Gasping for breath, they set off down the road at full pelt. It was a cold afternoon. The streets were deserted. They had no one to tell what misfortune had befallen them. That fear had suddenly clasped their hearts in a lethal embrace. “Help,” they cried but no one came for the rescue. “It was a real bad day for us,” recollects Sada. “I get goose bumps every time I think of it.”
Sada, Fiza, and Nida, all of 12-years-old are three friends who live adjacent to each other. On the fateful day while returning from a friend’s place which lies a few miles away, they were followed by three boys. “Some three boys started passing lewd comments as soon as we set off towards home. We ignored. They laughed. We walked. They giggled. We ran. They whistled.” The boys used every trick in the book to grab their attention but the girls, terrified though, ignored everything and scurried for home. Even after having walked a mile, they found no escape from the trouble that had suddenly cast a shadow on their identity. Silence had fallen over the entire area. They felt as though they were lost in a naked jungle with no trace of life. As though everybody had suddenly denied walking in the area to let their fears take a turn for the worse. They were panting heavily, wheezing at every step. “Nothing was heard except our huffs and puffs and the grisly giggles and whistles of the boys,” says Fiza. “And we were like dragging ourselves forward.” Not surprisingly, their limbs had given up.
However, the dark clouds hovering around them soon paved way for a bright sunshine when a bunker nearby held their eyes. They tried to run as fast as they could. But the boys outstripped them again; one of them pulled Sada by her scarf and hit her in the back while Fiza and Nida somehow managed to enter into the bunker. And only within a few seconds a man with a rifle in hand was before them. Upon seeing the man, the boys startled and tried to escape the scene when Sada ran after them and caught one by the collar of his shirt who had earlier pulled her scarf. Fiza and Nida joined her and all three of them beat him, tore open his shirt, and pulled his hair. "Such men should be banged like that,” says Nida. “We taught them a good lesson,” she chuckles. The girls contrived to escape the trouble with great finesse but you would rarely witness incidents like these. In most of the cases women become the helpless victims.
Eve teasing is on the rise everywhere. The term is a euphemism for Sexual Harassment, so to speak, fabricated in order to relieve our conscience, a substitution made up to avoid or for a minute escape the harshness of the reality. But behind the fancy drapes of the term, everyday somewhere someone is made a pariah among her own people. Still and all there are instances where the helplessness of the victim isn’t even given the shade of this genteelism as though her chastity didn’t cost a thing. “Why is harassment of women in urban India still described through the euphemism of “eve teasing”?” asks Mridu Rai, who teaches south Asian history at Trinity College, Dublin and has authored the book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir. “And why is the regular institutionalized violation of women in rural India not given that unhappy euphemism but routinely ignored?” Over the years we have witnessed advancements in technology. Everything around us has undergone a drastic change. A murder is still a murder. No euphemism for that. But the understatement “eve teasing” which hides a bigger picture of the crime behind itself still lives on with us. The questions Mridu Rai has put before the nation resonate inside every woman, the answers of which are still in the balance. It is suspended in air like the helpless kite entangled with the dense branches of a giant oak tree where you consider it quite a safe decision to get a new kite than to risk your life for the trapped one. The kite weathers the storm alone and finally gives up. The victims of sexual harassment have always been denied justice. Like the poor kite, they pine away with time. The pain doesn't wear off though. But the strength to bear that pain certainly does.
The brutal gang rape of the 23-year-old paramedical student in a moving bus on December 16 last year which shook the entire nation had also started after the victim’s friend entered into a brawl with the conductor. The victim who had gone to see a movie with her friend boarded an off-duty bus with tinted windows and curtains whereupon they were tortured by six drunken men inside who assaulted the victim with an iron rod and raped her before throwing them off naked on the road. The victim later died in a hospital in Singapore. The incident evoked worldwide condemnation asking the government to bring reforms in political and judicial handling of rapes. Though this incident of rape wasn’t the first such incident in the state. Just the following day another 3-year-old was raped in a school compound. Nor is this incident going to mark a stop to the crime. People would come across many more heinous cases like these. However all of them might not get attention from the media and the world alike. Most of them would go unreported as usually happens while others would be wrapped in a farcical story. Maybe there are some protests and calls for bandh too. But then again the nation would go to sleep until someone else loses her chastity. Official data shows that New Delhi reported 572 rapes in 2011 and more than 600 in 2012. According to reports for every case that is brought to the police, fifty go unreported. Given the gruesome picture of the national capital, one is forced to ponder upon the fact if the part of society he lives in is safe for women.
Kashmir is a conservative society. One that upholds its traditions, that is. But does that qualify it of being safe for women? A recent look at statistics: the incidents of rape reported in J&K was 243 in 2012, 275 in 2011 and 301 in 2012 as per the figures submitted by the State Government in the Legislative Council this year. The figures insinuate that the rate of the violence against women has only gone up. Though the number of the cases reported in Kashmir is less because of the stigma that follows. “Social stigma indeed muffles your voice when it comes to reporting such cases. Even if women want to report all this, they can’t, because the society of which we are a part isn’t fair and just always,” says Snober Shora, a University student. “If a woman is harassed, people would stoop to any device to put the blame on the woman. Nobody would talk of the molester. Now if somebody is raped, people would still blame the victim. Mostly the fingers are raised on the kind of attire she likes to dress herself in. Even if a woman walks naked, does it mean that you can go and rape her? This concept has to be changed.” she says in an agitated tone.
Early this year, a 28-year-old lady who teaches at a preparatory school was badly injured when a man thew acid on her face in broad daylight. "Kashmir isn't safe for women," says Dr Shabnum Ashai, a broadcaster. "Making tall statements like women walks shoulder to shoulder with men is a mere lip service. You come to know of the credibilty of the facts when you come across incidents like these." Earlier in July 2012, a 13-year-old specially-abled girl child was raped by a 25-year-old man who happened to be her neighbor in South Kashmir. In July only a 16-year-old girl was gang raped in North Kashmir after she was returning from her exams.
In another incident a 16-year-old girl, Seema was alone at home. Her mother had gone to see her relatives while her father had been to office. A year back her father had arranged a tutor to help her read Quran everyday. “He was an elderly person, so my parents thought that I would be safe enough in his company.” She was quite happy about it until one day when she felt something seriously awkward. She ignored without disclosing her feelings about him to her parents. Time passed but the intentions of the tutor didn’t suppress. On the fateful day when the tutor arrived, he put aside the Quran and began to move closer to her. Her heart was pounding, she was out of breath. However she managed to push him out of her way. “When he began to come closer, I got scared. I didn’t know what to do,” says Seema. “But thank God I pushed him off of me with all my force; ran towards granny’s room and cried bitterly.” When she narrated the incident to her family, nobody could believe her at first. “Everyone was shocked. They couldn’t believe my words; questioning that how can an old and religious person like him do such a shameful act and that too with a girl who is half the age of his grandchild.” That horrifying experience still haunts her. “Had I not been able to push him away? Had I sat quiet like a helpless creature? Questions of such sort continue to haunt me,” says Seema in an undertone. “These things happen every now and then. But the mystery remains unsolved."
Women have to undergo harassment every so often from public places to bus stops to local buses to workplaces. There is no end to this crime. “Inside of every local bus the overcrowded setting leaves you discomfited. The passengers jostle each other, they almost bump into one another," says Sabrina Munir, a University student. “But the situation is quite manageable uptill the time some thugs take the opportunity.”
"My face is covered, you see. I'm wearing Burqa since my school days,” says another 19-year-old University student, clad in a loose fitted Iranian burqa. “In one incident while traveling in a local bus I shouted at a man who was continually harassing me from the time I boarded the bus but instead of cursing the man, a woman sitting just in front of me enquired from me what the man was doing. Isn’t that weird? I’m sick and tired of the way our society responds to such incidents,” she says with a scorn. “When reporting to your own gender becomes such queer some, I don't know how people face police and courts in such cases.”
Many women believe that the victim is forced to use a gag to muffle her cries when such incidents happen because the society still believes that a man has precedence over a woman who by and large stigmatizes the victim instead of helping her punish the thick skinned perpetrators. While some people still believe that such issues carry a huge social stigma, many others say that people should support their children instead of hushing it all up for the fear of the disease called social stigma. That the victims must stand up for themselves. “The crimes against women are on the rise but the reason isn’t just a boy or his upbringing. It is multidimensional. A girl herself needs to be brave,” says Amreen Naqash, a student of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Kashmir. “She needs to report any kind of violence to her parents and at the same time parents need to be friendly. Besides, the society should forget turning to minor issues as the blind lady of law.”
The more educational institutions are cropping up, the more is the crime rate. What in the name of education is being provided to the students? The onus can't be put on the educational system alone. Parents, in the run of making their both ends meet have somewhere forgotten their children. “I have been researching this issue of women and their condition for the last so many years keeping myself as the subject. I have lived so many roles, analyzed each one of them and in each I found myself weak and at the receiving end. I have hence come up with a solution,” says Nadia Shah, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Sri Pratap College. “Man needs to be taught what a woman is and it can only be done by a mother who brings him up. If all the mothers bring up their boys like this I am sure there will be a day when women will find this world a safe place for them.”
In the wake of the Delhi gang rape last year which triggered massive protests countrywide, many remarks were made by the politicians in support of the women. Likewise many controversial remarks also floated on the surface which caught the people by the eyeballs.
Though there are various perspectives people have been treating the women with, ranging from eating chowmein to working for late hours to westernisation. After the rape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Kaithal district, Haryana, who later immolated herself, Khap Panchayat of Haryana blamed the consumption of fast food. Another Khap representative quoted that boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16, so that they don’t go astray.
While Khap views made people burst into a loud guffaw, the speech of Asaram Bapu kindled the already moist eyes with indignation. “The controversial remarks made by the politicians and others in the wake of the Delhi gang rape shows that nothing has changed. We still live in a world where the victim is stigmatized,” says Pakeeza, a Sociology student. Oddly enough not even one statement comes from the men folk against their own gender who have the lectures and suggestions for the women off pat. ‘‘It is because of this reason only that the perpetrators stand with arms akimbo even after having committed such gruesome act.”
“Every time such heinous crime happens our “educated” and “respected” political leaders create controversies with comments, also many easily would blame the west, but how do you forget, India itself has a Rape rich history,’ says Mir Atif, who works in an American multinational banking corporation.
“We all should stop blaming - and lets introspect why is all this happening. Let the both genders analyze themselves rather than blaming the opposite gender.”
Out of the all controversial remarks made by different people, one did shot the arrow. Many people believe that westernization and the influence of Bollywood has shaken the very morals of the nation. Many people say that the type of cheap entertainment available to the children is the major reason behind the skyrocketing of such crimes. On top of it all, nobody keeps a check on what is being watched. Movies despite having sexually explicit scenes, strong language, and profanity are rarely given the adult rating. “Though sometimes some movies are rated as Adult but there is no check on their availability. They are readily available. Internet has more than spoilt the children,” says Nusrat, a school teacher. “Government must censor the sites that are violent in nature. And parents should keep a check on what their children are watching.”
In 1964, a bookseller Ranjit Udeshi in Bombay was prosecuted under Sec. 292 of the Indian Penal Code (sale of obscene books) for selling an unexpurgated copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The same Penal Code in bold terms also forbids the promotion of obscenity. According to the law in India, anything that is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is to deprave and corrupt persons would be considered to be ‘obscene’. Obscenity is hence an offence under the Indian Penal Code. But the Bollywood industry doesn’t seem to care a hang. “Every industry has a Corporate Social Responsibility. They assess the effect of their actions on the society as a whole. Their main responsibility is to encourage the positive impact through the activities of the industry on the public sphere. Bollywood too is an industry, why doesn’t it follow and implement the Corporate Social Responsibility?” says Mahajabeen, a Management student and a blogger. “Certification of a movie as restricted or unrestricted doesn’t restrict the children from watching the adult rated movie when it is widely available in the market or on the internet.”
Where people demand that women should herself take a stand for her rights, parents should understand their responsibility, the Government should also take measures to preempt such incidents from happening. During the Women's Day function organized by National Conference on March 8 this year, the Chief Minister of the State, Mr Omar Abdullah said, "We don't think about women until a heinous incident like the rape of one of our sister's took place in Delhi. Until then we are not concerned about what happens with our mothers and sisters. Only after such incident we asked for a change in the law. These incidents should stop." Pertinent to say State Government hasn’t even followed one direction towards the safety of women out of the long list issued by the Supreme Court in the last year. It is time actions are made to speak.
*Some names have been changed to protect their identity