Happy Women’s Day, Babe!

A couple of days back, I woke up to a text message that said “Celebrate Women’s day with Levi’s!  Buy any women’s jeans and get FLAT Rs.750 OFF on your next Levi’s apparel. Only in exclusive Levi’s apparel”. I instinctively reminded myself to look out for offers in home decors. Later in the day as I walked into my office, I noticed a lot of women clad beautifully in sari and I could hear the men wishing them a “Happy women’s day”. My social media timelines were filled with greetings from men of all sorts – men who can’t crack a joke without mentioning their wife or marriage, men who believe women can’t be intelligent, men whose daughter is a princess, mother is a goddess and wife is a maid, men who believe women ought to dress appropriately to avoid being raped and more. There were wishes from women too –  women who gossip about their single friends behind their back, women who believe it is alright if their husbands resort to physical violence, women who want their daughter to be an independent and successful professional and their daughter-in-law to be the perfect wife and a great home maker, women who believe that they raised their son as a perfect man because he keeps his wife under control and more. Amidst these were various promotional videos shunning stereotyping of women and swearing to stand by the feminine superpower of the world.

Clara Zetkin who first conceived and tabled the very idea of having a special day of celebration for women across the globe must be turning in her grave every year on International Women’s day. But then none of these bothers us anymore and of course it is the fashion of the times that we live in, that the significance of such historical days get emphasized by one or all of the above. However, few things that comes closest to the very spirit of International women’s day is various institutions rewarding their Women Achievers on this day and media houses hunting for “women-only” establishments to feature in their Women’s day special edition.

I am not sure if people still remember that International women’s day originally began with women protesting oppression and demanding gender parity. It has been more than a 100 year since women marched out in public campaigning for change, yet change seemed to be dressed in snail’s shoes. Probably that is why I could not help but think of the so called “Bengaluru’s Night of Shame”, every time I was wished a Happy Women’s day, this year.Now,was it a Night of Shame or has it has been conveniently termed so for TRP? Of course, it is a Night of shame and there is no second thoughts to it.However it is not just Bengaluru’s Night of Shame. I say so because this is not the first incident of this kind in the world and this is not the first-time Bengaluru had witnessed something like this.  If you don’t believe me, you might want to check these.

New Year Eve Sex assaults in Germany

Mass sexual assault in Egypt

These are just examples and  I am sure there are more such stories across the globe – some reported and most unreported. An interesting pattern in such reported stories is that the governing authority or the law enforcement authorities blame it on the immigrants of the respective region. It is easier to politicize the event by blaming the immigrants for the offense rather than face harsh criticism for no action against such violence.

All these events that got reported drew attention because it happened in a crowded public space. Despite the crowd, women were not safe. Now how would you feel if I say such harassment is an everyday ordeal in the life of every single woman on the face of earth? The moment a woman walks out of the door, she is either groped, stalked, catcalled or intimidated with inappropriate gestures every single day. Yes, EVERY SINGLE DAY. That way every single day becomes a Day of Shame, every night, a Night of Shame, every city, a city of Shame and every country, a Country of Shame.

Every woman who steps out of the house is a warrior herself because she prepares herself every day to deal with these dirty Romeos on roads, buses, trains and public spaces. Street harassment is one of the biggest issues that women have faced from time immemorial irrespective of age, race and geography. Yet there has been hardly anything done to protect women against such harassment. Here is a report from Hollaback, an organization that works towards safer public space for women – Street Harassment-Know Your Rights.

The report will tell you how across the entire world there is hardly any specific regulation against street harassment or any state-driven action in place to effectively contain such incidents. Yes, every country has condemned street harassment and has declared it as an offense in one or other law, but the harsh truth is that almost in every country the women’s helpline is as worse as it is in India. The fact that the entire world has chosen to overlook a universal issue of women is quite disconcerting. Although there are private organizations like Hollaback and movements like Nirbhaya Karnataka, there is not enough done by the governing or law enforcement authorities to address the issue. An issue this massive cannot be addressed without the active participation of the authorities. Hence it is imperative that every government take a leading role in addressing street harassment in their part of the world.

Given the colossal nature of the issue, one might wonder what can a government possibly do apart from enacting laws. I say the role of the government just doesn’t end with enacting laws, it just begins there. I remember how “eve-teasing” became household term in the late 90s when the TAMIL NADU PROHIBITION OF HARASSMENT OF WOMEN ACT, 1998 was enacted. Women constables for once became a powerful force across the state since they constituted the task force that was deployed undercover for random checks in public spaces.  I remember the regular offenders in buses reminding each other that they might get got red-handed by these undercover women officers.  Most offenders did stop harassing fearing the humiliation of an arrest. I am sure serial offenders would not have stopped at these, but this I believe is the place to begin.

  • We need either a special regulation or the existing regulations must be amended to define Street harassment in details and proclaim it as a grave offense. The regulations need to get firmer and the punishments more severe.

 

  • We need a special task force preferably constituted by women officers who will be available solely to intervene and address street harassment. Every police station need to have a special officer made in charge of addressing the street harassment of the area under their jurisdiction.I say preferably women because that would generate a huge employment opportunity for women and eventually empower them too.

 

  • Most offenders are strangers and it becomes difficult to track them down, let alone being punished. And this is where the government need to collaborate with civil society and private players in the domain. The task force need not necessarily end with police officials, but it need to be integrated with public. Every region must conduct regular workshops and training to identify and stop harassment. Volunteers need to be inducted into the task force who can work together with the law enforcement to keep harassment in check.

 

  • Every corporate office today has an anti-harassment policy; however, harassment begins as early as school. Therefore, it is important to have anti-harassment training as a part of the curriculum. Children need to be educated to speak up about harassment and enlightened about the punishments for such offenses.

 

  • Harassment are of various kinds and it differs from one region to another. Therefore, one solution cannot be a fix for all. It is important to conduct social research and community study to come up with a customized solution specific to the region. Of all the BRICS countries, India ranks the least when it comes to researches in social engineering and behavioral sciences. It is about time India invests enough attention in this area given that the diverse nature of the Indian society is a great platform for such a study.

 

  • The governments need to leverage the availability of path-breaking technologies in monitoring and communication to enable the victim or an onlooker to alert the task force of an offense and enable the task force to track down the offender as well. And the task force need to be a lot and a lot more vigilant and diligent than the current Women’s helpline.

 

Having said that, I am sure there can be more creative and practical solutions to stop harassment apart from the age-old ‘poke them with a pin’. If you have any such suggestions, please feel to leave them in the comments section. Dear readers,  I also request you to pledge to intervene when you witness a street harassment and help the victim in the best way possible.