(Mr. Shafi A. Athar, 54, was born in Khrew and completed his high school education at the Government High School in Khrew. He graduated from the Sri Pratap College Srinagar, and received a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He was formerly the editor of the Urdu News Magazine, "Takbeer", and a columnist for the Greater Kashmir. He currently writes for the Rising Kashmir daily newspaper. He enjoys developing scripts for radio and TV programs.)
We the People
The life of Romana Javed, a young girl was cut short by eve teasers at a busy Chowk in Srinagar a couple of years back. Reading reminisces of the fatal episode published by her father raises few important questions about the society we live in. The recent killing of two young boys Keenan and Reuben in Mumbai, who resisted eve teasing of their female friends, is a show case as to what could be in store for those who raise their voice in such incidents. Friends of Keenan and his colleagues took out candle light processions and formed a website to raise the issue of eve teasing.
While these things can’t bring the young lives back, but there is every possibility that people in general could be made conscious of the menace which can be turned into a mass movement against the ill effects in the society. However, such movements don’t take place in our land as is evident in the case of Romana where her father fights a lone battle. Eve teasing is not some new phenomenon in our society or any other city in the world .But the issue is as to what extent it can lead to where even the lives are lost. Eve teasing is a euphemism used in India and sometimes Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal for public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men, with use of the word "Eve" being a reference to the biblical Eve.
Though the problem received public and media attention in 1960s, it was in the following decades, when more and more women started going out to colleges and work independently, which means they more often are not accompanied by a male escort as had been a norm in traditional society. Subsequently, the problem grew to an alarming proportion. Soon the government had to take remedial measures, both judicial and law enforcement, to curb the menace and efforts were made to sensitize the police about the issue and police started rounding up eve teasers. The deployment of plain-clothed female police officers for the purpose has been particularly effective. Special squads to nab eve teasers were formed in Kerala. Other measures seen in various states were setting up of Women's Helpline in various cities, Women Police stations, and special anti-eve-teasing cells by the police. Also seen during this period was a marked rise in number of women coming forward to report incidence of eve-teasing like cases of sexual harassment due to changing public opinion against eve teasers. In addition, the severity of eve-teasing incidences grew as well, in some cases leading to acid throwing.
Public response grew in direct proportions. ‘Fearless Karnataka’ or ‘Nirbhaya Karnataka’ is a coalition of many individuals and groups including ‘Alternative Law Forum’, ‘Blank Noise’, ‘Maraa’, ‘Samvada’ and ‘Vimochana’. After rise of eve teasing cases in 2000s, it organized several public awareness campaigns, including 'Take Back the Night’, followed by another public art project titled, ‘The Blank Noise Project’, starting in Bangalore in 2003.In Delhi, one of India's most dangerous cities for women, the Department of Women and Child Development established a steering committee in 2009 to prepare the city for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In Mumbai, Ladies Special trains have been introduced to allow women working and studying in the city to travel without the fear of eve-teasing, for the length of the journey at least. Given that the number of women needing to travel has doubled since 1995, there is a very strong demand for these kinds of services. About Mumbai’s Ladies Special train Helen Alexander and Rhys Blakel wrote in Times Online UK, 14-Oct-2009 ‘Mumbai’s Ladies Special train leaves the commuter sex pests behind’.
Today "Ladies Special" Compartments are present in all local trains of the big cities.
There is a strong feeling that inadequate protection exists in the law for the victims. In the Indian Penal Code, the word ‘eve-teasing’ does not exist. Eve teasing is an attitude, a mindset, a set of behaviours that is construed as an insult and an act of humiliation of the female sex.
However, victims of eve teasing could take recourse to certain sections of the IPC. Section 298 (A) and (B) of the Indian Penal Code sentences a man found guilty of making a girl or woman the target of obscene gestures, remarks, songs or recitation, will be behind the bars for a maximum tenure of three months. Section 292 of the IPC clearly spells out that showing pornographic or obscene pictures, books or slips to a woman or girl draws a fine of Rs.2000 with two years of rigorous imprisonment for first offenders. In case of repeated offence, when and if proved, the offender will be slapped with a fine of Rs.5000 with five years 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 one year or a fine or both.
Eve teasing is not something which can be ignored, but needs to be responded on societal level. Every group has to play an important and effective role. Feminine voices may play powerful as it would help females to approach public places fearlessly.
Gender bias is not the solution to this social evil!