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Payel Patel, a resident of Mumbai deals with street harassment with guts and shows us the way. It’s high time we speak up against any form of physical harassment and bring the guilty to the books.
Street harassment, or as it is often misleadingly and simplistically referred to – ‘eve-teasing’, is a constant and often terrifying reality for Indian women. The term ‘eve-teasing’ is one of the ways in which language conceals the reality of violence women face in India.
It exists on the streets, where men catcall, harass, whistle at, make lewd gestures at, molest and attack women of all ages on a daily basis. It also happens in buses and trains as well as other public spaces. Statistics about the incidence of these cases are low and inaccurate, mostly because Indian women choose to not go to the police and when they do, the police don’t always register their complaints.
So while the recent harassment Payal Patel faced at the Santacruz railway station probably isn’t surprising for most of us, her persistent efforts in ensuring that the accused is taken to task is inspiring. She, along with some other passengers, first took him to the Government Railway Police station, from where they were directed to the Bandra police station, where the police finally lodged a First Information Report.
The case is still going on and Patel regularly attends the court hearings (even though the alleged molester does not). She points out how her presence has helped public prosecutors take the case more seriously. She was recognized for her efforts to curb molestation on Women’s Day (March 8) earlier this year. It is interesting to note that her harasser claims the touch was accidental, an excuse used often for harassers to get away and try and make the women feel silly for raising their voices.
Street harassment is often a vicious cycle. Molesters harass women and usually get away with no consequences.
Street harassment is often a vicious cycle. Molesters harass women and usually get away with no consequences. This encourages them to become bolder while creating more fear among women in public spaces. Women don’t always speak out due to fear for personal safety as well as choose not to go to the police. There are several reasons for this: a lack of trust in the police and legal system, concerns about not being taken seriously by the police, further harassment by the police (!), the hassle of going to court as well as corruption and the nexus between the police and local criminals.
All of this means that molesters are rarely penalized for their actions, while the police’s hands are tied because they don’t have complaints to follow up on. It also means that women from low-income groups are likely to be more harassed because of using public transport more while being least likely to be supported by the police and legal system. The recent death of Meenakshi, who was stabbed by her stalker, is a testimony to this. Even her complaints to the police were ineffective. I would not argue that the police are completely blameless or wholehearted in their support. But recent efforts to address this issue from the police’s side give me hope.
The Bengaluru Police along with Amnesty International India have launched an initiative ‘Women, Get Ready to Report’. As part of this ten police stations in Bengaluru opened their doors to familiarize women with the inner workings of their processes. This is an excellent way to demystify police stations. as well as help women build greater comfort in reporting cases of sexual harassment.
The Bengaluru police force is known for being more open and accessible and this is one of many initiatives it has undertaken to change its reputation. It will be interesting to see if police forces in cities and regions like Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, known for high rates of violence against women, will follow suit.
Street harassment image via Shutterstock
I think of myself as a feminist development practitioner with a strong interest in issues
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