The Judge: What happened?
Girl: I was mauled by a pack of street dogs.
Judge: Where did this happen?
Girl: I was walking on the lonely street.
Judge: But why did you go to the lonely street in the first place? You have no business there! Don’t you know that the lonely street is like a jungle, a dangerous place?
Girl: How was I to know that the dogs would be so wild? Dogs are supposed to be friendly!
Judge: Wild dogs aren’t! And the street is not a safe place, especially for a fragile one like you. Remember, dogs do not attack unless their territory is encroached. You must have done something to torment or irritate them, you stupid girl!
Girl: I didn’t! (starts sobbing)
Does the story sound familiar?
In India, everyday hundreds and thousands of women get groped and molested. And a few hundreds get raped. Daily.
Our patriarchal, male chauvinistic and hypocritical society is, more often than not, unwilling to project the woman as a sole victim. Instead it imposes some or all the blame on the abused. The story, very often, is that the rapist, molester, or eve-teaser was actually provoked, seduced, or enticed to do the act!
Recently, a High Court judge in Kerala, Justice Sridevi made remarks which appeared across several sections in the media about the need for women to be careful. She advocated that women should not travel alone. She also opined in a much televised show that the biggest cause of eve-teasing and molestation is the fact that women dress provocatively and indecently. There are several, ostensibly serious members of the moral police who adhere to the same philosophy. They believe that sluts (Read women who dress ‘provocatively’) deserve to get teased, groped, and raped.
The honourable judge has been very careless with her statements. More so because she heads the Women’s Commission in the state. After all, the commission is responsible for safeguarding women’s dignity and rights.
More than 20 years back, I was nearly thrown out of a fast-moving train from Kollam (Quilon, a district in Southern Kerala) to Ernakulam, when I objected to a lady friend of mine being eve-teased by her seniors from college in the name of ragging. Luckily, there were people in the train who were sensible and brave enough to intervene. Their intervention saved the day.
Eve-teasers are like common, street dogs. They rarely react if they are on their own. When cornered they are docile, harmless, and often retreat without a fight. They are like any other dog, quite mild. Sometimes even cute. But as a pack, they are boorish, boisterous, and often dangerous.
An eve-teaser is a brother, boyfriend, husband, father, uncle, and son. He feels very righteously indignant when his own kin become the victim of eve-teasing. But when he is with his gang of friends, he will not think twice about passing a lewd comment, touching, or even groping another man’s sister or girlfriend.
But why do eve-teasers behave the way they do?
They do so because they know they will get away with it. Most girls don’t complain, or even react. The eve-teaser concludes that the women actually enjoy being touched and groped. Some of them believe that they are God’s gift to womankind, giving girls much needed enjoyment and relief. They also subscribe to the view that every woman on the street except for their own mom, sister, or girl friend is a very horny woman, who loves to be touched.
Very few women react because they think it’s a no-win situation. To translate a Malayalam idiom, “whether the leaf falls on the thorn, or the thorn falls on the leaf; it’s the leaf that gets spoiled.” As long as majority of the women decide to silently suffer, men will continue to think erroneously that they managed to satisfy the sexual urges of a horny woman.
The brave women who have reacted have been subjected more to ridicule than appreciation by our society. The onlookers very often watch the fun, pass more comments, and walk away.
There has been a lot of media focus on the Slut Walk across Indian cities. Besides the media attention there’s little that’s really helping. If anything, this movement is further reinforcing the philosophy right wing groups subscribe to – women provoke men to behave the way they do.
The blame lies with the media, film industry, and fiction writers.
Unfortunately our movies, pulp fiction, media, and other forms of entertainment depict any woman who is scantily clad as a slut who is easy, and often open to casual sex. She also smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. This stereotype is so strong that the average man assumes that a woman showing cleavage, wearing clothes that are suggestive or reveal more than they conceal, or one who smokes a cigarette, or enjoys her drink, must necessarily be a slut. The tragedy is that even a female judge of the High Court subscribes to this stereotype.
Why can’t we have movies where pativratas dress provocatively and the white saree clad women are depicted as sluts?
There’s only one solution to the problem – a very strong legal system, which this country cannot really hope for. There are very few rapes or even cases of eve-teasing reported in Saudi Arabia or the countries where Sharia law is practiced. While following draconian laws is not pragmatic in a democratic country like India, it is necessary that we do something about eve-teasing.
Women need to react, and react strongly. They need to cry out, scream, punch, bite, and/or slap those who try to tease them. Men must learn to be chivalrous and side with women who raise a voice against eve-teasing.
Women need to remember that the eve-teaser is a coward. He is the harmless dog on the street, who will come barking at you when in a pack but who runs away the moment you pick up a stone.
Ladies, if you don’t have the guts to react strongly, then you must seriously consider Madam Sridevi’s recommendations. And be happy with it. Because street dogs don’t run away if you act meek.