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Street Sexual Harassment: I refuse to be a victim; I refuse to take the blame

It happens in broad day light. It happens in full view of the public. It happens on streets, malls, buses, metros, lanes, by lanes. It happens to a minor, a mother, a sister, an elderly. It happens to EVERY woman around the world. It is street sexual harassment, and I refuse to term it as ‘eve-teasing’ or having ‘fun’.

Yesterday, I was returning home with my sister when we decided to take the bus as waiting for a cab seemed unending. Because of the approaching festive season, Kolkata, has become a city of nightmare, with people flooding the street, malls and buses, to do some last minute shopping and buying. Usually the buses are very crowded in the evening but fortunately, we got a place to sit. After adjusting the shopping bags under the seat, I called out at the conductor for the tickets and took out the money to give him. He took one glance at us, and quickly responded, shoving passengers on the way, to reach us to hand our tickets. While taking the money from me, he slyly pressed my fingers with his hand, and quickly vanished in to the crowd, promising to get back with the change quickly. I was infuriated but thought he would not repeat it again. I was wrong. When he came back, he tried to touch my hand again, and this time he smiled. I saw red. I screamed. I warned him that I would report his behavior to the officials and he could lose his job. On hearing this, he retorted angrily saying, “People should not travel in buses, if they cannot handle crowd, especially women.”I fumed but my sister pulled me down and told me to remain quiet. The conductor left, muttering under his breath.
After about 10 minutes or so, he returned, surprisingly to apologize. It seemed my warning had worked. He became polite and repeatedly told us not to complain to the authorities. I relented and warned him not to repeat the same ever. He quickly vanished in to the crowd again. I looked at my sister and smiled. After 20 minutes or so, we reached our stop, and got down. I could not trace the conductor any more. We reached home. Exhausted after all the traveling and shopping.
When I narrated this incident to my husband late night, he was happy to know that I reprimanded the conductor in public and told me to voice my discomfort no matter what the situation demands.

But voicing my opinion and saying ‘no’ has never come easy to me. I remember a similar incident had happened in Mumbai, some 6-7 years back, in sophomore year of my college. I was still new to the city. Little naïve and lacked confidence.

I used to take the bus to college every day, which was a 20 minute ride. Invariably i had to stand for most part of the journey as the buses remain crowded. That particular day, I remember feeling very uneasy.
I usually stood close to the door, near the bus driver’s seat for a quick exit. I noticed the person standing behind me was constantly shoving and pushing. Many a times, his hand touched my waist, but I chose to ignore. When finally the situation got a little out of control, i decided to turn back to face the guy. I was shocked to find a fifty something man, looking straight at me, with a wide grin on his face. My skin crawled but I quickly looked away. I decided to move forward hoping that the man would not get an opportunity to touch. But he followed. He slowly crept up behind me and started leaning towards me. At this time he said something which I could not follow or maybe don’t remember, but what I could remember and feel was his long, heavy breathing, on the back of my neck. I prayed for the ordeal to get over. And it did. I quickly got down from the bus at my stop and hurriedly walked towards my college, without looking back. The uneasiness still lurked inside me.

In the evening when I returned to my hostel, I reflected on the incident and realized that maybe my inaction and inability to say ‘no’ prompted the person to carry on with his sadistically evil behavior. That moment i realized how important it is to say a firm ‘no’ and stand up for our dignity. I vowed to never remain silent. I vowed not to suffer.

It has been almost 7 years since that incident. Nothing much has changed though. The same crime takes place, albeit in a different city, by a different person.

The Maitrayani Samhita (Yajurveda: one of the four canonical texts of Hinduism), repeatedly says that a woman’s body is not her own, so she cannot prevent herself from being molested.
The current ministers (including some of the women leaders) repeatedly blamed women for ‘inviting’ the offenders.

Harassment and its definition:

To put first things first, in IPC, the word ‘eve-teasing’ does not exist. It is a euphemism used in India and sometimes in Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh for public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men. The brushing in public places, catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation and assault, all comes under street sexual harassment. In short any activity that violates a woman’s dignity and her basic right to live is an act of sexual harassment.

Like me, there are innumerable victims, in each city, who are forced to treat this ‘every day affair’ lightly either because their law says so or because of further shame and embarrassment. The fact that harassment does not depend on the marital status, color, caste, height, weight, or mental affliction of a woman, proves that it is a widespread social disease which needs to be wiped out NOW.

Most of the time, the girl is blamed. Most of the time, her’ provocative’ dress or ‘loud’ make- up is the reason behind the crime.

Possible causes of rise in street sexual harassment in my country:

‘Bollywood’ ,our very own Hindi cinema industry, churns out movies year after year for the public. And scores watch them, sing to their tunes, and emulate them, trying to be the next ‘hero’ or the ‘villain’ on the streets. Some depictions in Indian cinema show mild teasing as part of flirtatious beginnings of a courtship. ‘Pinching’ of the stomach or trying to run away with the ‘dupatta’( the long scarf that a woman carries or wear it with a suit), are common ways in which a ‘hero’ accosts the ‘heroine’. The ‘heroine’ is shown to be submissive and coy, giving in to the ‘hero’s advances by the end of the song. Young men tend to emulate the same thinking that they too can get away with same kind of behaviour with similar results.
The Police/ constable’s outlook towards the issue is equally deplorable. If at all a woman, gathers the courage to complain at the police station, the officer makes it a point to make matters worse for her. His smirk and the look on his face is enough to express that he does not believe a word of what you said, or better still, does not care.

Most of the time, the case is difficult to establish because victims run away or never come back to check on the case.
Many a times the victim and her family feels that she has suffered enough and running around police stations or court would only make the matter worse.

The Law, which is not as effective as it should be, fails to convict the offenders. Ignorance of the law and ignorance of the rights as citizens makes the situation difficult and gives the culprit room to run.

Most importantly, we tend to perpetuate the idea of ‘men will be men’. We seem to overlook the crime simply because we think men are born that way.

What the Law says under IPC:

I find it of utmost importance to highlight here what the law says regarding street sexual harassment. As mentioned before the Law does not recognise the term ‘eve teasing’. It is a mindset construed to insult women and their dignity. Section 292 of the IPC clearly spells out that showing pornographic or obscene pictures, books, draws a fine of Rs.2000 with 2 years of rigorous imprisonment for first offenders. In repeated offence, he is slapped with a fine of Rs.5000 and 5 years of imprisonment.

Under section 509 of the IPC, obscene gestures, indecent body language and acidic comments directed at any woman or girl carries a penalty of rigorous imprisonment for 1 year or a fine or both. But it is a bailable offence.
Note-worthy action taken in some cities:
With the increasing incidences of harassment in Kolkata and other cities, and ineffective law, the women constables, have decided to take up the matter in their hands, and they have started functioning as undercover agents by acting as decoys in the areas most afflicted. Their stint has been successful so far with more than 60 offenders held in less than two months.

What more could be done:

Historically and culturally, girls and boys have been brought up differently in my country. They have been taught different things and told to react differently. Girls are encouraged not to speak out against crime or crime doers. Boys are taught to be the protector, but, if and when they feel like having ‘little fun’ at the expense of others they can. Why?
Because the books we read teach so.
Because the law does not care and is not effective enough.
Because as humans we do not care.

The outdated upbringing that demarcates on basis of gender has to go. Only with a radical shift in social attitude, sensitizing police, stringent law, increased awareness, can a nation achieve zero tolerance towards street sexual harassment.

It happens in every country, every city, and every town. No girl is spared. No girl feels safe.
As long as the women of my country do not feel safe, we are not a free nation.
As long as we remain ignorant of our laws and rights, we remain a chained nation. A nation chained to slavery of outdated thoughts, and distorted beliefs.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

Sharontina's picture

Well said

Well said, Mukut. That's so informative too for many of our women here in India too of the convictions for such offences. Well put in detail. Thanks for sharing that with WP. The situation here in Tamilnadu is even more worse. The women or girls have accepted this daily street sexual harassment and are prepared psychologically to bear with it. Working women or college and school girls undergo this pressure but bypass the awkward feeling that attacks their dignity and just move along with it.They blame their fate for being women. And then you know what - these devils are encouraged to continue or proceed further to the next step.

I remember an incident, a brutal act, several years ago in Chennai, Sarika a college girl was dragged by her dupatta by the men in an auto and finally fell and hit her head on the stone and took the last breath. That was when the term eve-teasing became such a known phrase here and was talked about everywhere.

I have experiences where i have hit a guy with my shopping bag, pulled his shirt and knocked him down during my college days. The moment i did this the crowd gathered to take the chance. So thats how it is done.

Keep posting.

Love.

Merlin Sharontina

Aurore's picture

thanks

thanks for this article that is filled with both personal experiences and factual details. Just some weeks ago (maybe a month) a girl made a movie about street harassment in Brussels, Belgium. It triggered some debate in Europe, so you can always watch it if you're into this topic.

thanks againf for the article!

Mukut's picture

Dear Sharontina

Sharontina,

While writing this article,i also did a little study on the behavior of offenders who indulge in street sexual harassment on a daily basis.
It clearly mentioned that if the girl or woman did not react,it only encouraged the offender to harass her more.

So not only Tamil Nadu,woman in every city,need to stand up and voice her concern. We have to learn to say 'no'. We have to be firm in our decision to fight against this growing menace.

It is actually frustrating and irritating to face this menace EACH DAY. I have been to quite a few cities of India, and this problem persists everywhere.The stares, leers, sexist comments just don't stop.

It is high time for a paradigm shift in attitude of people of India.Men get a life. Seriously !

Thank you so much for reading my article and sharing your thoughts. Much appreciate it.

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

Mukut's picture

Dear Aurore

Aurore,

Whether it is India or Belgium, street harassment remains a problem at large.If more people (including you and I) can spread awareness about this social malaise, then we might get a reprise.

I will look for the video that you are talking about online.

Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

Much love,

Mukut Ray

lydiagcallano's picture

Self-defense

Victory in our struggle for freedom from violence, abuses and harassment may still be remote. Gender sensitivity education has to be done extensively and intensively. Meanwhile, we can resort to doable steps. For one, we can learn martial arts or any self defense tactics. If that will take time, Ladies/Girls, let us use our voice! Many have said that a woman's voice is her best weapon when threatened. So scream! This may sound silly but it can work.

Ma. Lydia G. Callano
Iloilo, Philippines
+63 33 3158137 or 5138830

Mukut's picture

I agree

I absolutely agree with you Lydia. When everything else fails,kick or punch.Best would be to learn self defence tactics so that we do not have to depend on others for help.

I am seriously thinking of joining kick boxing classes soon. Will keep me fit as well as scare away the offenders if situation demands.

The other point of screaming and drawing attention when you are attacked definitely helps too.The offender would be caught off guard and probably run away or stop the harassment immediately.

Thank you so much for your insightful ideas and stopping by.

Much love,

Mukut Ray

lydiagcallano's picture

You are welcome

I also appreciate how you appreciate my thoughts, Mukut. Pursue what is best for you. You will be a great example for women who are victims of sexual harassment. Go! Go! Go, My Friend.

Ma. Lydia G. Callano
Iloilo, Philippines
+63 33 3158137 or 5138830

Mukut's picture

Thank you

Thank you so much dear Lydia.Much appreciate your support.

Much love,

Mukut Ray

Nusrat Ara's picture

We have to learn to defend

We have to learn to defend ourselves and dont ever think anyone is going to do it for us. And above all we should believe we can do it.

Love

Nusrat

Mukut's picture

Thank yoy Nusrat

Thank you Nusrat.Your words always instill confidence in me.

Thank you for stopping by.

Much love

Mukut Ray

Dear Mukut, Thank you so much for being a good example to what should be done. Women should learn to always say no and know that it is their right and no one should force them in to any situation or force them to do what they do not want. As a woman who believes that the power is our hands i salute you. May you always be blessed and continue to fight for you believe in. Nice day my sister

Mrs. Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Head of Legal and Advocacy
Centre for Batwa Minorities
a.kiddu@gmail.com
cfmlegal@gmail.com
Skype: mrs_muhanguzi

Mukut's picture

Thank you Anita

I agree Anita. Use of any kind of force on a woman is a crime in itself.And we have to learn to fight our own battle.

Thank you so much for writing in. Your words are thoughtful and inspiring.

Much love,

Mukut Ray

Heidi's picture

A brilliant start

Dear Mukut,
Thank you for sharing your article, it was a reminder that movement can be (and must be) made to start changing the general acceptance of harassment on the street. Your story of speaking up is inspiring and your words and research will encourage others to do the same, keep sharing them!!

It is a shift in thought that is important but perhaps very slow. What can be done? How can the conversation come up among women that are affected? Perhaps in law, in workshops, more articles like your own ... perhaps we not only speak up for ourselves but for the women around us if we see harassment happening. Thank you for putting your heart into your work,
Heidi

Mukut's picture

Thank you Heidi

Thank you so much Heidi for those inspiring words.

You are right when you say that next time harassment takes place, we need to speak not only for ourselves but for every women facing it.

Thank you so much for dropping by.

much love

Mukut Ray

Jan K Askin's picture

Eve-Teasing

Dear Mukut,

You are a brave and articulate to write about this seemingly intractable practice. The "excuse" that "men will be men" has survived for far too long.

You describe well the day-to-day unwanted harassments that is street sexual harassment that women endure. It must add up to a feeling of despair in going about one's daily activities. It must stop.

You have begun the first step: bringing awareness to a global audience.

Congratulations.

Jan Askin

Jan Askin

Mukut's picture

Dearest Jan Askin

Jan Askin,

Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. The attitude towards street sexual harassment needs to change. It is not fun or OK to tease a woman.It is frustrating when it becomes an everyday affair.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

Much love,

Mukut Ray

Sangita Thapa's picture

Wow!

Thank you for sharing this wonderful article Mukut! You deserve wow! I appreciate your commendable move to react right at the moment when it happened. Your article reminded me of many incidents that happen to each one of us but we often ignore them. If every woman could say a bold NO to these mostly ignored street sexual harassment; streets, malls, buses and cities would be more enjoyable and safer for women.

Peace and love

Mukut's picture

Thank you Sangita

Yes a firm NO works most of the times.All we need is courage and confidence to speak up.

Thank you for your comments.Appreciate your feedback.

Much love

Mukut Ray

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