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10 Feb

Outraged! An Indian Girl’s Perspective of the Law

We take security and protection for granted, but even the most secure neighborhoods and circumstances can bring out the worst case scenarios that can harm a girl emotionally and physically. Here’s a story that’s written by an Indian girl about sexual abuse and eve teasing in her seemingly secure neighborhood.

Did you feel ashamed? Ashamed, that when at 13, a passerby grabbed and pinched you?

Ashamed that men passed ‘lewd’ remarks when you walked past? Or brushed against you?

Ashamed when cab drivers adjusted their rear view mirrors to stare at your chest?

Ashamed that it happened to you because you thought you walked, talked and dressed in a manner that was wrong?

Rape, eve teasing and molestation are encountered almost every day, across the world.

The scar these everyday instances leave on our psyche is immeasurable, eventually making an individual insensitive to such incidents and devastating one’s self image.

The worst of it is by the society and people, who ironically blame the victim, in most cases the woman, by labeling them to be indecent, provocative and having an unfavorable attitude.

“I get eve teased every day in public buses, it is horrible but after it happens, the first thing I do is look at my dress… try to cover my chest with a duppatta (a shawl-like garment)” says Aranya, a 16 year old Indian student.

Does the law help an Indian girl?

‘Freedom’, the word seems neatly imprinted on the papers, where stalwarts of our society use and misuse it to portray their deceptive liberal attitude.

“Frankly speaking, there is no freedom for girls to dress and behave the way they want. We always have to be on constant vigil” adds Aranya.

Our Indian law grandly states: IPC Section 354 “whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or both”.

“Who now is a modest woman?” asks student Kalpana. “Am I immodest because I dress up in a backless top? And if so, is outraging me not a crime? Whose modesty is the law boasting about? What degree of outrage does it describe? Such vague laws” she exclaims.

An incident where a foreign diplomat was raped in an area buzzing with activity in India disproves the idea of safe and unsafe areas to be ventured. “It is at times insane, when people ask me to avoid certain places because they are not safe. I get eve teased everywhere” says Sneha, a media professional.

“Our law has too many loopholes, it gives you all the rights at one instance and snatches it away at the other” says Reshma, a law graduate. On the basis of section 354, one can be punished for eve teasing. However, the law demands proof, and lack of proper mechanism and elusiveness of a satisfactory definition of modesty fails the purpose of the law. “How can a woman prove to the police that the man had touched her breasts?” questions Reshma.

Affect and effect

Pavitra was walking home. It was a slightly audible noise in the distance, and then it got louder as the car came closer. She was humming on her way, swinging her books by her side.

The creep in the car slowed down, stared at her and then hit out at her breasts. She was 15 and it hurt. Her world blurred over with startled tears. Ever since that day, she began carrying her books across her chest. Her walk became hurried and purposeful.

Poonam was coming out from her office, when a man stopped her and pretended to ask her for directions and within a moment grabbed her and pinched her breast. She was wearing a salwar kameez (traditional Indian dress). Nothing provocative.

“The dressing,” “you asked for it,” “she wore a backless top, what else could she expect,” these comments are not so uncommon.

Offices, colleges, etc. make dress codes for women, and in spite of them claiming it to be for professional values, the subtext is clear, ‘indecent dressing’ invites trouble. When a woman clad in her salwar kameez is molested, such justification fades away into thin air.

“We are conditioned to take a hurried walk, conditioned to wear ‘appropriate’ dresses and even feel that we asked for it when we are sexually harassed” says Aparna, a BPO employee. What one wears in a public space is a matter of choice.

Don’t people have the right to look good, feel good about themselves and their body? Walk and talk the way they want? Their body is their space and when anyone letches, whistles or gropes at it, they abuse it.

Accept it, because you expect it?

How strange that a stranger can make you feel vulnerable, stripping you naked by his violent gaze, and you can do nothing but ignore it.

Eve teasing is not a victimless crime. It leads to public humiliation of a woman in broad daylight and subsequent avoidance of public places. “I always carry a camera mobile phone and capture the face of the eve teaser, in this way I threaten him of complaining to the cops” says Aparna.

“When a stranger stares at my chest, I stare back at him constantly, making him feel conscious” says Aranya. “By doing that, I make a point that I’m not vulnerable” she adds.

Eve teasing, because of its daily occurrence has been legitimized. “Yeh sab to chalta hai” (all this happens) is what we constantly hear, and when these incidents of eve teasing go unchecked, they lead to rape. “It is now so common that I’m desensitized to it” says Reshma.

So you accept it, because you expect it?

Tackle the issue

All one needs to do is be cautious, do not let the eve teaser take advantage of your ‘ignorance’, respond back in whatever way possible. Stare back, shout, scream, photograph the person or call the cops (if nearby) instantly.

“Initially it is embarrassing to shout and scream in the crowd, but once you have the confidence and anger, these small acts really help” suggests Aparna. Unless one takes an initiative, this issue cannot be tackled.

Here’s a wish for all those who are fighting a brave fight against sexual harassment. Here’s wishing that we find our voices before they are strangled, here’s wishing that we sing our songs in the melodies that we like and here’s wishing that one day, we’ll walk down the streets with our heads held high…

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