Eve teasing violates a woman's basic right to live in dignity. Will women forever remain targets and victims of eve teasing? Will their rescuers continue to be unwilling martyrs to a dead cause? Before these questions are addressed, one needs to explore and analyse why, irrespective of the dress they wear, or, their ages, their looks, their educational, professional and marital status, never mind the time or place, women in Kolkata and elsewhere are being subjected to all kinds of harassment from obscene telephone calls, stalking, and last but not the least eve-teasing.
On August 1, Sanjay Soni, a young man, tried to molest a girl inside a shared auto rickshaw in Lake Town in the presence of her father who was escorting her. When the girl tried to resist, the father asked the auto rickshaw driver to stop and began to bash up the culprit. A crowd gathered and beat up the man who was saved from being lynched by the timely arrival of the police. Some of the women who were standing in the queue at the Lake Town auto rickshaw stand said eve teasing and molestation are regular occurrences on the route.
On July 30 this year, Tabassum (name changed), a student of Class VII, studying in Cartauche Public School in Park Circus, was returning home in a bus on route 45. Unable to bear with the advances of a middle-aged man standing behind her in the crowded bus, she raised an alarm. Her co-passengers remained mute spectators. The bus driver stopped the bus when he saw an on-duty sergeant. Some bus passengers came forward to back Tabassum only when the police began to question her. Singh was later released because the girl and her parents withdrew their complaint. Almost all Kolkata newspapers reported both these incidents.
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 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.
Sometime in 2005, Reema Bose (name changed), was returning from the hospital at the end of the day from Deshpriya Park. As she walked along Motilal Nehru Road, an auto rickshaw suddenly appeared by her side. A few young men inside were guzzling beer. They began to throw bargains, whistled, teased and threw obscene comments at her. When nothing seemed to work, one of them got off the rick and tried to pull her into the vehicle. A mobile police van arrived in the nick of time and saved Reema. It was eight in the evening. (Reema narrated this incident to me.)
Kolkata is not unique. Women in Bangalore constantly face leers from passers-by, and taxi and rickshaw drivers. In buses, groping is common and on one occasion, when a woman yelled at the person touching her, she was thrown off the bus! The Mehrauli-Gurgaon road in Delhi has a lot of liquor shops and often, men get back into their cars and begin to drink after which eve-teasing is a nice and easy way to have fun and go on an ego trip at one and the same time.
Women's rights activist Maitreyee Chatterjee says that even a burqah cannot guarantee safety. "Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code which mentions the arrest of a culprit for attempt to outrage the modesty of women does not have any condition about the victim's dress," she says. Filmmaker Anindita Sarbadhicari says that eve teasing and molestation are acts of perversion. "It is foolish to think that molesters get turned on by the victim's dress. Then why are there so many rapes in Islamic countries?" asks Sarbadhicari.
Women constables in Calcutta's Salt Lake area sometimes function as undercover agents from the Bidhan Nagar (north) police station by acting as decoys. Three young woman constables were able to round up a total of 60 offenders within the first month of their operation in 2005. All offenders, say the policewomen, were aged between 18 and 28. This strategy was probably the outcome of the sudden spate of obscene calls hounding wives of high officials and ministers who live in Salt Lake, Calcutta. Film personalities like Moonmoon Sen, Indrani Haldar and Indrani Dutta, Dolly Roy, wife of Congress MLA Sougata Roy, Renuka Biswas, wife of CBI joint director Upen Biswas, Deepika Nanda, wife of state fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda are among those who were hounded by obscene calls at any time of day or night. But immediate deterrent action is often linked if the victim is a celebrity or has high connections. Democracy here is conspicuous by its absence.
An officer posted at Bidhan Nagar police station, Kolkata, thinks that laws against eve teasing are not stringent. "There is no law that can bring them to task," he says. "They are penalized with a meagre fine ranging from Rs.10 to Rs.100.00 or three days imprisonment in lieu of the fine. Until proper and more stringent punishment is meted out, one cannot stop this," he adds. To nab the teaser and hold him down is one of the most difficult tasks in law. Add to this the casual and indifferent attitude of the constable you take your complaint to. He looks at you with a smirk, chews on his paan and the look is enough to express that he does not believe a word of what you have said or better still, does not care!
However, eve teasing has now been given its proper status as a criminal activity the law recognizes it as sexual harassment. The crime could not earlier be pinpointed as a 'crime against women' per se; victims can now take recourse under the law. (See box above.)
In Delhi, policewomen pose as women commuters and pull up men when they attempt to molest or tease them. But problems would arise if this action of pretence by the policeman were seen as entrapment. "Whip them black and blue," suggest some senior police officers of Bangalore, as a remedy. "Besides offering the victim instant justice, it would also help the legal system from getting clogged with cases where most often than not, the culprit is let off."
Cases against eve-teasers and molesters also difficult to establish because the victim runs away and never comes back. Why? "She has already suffered enough during the process of being teased and molested in public. Tremendous psychological pressure from the immediate family stops her from coming forward to identify herself. Besides, she has to take the same route to college. She is not the only one either. There are hundreds who cannot report such incidents even if they wish to," says filmmaker and women's rights activist Ananya Chatterjee-Chakraborty.
The pscyhology of eve-teasing
Women are often criticised for 'inviting' molesters by way of their 'seductive' way of dress and make-up. But this theory collapses in the face of rustic, illiterate and poor village women who cannot afford to dress seductively. What does 'seductive' dressing mean? Who decides what is 'seductive' dressing and what is not?
1. The victim/complainant should go to the nearest police station and file a FIR within the mandatory rules.
2. She should note that the FIR is written down in the register and take the registration number or ask for a receipt of the same.
3. It is then the duty of the police to investigate into the incident.
Note: It is advisable to consult a lawyer before registering the F.I.R.
These myths could have been exploded through effective protests, but this has been fractional. When women protest against violence to their person by men, other women, social groups or the machineries of the government, they are again victimised. Covert or overt, direct or indirect, visible or invisible, structural or social, women are always both targets and victims of violence across the world. The eyes of the man who accosts a woman with evil intentions will be extracted, wrote Chanakya in the Arthashastra while defending the rule of Chandragupta Maurya. 2000 years later, the woman is not spared the evil intentions of men. Their eyes are hardly the only offending organs of their body used to insult a woman.
Eve teasing, like rape, molestation and sexual harassment, is generally understood in feminist theory to be an expression not of unbridled lust and desire, but of power. Eve teasing is a form of sexual harassment indulged in by men, never mind their intelligence or their education.
Men's elbows thrust out to brush against you; someone stands too close behind you in the bus even when there is enough space for him to maintain a decent distance; you must be prepared to encounter leers and comments if you are wearing a skirt never mind its length, or even a sari if the choli is a low-backed one; till the offenders manage to instill enough guilt in you for you to feel you should not have worn what you have. These are just a few strategies eve-teasers resort to.
There is a hidden agenda to a catcall, to a deliberate brush or to bottom pinching show her who is superior. Let us watch her suffer humiliation and helplessness, the feeling of violation that burns through her each time someone darts that look and mutters in that alien language. The offence almost never meets with defence. The glory of watching one's insults being absorbed through her skin without fear of reciprocation is something men take malicious joy in. Most women are conditioned to pretend that they have not felt humiliated even as their whole being is simmering with anger. This reinforces the confidence of the offender. He savours his victory till he targets the next prey.
"Anatomy is destiny," wrote Sigmund Freud. The comment encapsulates the confining, narrow implications of the way in which women's physique and anatomy has affected the way they are perceived by men.