Thoughts on eve teasing -
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
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
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
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
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.
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
- Comments or
- Verbal abuse
- Suggestive songs,
lyrics typically targeted at the girl in question
- An unwelcome touch,
sexual in nature
- Physical abuse –
- Flashing which is
accompanied by masturbation – or an act of exposing one’s
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’
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
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
- Lack of interest or
simple indifference. The attitude of ‘It is not my problem’.
- Vested Interest where
somebody gains wrongfully in the process of eve teasing, or
- Simple Lack of
Knowledge. (This would include people like me.)
There are a lot of
misconceptions associated with social problems like eve teasing. They
- Everyone has to be in
agreement on what a social problem is.
- They are caused by
nature. Fairy Godmothers not liking us too much these days I guess.
- It is propagated by a
wicked group of people.
- 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?
- If it is ignored, it
will go away or solve itself. Mysterious nature has a way of healing
itself… I suppose.
- Talking about facts
will solve the problem. Wow! This paper will have solved the problem by
the time this is published! (Did it?)
- 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:
- The breakdown of the
value system that we carry, which is understandable considering our
exposure to a rather sudden exposure to western cultures.
- 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
- 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
- The problem maybe
because “eve teasers” are men afflicted with mental illnesses.
- 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.
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
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
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
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
- To avoid lonely
- To dress in a fairly
- To avoid groups of
- Be or pretend to be
- Confront followers and
- Feel free to speak up
and shout if necessary
- Carry defense
- 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.
Rama, Women Welfare Programmes, Bookink Corporation New Delhi,
Ram, Social Problems in India, Rawat publication, New Delhi and Jaipur,
- R. Muthulaxmi, Female
Infanticide – Its Cause and Solutions, Discovery Publication House, New
Ram, Violence Against Women, New Delhi and Jaipur, 1998
Saravanan, Violence Against Women - A Literature Review,
Country Report, Volume II, ICRA
Beth Oliver, Sex Roles: A Journal of
- Pratiksha Bakshi,
- Integration of the
human rights of women and gender perspective, violence against women,
United nations Economic and Social Council
- www.bluejeanonline.com/features/ features_live/featuresEveTeasing042703.htm
article : Eve teasing
In Hindu, TOI, Hindustan Times, Deccan Hearld
- Crime against