Posted by Shatakshi Whorra
The freedom to walk out of my haven, my dingy apartment nestled in North Campus Delhi, without being ogled at and the conviction that I will not be harassed as I set foot in public space seems like a far-fetched reality. This dapples with my sense of empowerment and makes me question, often, the internalisation and normalisation of sexual harassment. Incessantly reinforcing the notion that harassment is bound to happen, the second a woman steps out, is highly problematic.
On 26th February I left the Ramjas College premises at around four in the evening and set out to make my way back home. As I crossed the Vijaynagar culvert, I heard a splash followed by an escalating pain around my crotch. I looked down at my plaid skirt to find it soaking wet.
I had been hit by a water-filled balloon, while two men on their scooty were darting from the scene. I looked at their faces and it was gleaming with utilitarian contentment as I shrieked at the top of my voice “what the fuck?!?!” At that moment I realized that the innocent play of Holi had been used as a tool to set in motion a targeted attack.
As I fumed my way home I recalibrated my notion regarding Holi which has now snowballed into a site of commonplace harassment and street sexual harassment. Perhaps the most problematic aspect of street sexual harassment in this form is its acceptability, which is shrouded in the spirit of festivity. Lackadaisical cognizance of harassment in the garb of celebration acts as an enabling factor.
the most problematic aspect of street sexual harassment in this form is its acceptability.
Male entitlement looms large in this context. To celebrate a festival at the expense of violating a woman’s right over her body reeks of angst. Denying her of agency points to a structural problem wherein instances like these should not be scrutinized as an alienable narrative that occurs once in a blue moon in the mirth of festivity, but something that is the lived experience of women all over the world.
Apart from the recognition of this instance and many others that are pervasive, it is important to recognize ourselves as not mere cogs in the machinery who have to undergo systematic oppression but as women with agency. The implication herein lies in the right to complain – to stand one’s ground is highly reflective of empowerment.
Over the past few days, many such incidents have made their way into the public domain. There has been an extensive deployment of police who have partially cordoned areas in and around North Campus. Thus, in a patriarchal setup, it is imperative that narratives culminate into affirmative action to counter the belief that safety for women is a farfetched idea.
Harassment, when seen from the purview of one’s rights and their recognition, is a vital step towards the reinforcement of social justice. On April 28, 2017, a Bench of the Supreme Court with Justices Dipak Misra, A M Khanwilkar and M Shantanagoudar at the helm observed in a judgement that, “eve-teasing violates a woman’s fundamental rights to live with dignity and she could not be forced to love a person, not of her liking”.
Furthermore, Article 21 of the Constitution (Fundamental Rights under Chapter III of the Constitution) stipulates that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law, thereby granting a woman the right to live with dignity. Ergo, this judgement established a woman’s “right to reject”.
In the University of Delhi, on 26th February 2018, the Proctor’s office issued a notice stating “Strictest possible disciplinary action shall be taken to curb any act of hooliganism, and disturbances during Holi under the provision of University Ordinances, and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place Act-2013”. A workforce has been set up to ensure mobile patrolling to keep vandalism and harassment at bay, particularly to ensure the safety of girls on campus.
A thirteen-point guideline has been issued and all the information is available on the Delhi University website. This is reassuring for students who decide to stay back in Delhi instead of going back home. A responsive university administration is vital to reinstate the belief in legal mechanisms and social justice to ensure the safety of women.
To celebrate Holi at the expense of violating a woman’s right over her body reeks of angst.
‘Bura na mano, Holi hai’ has been used as a mechanism that authorizes men to violate consent in a pervasive manner, since a disclaimer had been issued by them that has stood its ground with regard to the test of temporality. This sanctioning of structural violence is vested in the need for power where gender sensitivity takes a backseat and apathy towards women in society.
This torment in the name of Holi is a week-long process that creates turbulence in the lives of the denizens of Delhi. However, the reality that after 2nd March 2018, when I step out of my dingy apartment to loiter on the streets of Delhi, that no one will throw balloons at my crotch is hard to grapple because I know that instead I will be groped.
The either/or issue of sexual harassment for all women who romanticize solitude are aware that the sojourning police are a respite for a few days. What after? I know, I, along with all women around me will continue to internalize the male gaze as we walk the streets of Delhi, where “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”. This is a sad reality. This is our truth. But, till when?
“If you sexist me, I’ll feminist you”. Shatakshi Whorra is a second-year student at Ramjas College, University of Delhi, pursuing Political Science (Honours). She can be followed on Facebook.
Featured Image Credit: Deccan Chronicle