Harassment shackles women

It last happened over a fortnight ago during a routine round of Central Government offices at New Delhi’s Shastri Bhavan. A man brushed against me, pretended to look surprised when I protested, and then sniggered as I walked away. Perhaps I could have shouted at him, or reported the matter to supervisory staff at Shastri Bhavan, or even called up the police. I chose, instead, to do nothing.

Delhi Police’s records on women reporting incidents of so-called minor sexual harassment show I’m not in a minority. Last year Delhi’s women reported 657 cases of molestation, and another 162 of sexual harassment — “eve-teasing” is the nauseous phrase authorities prefer. Ask your women friends, and you’ll more likely than not come to the conclusion that more incidents take place in a week, perhaps even a day.

Every woman I’ve spoken to in recent days has stories like mine to tell — not the kind you remember years later, but the kind that happened yesterday.

Delhi University student Mansi Sarkar told me of one recent incident. “During a trip back home to the Delhi Cantonment area I was waiting to cross the road to get home. It was about 8.30 p.m. A passing cyclist made a very lewd remark laughing. I ran after him, hoping to catch him and give him a piece of my mind. I guess what irked me most, thinking about it, is that this man correctly thought he could harass a woman in one of Delhi’s maximum security zones on a busy street and get away with it.”

Ms. Sarkar added that she never reported the matter to the police. To any woman in Delhi, that decision makes complete sense. There’s no point — the perpetrator won’t get caught, and even if he does, there’ll be rounds of police stations and courts to be gone through. There might be more trouble. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

Rakhi Khanna, who works at a private sector firm and lives in South Delhi, describes what she calls the “rules of survival” for women in the city. “Never make eye contact with a stranger in public. Stay in a group, and argue with men only when you really, really must, and that too in a public place. Remember that if you do argue, no one will come to help you”.

Delhi University under-graduate Anna Sebastian, who commutes every day from Uttam Nagar to Jesus & Mary College in Chanakyapuri, told me that harassment is something she faced “every day”.

“Everything I do, from the way I dress, to the way I walk, talk and think, centres round avoiding harassment on the streets. There is no freedom for a women in Delhi, only fear,” says she.

“Most women in Delhi choose to stay silent and just let things pass when faced with everyday street sexual harassment,” National Commission for Women head Mamta Sharma told me. “Inappropriate touching, groping and obscene talk are rampant in this city. Women and girls report incidents only when they the perpetrator has driven them up the wall, or when they fear matters could become more serious”

Deputy Commission of Police (North Zone) Sindhu Pillai wishes more women would report sexual harassment, but admits few people want to register First Information Reports, or take the matter to court.

“In case an incident is reported, the station house officer is mandated to rush to the spot, assess the situation and take appropriate action. We follow a zero-tolerance policy toward reported matters of sexual harassment. Delhi Police are registering a larger number of cases of sexual harassment with women becoming more aware and them stepping out of the house more now. Delhi University even has a special anti-sexual harassment drive,” she says.

Despite these high-profile drives, little seems to be changing. Men harassing women have been publicly paraded at street corners, beaten up by police, shamed on television, and even prosecuted — but reality is that women’s lives haven’t improved. For me, the question is simple. Are lewd comments or gestures, and even inappropriate touch, worth spending days and weeks of my life chasing after justice from the police — justice I’m almost certain not to get? Probably not. So, like I said, I did nothing. In Delhi, this is the price women pay for living.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 8:34:18 PM |

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