Culture · Society

Eve teasing: A blot on women’s dignity

Rashmi was walking on the road on a bright sunny day. Suddenly two goons on a motorbike came near her with one of them singing “Gore Gore mukhre pe kala kala chashma.” The other person also passed some lewd remark.

Rashmi is not the only one to face this. We women have confronted this situation at some point of time in our daily lives. It is perhaps one thing that bridges gap between the rich and poor. I may belong to affluent and educated family yet I am vulnerable to same risk that every girl faces. Eve teasing, as this molestation is known as, may take various forms from sexually coloured remarks, singing, making fun of the victim or even touching physically. It is a common phenomenon not only in metro cities (where it gets highlighted more) but in small towns as well.

It is difficult to say where this word ‘eve teasing’ originated. Perhaps eve refers to the tempting nature of the first woman on earth thus putting the blame of eve teasing on women themselves.

The question is why does it continue to exist despite society taking giant leaps in education? Perhaps answer can be found in the nature of education system itself. Our education system does not motivate us to question stereotypes rather it reinforces them. Women have been portrayed as meek, submissive and weak subjects in textbooks. It is common to associate terms like ‘beautiful, attractive, pink’ with women. Thus our education system should be revamped to include gender sensitization as one of its aspects. The second reason is the parochial mindset that still regard woman as a sex object. Such mindset owes to illiteracy and defective education system. Also, our culture teaches women to bear insult rather than offer resistance. This mindset aggravates the situation. Since times immemorial, society has taken care to impart etiquette training to women. But have we bothered to educate boys to respect women? Perhaps no and the consequences are before us. We often find that rules are lax for sons as compared to daughters and parents never try to find out what kind of company their son has and who his friends are. The lax security measures also contribute to eve-teasing.

The 2012 Nirbhaya case has once again provoked the issue of safety of women. Sensing the gravity of the situation, the government has passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. The Act defines “sexual harassment at the workplace” in a comprehensive manner, in keeping with the definition laid down in the Vishaka judgment, and broadening it further to cover circumstances of implied or explicit promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment or humiliating treatment, which can affect her health or safety. While the “workplace” in the Vishaka guidelines is confined to the traditional office set-up where there is a clear employer-employee relationship, the Act goes much further to include organisations, department, office, branch unit in the public and private sector, organized and unorganized, hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions, sports institutes, stadiums, sports complex and any place visited by the employee during the course of employment including the transportation. The definition of employee covers regular/temporary/ad hoc/daily wage employees, whether for remuneration or not and can also include volunteers. The Act casts a responsibility on every employer, central and State government to create an environment which is free from sexual harassment.

Another landmark legislation is the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act passed in 2013. This Act expressly recognizes certain acts as offences like, acid attack, sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking and prescribes stringent punishments for them. According to the Act, an acid attack can lead to imprisonment not less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and with fine. Sexual harassment can lead to rigorous imprisonment up to five years, or with fine.

The Act has replaced Section 370 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) with new sections, 370 and 370A which deals with trafficking of person for exploitation, which is punishable with at least seven years to imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life depending on the number or category of persons trafficked.

The most important change that has been made is the change in definition of rape the under IPC. The word ‘rape’ has been extended to include acts in addition to vaginal penetration. The definition explicitly describes rape with words like penetration of penis, or any object or any part of body to any extent, into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of another person or making another person do so, apply of mouth or touching private parts constitutes the offence of sexual assault. The section has also clarified that penetration means penetration to any extent, which is punishable with imprisonment not less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and the perpetrator shall also be liable to a fine.

The government has also taken steps to enhance safety of public transport like installing GPS tracking system and CCTVs. One stop crisis centre and women helplines have also been set up to help victims in distress. Though these measures will go a long way in enhancing the safety of women, how strictly they are implemented remains to be seen. For our part, we women should be alert while walking on the streets and should be aware of the recourse measures available to us. Training in self defence is also a viable solution. Sadly it does not have many takers. We as women are more interested in enrolling for Bharatnatyam or cookery classes rather than self defence. This attitude needs to change. We must remember that government can only take measures to enhance our safety but their effective implementation also depends on us. Nothing will change unless we decide to bring it about.

About the Author

ASHITAAshita is a freelance journalist. An alumni of Lady SriRam College and Indian Institute of Mass Communication, she has a keen eye for women issues. Having worked in the media has sharpened her insight towards burning societal issues. She loves reading ,writing articles and travelling during her leisure hours. Currently, she is volunteering with Alexis Centre for Women’s Development.

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