Some might argue that eve teasing is not that serious a crime as, in most cases, it doesn’t involve physical contact and is purely verbal. The most common advice we as girls are given concerning eve teasing is to ignore it. We are asked to ignore the trauma that we feel after such harassment. Wikipedia defines eve teasing as “a euphemism used throughout South Asia, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, for public sexual harassment of women by men.” The definition itself is exemplary of the prevalence of this activity in our country. Eve teasing is so widespread in almost all strata of the Indian society that by the time an Indian girl reaches the age of 18 years, she gets somewhat desensitized to it. But this desensitization doesn’t mean that this kind of inappropriate behavior doesn’t affect her anymore. It still does, in fact even more, because any such incident brings back all the memories of similar horrendous incidents she might have witnessed in the past. The only implication of desensitization is that she might not complain, or tell anyone about it because deep down she knows that while our society is capable of acknowledging physical wounds, it is not yet anywhere close to understanding mental scars and trauma.
I understand the boy was bustling with his newfound youth energy when he chased that girl on her way to get groceries from the nearby store and started chanting “I love you” in the middle of the street. That little girl failed to understand what was happening. The only thing she could understand was a feeling of embarrassment and discomfort. While the boy went away and flaunted that he professed his love to some random girl, the girl lost her freedom to step out of the house alone.
I understand the boy had filmy cliches in mind when he followed that girl on a bicycle just like any other Bollywood hero. Believe me, it is not filmy, it is offensive. He attempted to touch her inappropriately while riding the bicycle and ended up colliding with her. Both fell, the girl scraped her knees and had blood oozing out. But the trauma of what happened had made her numb, too numb to feel the pain of her physical wounds. She rode her bike home and cried her heart out. And before she knew it, she lost her freedom to do what she loved the most, riding her bicycle freely in the colony.
I understand that the middle-aged man found it funny when he stalked that girl disguised as a waiter. He followed her throughout the party and kept winking at her. The girl was so afraid that she just waited for the party to get over. But this time, she didn’t tell her parents about it. Partly, because she knew nothing could be done about it now. But mostly, because she knew every time any such incident happened, a piece of freedom of hers would be taken away. Also, she loved going to parties, she didn’t want to be restrained from the same. So, she kept quiet. But in addition to this, one more thing changed this time. While earlier, she always blamed the other person for the misconduct, this time she blamed herself. The fact that such incidents were taking place with her irrespective of her age, location, etc. made her doubt herself. She started getting convinced that maybe there is something wrong with her that caused such incidents to happen to her. She became conscious of the way she dressed especially in a public setting. She couldn’t step out without a sense of fear in her heart. So strong was the sense of fear, that it turned an atheist like her into a believer. When she had to ride on her scooter from her home to tuition at 5 am, she had to cross a park. The park seemed extremely dark and eerie at that hour of the morning. For an Indian girl, any such setting is simply ominous. She couldn’t help but think of all the unfortunate things that could happen. Just like any other girl, she too feared the same. While the boys went about humming their songs, the only thing she chanted was Hanuman Chalisa. She just wanted to reach her tuition safely. She knew if something unfortunate happens, she probably would be restrained from attending that class.
We usually think that such unruly behavior is shown only by the illiterate people, but that too is an incorrect perception. That girl was working late in a lab when she realized that apart from her, there is just one senior student still working. Being a girl in India, all of us have developed an instinct to sense ill intentions. Her sixth sense was also aroused at that moment. She could feel someone staring at her. She packed her things and started leaving in a haste. She could feel that person following her. She entered the lift but he too managed to get into the same lift. He tried to interact with her despite her clear expression of disinterest, and then went back. This seemingly harmless incident created a deep impact on that girl. She felt that no person of the opposite gender could be trusted.
All these incidents are not just associated with me or someone else. The unfortunate part is that these incidents are associated with all of us. In fact, by the age of 18, every girl in India has faced at least one incident of eve teasing. We all heard about the death of Sudeeksha Bhati, the scholar who lost her life in an attempt to safeguard herself from her eve-teasers. We all couldn’t help but feel sad for the braveheart who spent her life fighting for the same cause she succumbed to. Her parents went against the people of their village by sending their daughter to a residential school and then abroad for higher studies. In their village, girls were never allowed to pursue higher studies due to fears of sexual harassment. They broke the rules to fulfill their daughter’s aspirations. Do you think that any family of her village would now allow their daughters to continue their higher studies? The incident is not only a loss of a daughter but also of hope.
These cases are increasing and getting more and more serious every day. And to date, we have no perfect solution to solve this pressing issue. Though I am no expert to suggest legal paths to follow in such cases, I certainly feel that as a society, what we all can do is to teach our children about such things at a young age. Parents play a very important role in molding a child’s mind and instilling the right values in them. As parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our sons to respect the opposite gender and to not view women as mere sexual objects. Women are much more than their sexuality. As a woman myself, the only plea that I wish to make is to view us as human beings and not objects, inside a womanly body, we too have a conscience, a fragile heart, and a sensitive mind.