Co-authored by Asra Ghouse and Japleen Pasricha
As the #16days of activism campaign came to an end last week, we’d like to take a moment here and thank all those people who came out bravely and talked about their (in most cases) worst experiences. It is very easy to say, “We all should stand against sexual harassment“, but it is not so easy to actually stand up and say, “I was sexually harassed and it was NOT my fault.” We are surrounded by so many factors that blame the survivor that it is like swimming against the tide.
We’re deeply indebted to Suchi Gaur, Rinzu Rajan, Japleen Pasricha, Arpita Bhagat, Karthika S Nair, Shifa Rahaman, Asra Ghouse, Anuradha Santhanam, Dhwani Swadia, Drishya Nair, Victor Chakraborty, Richa Bhattarai, Suchi Govindarajan, Poonam Singh, Gita Negi, Adele Wilde and all those who wished to stay anonymous. Thank you for lending your voice to this campaign. This wouldn’t have happened without your support.
In the past 16 days, we raised our voices and spoke about our stories of street and sexual harassment. This is only but a start towards our goal.
Some obvious points from the stories of sexual harassment we shared:
- Gender based sexual harassment happens to all kinds of women—married, single, little girls, teenagers, in your 10s, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and it never ends. It happens when you’re wearing shorts, skirts, sarees, salwar kameez, frocks, covered in burqas & head scarves, flashy jewellery, no jewellery, with a friend, alone, with a man, without a man, and it goes on.
- The prime reason for this: the offender cannot handle the fact that a woman is out there living her life with liberty. In every incident we read, we noted that the victim was merely exercising her right to life, choosing for herself. This does not gel well with people who believe that women are objects—their belief that men are somehow powerful than women and that they are supposed to control them.
1. STRICT LAWS: BUT CAN THEY WORK ALONE?
Street harassment happens so quickly—an uninvited stroke of your arm, groping, rubbing their bodies on yours—the offender is sure he can get away with it. Moreover, when caught the offender has the option of merely paying 20-50 bucks to the authorities and walk free—innocent until proven guilty, right?
Legal action is an option. It is not the only way to resolve a situation but having the right information is critical. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 includes sexual offences – these include harassment, voyeurism and stalking. A complete list can be found here. In 2012, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, was introduced. This act is gender neutral and is for children below 18 years of age. Consent of child/ren is irrelevant under this Act, and it is applicable to child survivors and adult offenders. The offenders can be both men and women under this Act.
Question: Does anybody enforce this for justice?
Despite stringent laws, instances of sexual violence against women continue to persist. What does it say about the psychology of a rapist who has no fear of the law? No fear of capital punishment? What else needs to be done to address this issue at a deeper level? Are we going to turn into vigilantes and start physically hurting offenders? Do we take the law into our own hands? It is high time the government not just amends the harassment laws but also look into its accountability and justice system.
2. SUPPORT SYSTEM POST SEXUAL HARASSMENT
The after effects of sexual harassment and molestation haunt us forever. People who survive child sexual abuse have a tougher time developing wholesome personalities. We need a standard counselling system where survivors can talk about their incidents and deal with the psychological and physiological after effects of harassment. Why must we live with the ghost of their violating touch on our bodies?
3. CREATE SAFE SPACES
Addressing the problem of sexual harassment requires the creation of safe spaces so that women and girls can report these incidents without being blamed and judged. Secondly, providing information about resources and services that are available to stop such incidences is vital. Fundamentally, everyone must accept that sexual harassment is an offence and not an entitlement or a form of entertainment. Sexual harassment is unacceptable on or around the school campus, workplace, cyber space, public space and at home. It is everyone’s responsibility to intervene in incidences of sexual harassment so that the person facing the harassment does not feel isolated and guilty or vulnerable, and it is the responsibility of boys and men to think about and change their own behaviour and the behaviour of their peers.
4. ENCOURAGE INTER GENDER INTERACTION IN SCHOOLS
How many of us have faced this—”don’t talk to boys at school or don’t talk to girls at schools?” As soon as we hit teens, parents, teachers and other elders start conditioning the concept of maintaining “healthy distance” from the opposite gender by prohibiting any interaction with them.
Inter gender interaction at growing ages is important because both genders must have a basic understanding of the other, their psyche, the value of their private space, etc. This can only happen when they grow up together. Schools and colleges separate the genders thinking that it somehow prevents gender-based violence. On the contrary, it creates a mystery around the other gender and neither of them learns the value of what it means to respect the human rights and personal space of the other. Awareness of other gender is important to have our future generation do better than us when it comes to this.
5. SEX EDUCATION
Proper sex education is not just the key to understanding the biological value of your own body, but the body of the opposite gender, too. What is the right way to touch yourself? What’s the right way to touch someone else? What does sexual pleasure mean? Growing teens must know this. Otherwise, they grow with delusions and misconceptions about sex & sexual pleasure—”eve teasing is a compliment, baby. I was just appreciating your beautiful body by touching it“.
If our children have proper sex education then they will not use sex as a means of asserting their power over a person. They would know that sex is a means of consensual pleasure and not torture.
Faculty at schools, colleges and universities can help create a safer environment. They should encourage reporting (such as by putting up complaint boxes in and around the campus) and should be ready to properly address the issue, taking practical action and responsiblity. They can also be vigilant about incidences that may be occurring on campus and intervene. They can take the initiative to set-up an internal complaints committee as per the Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace Act, 2013.
6. SHARING IS IMPORTANT
Don’t shut yourself when it happens. Please share it with your friends, peers and (very importantly) with family. The worst thing you can do is to keep it to yourself and let the humiliation and anger build up. Let it out. It doesn’t deserve to stay with you. Friends and peers can help in reporting (anonymously as well) and encourage the person facing the incident to report the issue. They can also stop their friends and peers who sexually harass from doing so, making clear they don’t think it is funny or an acceptable way to express masculinity.
7. DON’T LET THEM SILENCE YOU!
This is the most important part. Most of us resort to walking away in silence when faced with street sexual harassment. It is our silence on the matter that gives them permission to continue thinking they’re not in the wrong. On an unintentional level, our silence is a green light for them. Understand the significance of saying this to the offender–“NO! I don’t like this. Stop it“. Some offenders react by lashing out while others mostly walk away.
Remember, you must believe that you deserve to have the freedom of walking freely without the fear of being harassed and violation of your privacy and body. Walk together, reclaim the night and never forget #16December.