Women's day It is good to be bold and women need to be firm in dealing with harassers. Prabalika M. Borah gives the lowdown on how to take them on

It is midnight, the cellphone beeps. A message from an unknown number lands on your inbox. You go back to sleep turning your profile settings to silent. But the messages don’t stop and could get bad to worse. Today is International Women’s day and these issues still remain. Even while the world is celebrating the day, in some corner someone might be suffering silently due to fear from society and being branded as a ‘bad girl.’

“The tone of your voice can send a 1000 message across. When answering a call from an unknown number it is best to be stern. In our days we had no cell phones. And the landlines are answered by many people. So, harassment through calls and messages were not common. During those days girls were followed and instead of calls and messages, it was letters and gifts. I am a cop today and since our numbers are flashed everywhere, it becomes easily accessible and sometimes pranksters try to play pranks. All it requires to stop such calls is a ‘strict warning.’ Three days back we registered a case where a girl who is getting married was harassed by a caller. She was worried about the groom’s family coming to know about it. Such cases should be registered and the families shouldn’t be scared or worried. Sometimes on request we also warn the callers of consequences if the calls continued,” says Soumya Mishra, DIG Vishakhapatnam range.

Soumya also suggests that women need not get scared or bogged down by such incidents. She says it is advisable to confide to an elder person at home and elders should support the girl because she isn’t a stray case. “When I was Cyberabad I had women coming to me with such complaints. Their late hours were interpreted as ‘are you available’. Unless such harassments are given a legal validity they cannot be stopped,” says DIG, Soumya Mishra.

‘Easier said than done for a cop’ could be the argument. But there are instances of women when are in the field of entertainment and faces such situations for real. “I was the PR for a night club attached to a star hotel and my work involved trying the mixing sessions and checking the music out. My presence in the place almost all the time sent a negative message to a few in-house guests and they offered me to treat to some imported wine in their room. All I had to do was turn the offer down politely but sternly. Your body language should speak volumes. We can’t be rude to the guests. When situations go beyond your reach, it is best to complain to the top bosses,” says a young PR professional.

Another PR professional Shikha Johnson says, “I mostly avoid doing one to one meeting with clients if I am uncomfortable. I either take a colleague or call for group meeting where more than one person is involved. Discussions should be only about work and appear totally disinterested. The person will get the message.”

Police advises youngsters to share such problems with an elder sibling or with parents and says it is best to put an end to such calls at the beginning. Sharon—deejay, emcee and model says they face such situations more than once. “I usually reply to such text message saying ‘I don’t wish to get anymore message from this number.’ If it doesn’t stop there, I threaten about giving the number to the cops and the messages and calls stop totally.” Her advice is “Look totally disinterested and make sure to have a correct body language.”

Actress turned politician Jayasudha says she was lucky cellphones weren’t common during those days. “We used to get letters, bouquets and post cards. Thankfully I couldn’t read Telugu so I was spared from the trauma of reading the lewd letters which came rarely. Unpleasant calls and letters can definitely put you off and it is good to appear agitated. Never give up on them and hand them over to cops. The only disturbing letters that we used to get were, the ones where XYZ’s declare “I am your husband.”

Professional advice

l When people transgress, be firm. Never be in doubt about yourself.

l Never give in to statements like ‘you provoked me.'

l Never think it is your dress or your statement that has triggered such an action.

l Re-evaluate your actions.

l Ignoring and being silent doesn't help.

l Turn down offers you are not comfortable about immediately. Do not remain silent. Silence is taken as acceptance.

l When taking help from a colleague from the opposite sex judge your action, think about your safety.

l When harassment begins, document it by writing and share the same with a trustworthy senior or HR.

l Never take unilateral action.

l Never encourage a confrontation at a personal level.

Dr. Anurag Srivastav

(Head of Dept of Psychiatry, Mediciti Institute of Medical Sciences).