Eve Teasing: teasing or hurting?

Have you ever encountered roadside Romeos who passed obscene remarks at you, made indecent gestures and/or postures, vulgar proposals, or harassed you in a way that outraged your modesty? If so, you have just been a victim of ‘eve teasing’.

“Eve teasing is a euphemistic expression that lives in post-colonial India and refers largely to sexual harassment of women in public spaces, thereby constituting women as ‘Eves’, temptresses who provoke men into states of sexual titillation. This popular perception of sexual harassment posits the phenomena as a joke where women are both a tease and deserve to be teased. Considered a growing problem throughout the subcontinent, eve teasing ranges in severity from sexually-coloured remarks to outright groping” (Sexual Harassment, Pratiksha Baxi).

Although the term ‘eve teasing’ originates from India, this vice is not limited to India alone. Pakistani women suffer the same fate at the hands of their male counterparts. It is an extremely serious problem here, much more so because there is so much sexual frustration around the country due to the lack of healthy interaction of the sexes. From derogatory remarks to outright groping, we women have all been a victim of it in one way or another.

The men who indulge in these acts get their kicks from molesting females. It is a rampant social evil; no place is safe — roads, shopping malls, cinema halls, restaurants, buses, offices, schools, colleges, universities — it is everywhere!

Eve teasing might seem harmless ‘fun’ to some, but gets on the nerves of the victim. Kiran, a girl in our school, started complaining when every boy who passed her started singing “Tu haan kar ya naa kar, tu hai meri Kiran” from the Shahrukh Khan movie Dar. Either that song or the infamous dialogue, “K-k-k-kiran” from the same movie started to get to her. Venture out of your house and a whole new world of eve teasers awaits you. It does not matter what the female in question is wearing. Whether she is covered from head to toe in a burka, or wearing a loosely fitted shalwaar kameez, or is donning jeans/t-shirt, a female who has dared to venture out on the street is definitely going to receive catcalls from the males in that vicinity. Even while wearing a niqaab and an abaya, there have been remarks like “Chalti hai kya nau se baara” to “Kya haseen aankhein hain” (and that too when one is wearing spectacles!). And if you have dared not to cover your head with a dupatta, beware, you have committed the biggest sin of all time. Comments will range from ‘haseen zulfain’ to ‘kya maal hai’ to more sexually explicit ones. There is hardly any female in Pakistan who has not had the misfortune of being pinched on her bottom, or at the very least, been shoved deliberately so that the male can have a ‘feel’ of her body. One can feel the males mentally undressing you, no matter what you are wearing; they will make you feel downright naked.

“Every action is performed with an intention. The intention behind eve teasing is: to catch a girl’s eye and to arouse attention in some way; and more importantly this harassment is an early manifestation of patriarchal masculinity. Gender segregation and a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude furthers this behaviour. Innumerable movies show that eve teasing eventually ‘wins’ a girl’s attention. Changing this behaviour is easier said than done. However, if things are left alone, they could hardly get better” (‘Controlling eve teasing’ by Rajesh Venkataraman, The Hindu).

In a society like ours where male domination is ensconced in our hierarchy, the concept of ‘masculinity’ is usually equated with patriarchy. Gender segregation from the beginning and the male members bossing around the female members of a family serve to reinforce the patriarchal model of masculinity in society. Our children learn that being male means ‘powerful’, while the female is always the ‘weaker sex’.

Most males (be it young boys or grown men) take eve teasing as a joke or prank and claim that they just do it for ‘fun’, and do not mean anything serious by it. But let me ask them, would they stand quietly at the sidelines when their own kith and kin are going through such street harassment, or would they stand up against it? Or for that matter, if they themselves are subjected to the same kind of behaviour by a group of rowdy young females, would they not feel harassed?

One must understand that this is not just an ordinary prank. It has serious repercussions. Wikipedia reports, “The death of a female student (Sarika Shah) in Chennai in 1998, caused by eve teasing, brought some tough laws to counter this menace in South India. After this case, there have been about half a dozen reports of suicide that have been attributed to pressures caused by eve teasing.” Who knows what dire consequences such actions have brought in Pakistan? Perusing the newspapers more recently has shown a rising trend in acts of violence against women, especially rapes — when even two-year-old girls are not spared! If that’s not disgusting, then what is?

Killing and committing suicide is not ordinary; it is serious to say the least. Our neighbouring country has a lot of awareness about this widespread social evil. More recently, the ‘Blank Noise Project’ had a blog-a-thon that was held in India on March 7 to raise awareness about eve teasing. Over 200 bloggers participated in it. Pakistan too needs to raise awareness about this widespread social menace.

Males must be made to realise that their actions to tease and harass females carry dire consequences, not just for the individuals but for everyone. Mothers are more protective of their children, making them diffident and unable to take bold steps due to the fear that society outside is evil in general, brothers more protective of sisters and husbands more protective of wives and less comfortable with the idea of letting them go outside. This happens generally everywhere and in the course of things, everyone gets affected — even those who participate in it for a very short-lived thrill. But the performance of the whole nation is impacted at the cost of a less than completely confident half of the population, which can contribute to better progress and development in learning and technology.

We women do not need to wallow in self-pity, being the ‘oh so poor victims’. We need to take firm steps to overcome this problem. First and foremost is to let go of our fears. When fear of retaliation is overcome, only then can a female start to feel safe. Workplace sexual harassment laws must be enforced if we have a desire to encourage females to participate with their creative energies without worrying about how to get back home after dark, always fearing either a nasty boss, co-worker or just a stranger lurking in a corner to draw out a sudden fear in them and convince them that staying home is always a safer option, even if it comes at the cost of intellectual degradation.

Similarly, laws must be made to ensure the safety and security of every individual. Policemen or civilians who want to volunteer must be posted at sensitive areas to protect the interests of the population against such scavengers who are always on the loose for prey. But we must understand that laws alone will not solve the problem; a wholehearted support from the community is essential. Only then will we embark on making our nation progress by leaps and bounds and help us get out of the patriarchal mindset that keeps pushing us deeper into the dark pits of ignorance.


Anonymous said…

Please check this article. I hope it will give your article a little more perspective.

BD said…
popularize pepper spray.
Ashley said…
I am an American gal and I have traveled all over India with my husband. Understanding our cultural differences, I make a point to wear modest clothes, like a salwar kameez, in most parts of the country. In most of the country, I have been treated with great respect. However, when I was in Gwalior, a bunch of teenage boys tried to chase me and touch me. My husband and my driver nearly had to physically fight them off of me. When I was in Aurangabad, a large group of Muslim schoolboys gathered around me and tried to touch my hair. Their leader saw this (elderly man) and he beat them away with his walking stick. He was very ashamed of his students' behavior.

I did not experience these problems in the larger cities of Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai. I think it has a lot to do with so-called morality. I think these boys are so repressed, they channel their frustrations through eve-teasing. If only their families and neighbors could shame them into stopping this behavior. I am not sure what the answer is to this problem, but 'eve-teasing' should not be tolerated under any circumstance.

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