects and to be owned and used. If I objectify people and treat them as such, without consideration of humanity, as an extension of my will - wouldn’t that be in violation of their rights under the constitution?

I started reading up on why things could possibly be this way. “Violence against women” and “Social problems” by Ram Ahuja identifies harassment of women (eve teasing) as one of the many problems faced by women in the country today. According to ‘Crime against women’ approximately 80000 cases of sexual harassment and molestation were reported in 2001 and this is supposedly going down over the years. I also read in an article that for every ten thousand incidents only one come to the notice of authorities or gets reported.

Analyzing various instances of eve teasing or sexual harassment it becomes clear that abuse of all sorts, short of rape, fall within the purview of eve teasing. These include:

  1. Stares
  2. Comments or remarks
  3. Verbal abuse
  4. Suggestive songs, lyrics typically targeted at the girl in question
  5. An unwelcome touch, sexual in nature
  6. Physical abuse – beating
  7. Flashing which is accompanied by masturbation – or an act of exposing one’s genitals
  8. Peeping

There are other incidents that are of concern. These include stalking, harassing, over the phone and with the advent of technology, electronically. According to descriptions provided by various sources these factors are not addressed within the purview of ‘eve teasing or public sexual harassment’.

Although I have had a fist hand brush with most types of harassment, the number of times I have discussed it with my peers or parents is surprisingly low. Logically it doesn’t make sense. It is not that I was made to feel unwelcome or my support system was inadequate, it was just one of those things that I dealt with, usually by avoiding or ignoring it. I am not embarrassed about having been through what I have (there are a whole lotta freaks out there), but embarrassed that I thought that this was a reasonably healthy lifestyle and accepted it.

Pulling back from a personal perspective, it is astonishing how ingrained such practices are in this society. They are seen not only in isolation but form a part of any public or political demonstration. Harassment in several cases that make it to the newspapers is associated with rape and murder. This of course might imply that other forms aren’t “juicy” enough for the media to notice. Fascinatingly these demonstrations do not include “bad men” and “gullible women” as the players. Cops, relatives of political leaders, etc., have taken their last breath while trying to help out a woman in a tight spot, and these are the only ones that we read about.

Moving on, I would like to get academic for a while. But before I do that I would like to indulge a bit about this misconception that is appended to academics. It seems to me that intellectual pursuit of knowledge is somehow perceived to be mutually exclusive from the ‘realities’ that exist. I wonder where humanity would be in terms of technology if the ‘academic’ value of discovering electricity was not recognized or penicillin was considered just a ‘discovery’ for the intellectuals. One can spend an eternity making a distinction; I see it as an excuse to remain in the comfortable demeaning known than venturing into the possible ‘working’ unknown.

Studies show that acts of violence against women are ludicrously common. It is atrocious that these events are not exceptions but rules of the society that we live in. A woman living in Delhi will tell you that her trip from home to workplace is an obstacle race that would put an Olympian to shame. Eve teasing now referred to as public sexual harassment is no exception. Fired by all this I read about it a little and this is what I have come up with so far.

Eve teasing is classified as a social problem, in the purview of violence against women, along with other matters of concern like poverty and an aids epidemic. A ‘social problem’ is any aberration that is unacceptable by society. It has various stages ingrained in it that begins from restlessness of few intellectuals to acceptance of the public by large till it is labeled as an undesirable aspect. Institutional changes follow that ban such actions and sanction an appropriate punishment. We are past this stage, yet what we have failed to achieve is the desired effect. Public sexual harassment is as rampant as ever. This is referred to as the stage of unrest. 

There are various reasons that contribute to such social problems not being addressed, they include:

  1. Lack of interest or simple indifference. The attitude of ‘It is not my problem’.
  2. Vested Interest where somebody gains wrongfully in the process of eve teasing, or
  3. Simple Lack of Knowledge. (This would include people like me.)

There are a lot of misconceptions associated with social problems like eve teasing. They are:

  1. Everyone has to be in agreement on what a social problem is.
  2. They are caused by nature. Fairy Godmothers not liking us too much these days I guess.
  3. It is propagated by a wicked group of people.
  4. Everyone is interested in seeing the problem solved. I don’t think a harasser would be too happy about harass free zones, now would he?
  5. If it is ignored, it will go away or solve itself. Mysterious nature has a way of healing itself… I suppose.
  6. Talking about facts will solve the problem. Wow! This paper will have solved the problem by the time this is published! (Did it?)
  7. Problems can be solved without institutional changes. Good thing we have the court backing us up on this one.

There are various theories that try to understand why this happens. In the theoretical context public sexual harassment might as well be a result of:

  1. The breakdown of the value system that we carry, which is understandable considering our exposure to a rather sudden exposure to western cultures.
  2. Technological changes result in change of the material culture while belief systems remain the same. Holding on to the traditional Hindu “man is the lord’ patriarchal belief, while the material or work culture recognizes women as equal.
  3. When new values (women are equal and free) and old values (‘women are only fit to be wife and mother’ and ‘their chastity speaks of their character’) are in conflict.
  4. The problem maybe because “eve teasers” are men afflicted with mental illnesses.
  5. There is a discrepancy between the ‘ideal’ scenario and the ‘actual’ scenario because the members of the society simply fail to live up to them.

Understanding the problem doesn’t solve it, but it does help us imbibe the severity of the problem and its cause. It gives us an opportunity to pick a place and start off, maybe not in the external environment, but at least in our minds.

One of the reasons quoted as a problem was the shift from male dominated society and the attempt to maintain it. Apparently patriarchy and male domination wasn’t always the central theme of existence. Women ruled in the Pre-Vedic period and enjoyed a superior position in society as compared to men. Initially the establishment of patriarchy didn’t deprive women of the social status they held, however, this deteriorated over a period of time.

A little before Indian independence women were stuck in the roles of mothers and wives and their status and the acknowledgement of their existence was confined to their ability to bear a male offspring. Though independence and exposure to the cultures outside of India led to a change in ideologies and the Constitution of India has been altered to acknowledge women as equal members of society and accepted as equals in the work place, this important change is not yet recognized in some areas and in others not yet accepted from that day to this.

Inadequacy felt in the power available to the masculine gender with the advent of a more global culture may be one of the causes of oppressive acts. Studies show that the media, especially movies are playing a major role in providing the input for eve teasing. Several men respond saying that if the media, advertisers, as well as cinema makers parade women sans morals, what else could their reaction be.

A suggestion was made that guys, old, mature and young may not be in a position to categorize media promotion and reality and therefore have a different response to each scenario. One person aptly commented on his plight and said that it is the society’s duty to provide a sexual outlet for frustrated men. While another said that protesting rape would make it more difficult for the woman therefore it would be wiser for her to be quiet about it.

Whether it is sexual frustration coupled with media exposure, plain lust or a struggle to maintain a superior status, it is discussed academically as the breaking down of value systems. Dominance and superiority have been proven to be overrated at all levels and whatever little of it is left is being shown the door.

Our constitution has made it a matter of principle that inculcates equality of men and women, yet people talk about degrees of assault, things that are tolerable and things that are not. The same law distinguishes as do people between the severities of an action. If it is truly a matter of principle it is either acceptable or it is not.

I have read tons of opinions and have adopted some in my writing above, but here are a few that I would like to exclusively mention. One said that India should legalize prostitution to provide an outlet for the Indian male. Another said that while a woman is being molested she should receive this without too much protest so that she would get out relatively unhurt. My reaction to that is… huh!

My favorite one is of a woman asking Indians to drop the weirdness attached with sex and accepting it as a part of life. If it means sex education, talking about it despite the taboo programmed into us - so be it. I agree.

A few celebrities including Nandita Das have commented on the derogatory effect eve teasing has on a person. Renuka Chowdhury, the Tourism Minister expressed her concern on the deteriorating effect eve teasing has on tourism in India and is positive that dealing with this problem will give a definitive boost to the country not only in terms of tourism prospects but also the respect commanded by India on a global context. To substantiate her comments all one has to do is visit travel sites and read up on India. Any reputed site will warn women regarding eve teasing. ‘Lonely Planet’ would top my reference list as women who have been to India have posted their harrowing experiences in this site.

While death caused by abuse to women, humiliation and rape are associated with sexual harassment, eve teasing somehow is ignored. I too agree with Prakruthi that eve teasing is the cause of these in the first place. Then why is it not figuring as a part of harassment in the judicial network in India? Opinions go far enough to state that the judicial system isn’t effective enough and that that stringent laws are not available to curb such incidences.

Exploring the big picture and playing with ideas though mentally stimulating are of little consequence if short-term goals are not established. Advice has been given to women and girls

  1. To avoid lonely places,
  2. To dress in a fairly conservative manner
  3. To avoid groups of men
  4. Be or pretend to be alert
  5. Confront followers and eve teasers
  6. Feel free to speak up and shout if necessary
  7. Carry defense weapons
  8. Avoid venturing out to a potentially harmful place or at the wrong time.

These are various strategies presented as preventive measures for girls and women. I would like to take a moment here to look at the reporting of such crimes. Although useless, in the long run it might serve a purpose. Our government, at some point in time, should start taking notice of the sheer volume of eve teasing incidents.

Tying to understand why I was harassed and if I have company out there is like trying to understand why a weed grows in a garden. It doesn’t really help the present situation but it does help in understanding what can be done in the future to avoid it. Although I don’t hope to see any change any time soon I am glad to have taken this journey. It has taught to me to expect nothing less than the ideal, from myself and for myself.

Bibliography

  1. Kumari, Rama, Women Welfare Programmes, Bookink Corporation New Delhi, 2000
  2. Ahuja, Ram, Social Problems in India, Rawat publication, New Delhi and Jaipur, 1992
  3. R. Muthulaxmi, Female Infanticide – Its Cause and Solutions, Discovery Publication House, New Delhi, 1997
  4. Ahuja, Ram, Violence Against Women, New Delhi and Jaipur, 1998
  5. Sheela Saravanan, Violence Against Women - A Literature Review, 2000
  6. India Country Report, Volume II, ICRA
  7. Srividya Ramasubramanian,  Mary Beth Oliver, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research,  April, 2003  
  8. Pratiksha Bakshi, Sexual harassment
  9. Integration of the human rights of women and gender perspective, violence against women, United nations Economic and Social Council
  10. http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Eve%20teasing
  11. http://www.fact-index.com/e/ev/eve_teasing.html
  12. http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Eve_teasing
  13. http://www.wordwebonline.com/en/EVETEASING
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eve_teasing
  15. http://encyclozine.com/Eve_teasing
  16. http://www.indiaparenting.com/raisingchild/data/raisingchild203book.shtml
  17. http://www.manipuronline.com/Editorials/December%202002/december23_6.htm
  18. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/indian.html
  19. http://www.chowk.com/show_article.cgiaid=00001547&channel=gulberg&start=0&end=9&chapter=1&page=1
  20. http://www.mouthshut.com/readreview/42355-1.html
  21. http://www.mail-archive.com/goanews@goacom.com/msg00421.html
  22. http://www.madhoo.com/archives/000441.php
  23. http://foxx1.rediffblogs.com/
  24. http://www.evesindia.com/xylane/fireandfury/eve_teasing.html
  25. www.bluejeanonline.com/features/ features_live/featuresEveTeasing042703.htm article : Eve teasing
  26. Articles In Hindu, TOI, Hindustan Times, Deccan Hearld
  27. Crime against women

 


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