Television channels yesterday were awash with news of Delhi University (Indraprastha college) students protesting against harassment on their campus. None of the channels use the word harassment, they prefer to use ‘eve-teasing’, that peculiar downplaying word. Eve-teasing is ofcourse no harmless activity – remember the 1998 Sarika Shah case?
The college students were forcefully making the point that as students, surely they are entitled to feel safe on their own campus, and not be harassed by louts who presumably got in to write some exams but are really interested in, well, more loutish things to do. The students were also protesting against, and this in my opinion is as critical, the insensitivity of police to their complaints.
Not only did the police not register an FIR immediately, as required by Indian law. The girls mentioned that a senior official had also visited their campus and admonished them for their clothes, which he felt, encouraged such loutish behaviour. There we go again! Any time women complain of harassment, the tables are just turned on them. Why do you wear such clothes? Why do you go out late? Why do you have boyfriends? Why do you work? The implication ofcourse is that an Indian woman, clad in Indian clothes, staying at home, venturing out only accompanied by a male, is completely safe.
In reality, we know that a number of crimes happen within the confines of home, including marital rape, other physical abuse and mental harassment. And clothing is no protection either, as many of us know from personal experience. So why are these authorities, and society in general (of which the police is only a symptom), so insensitive to the issue? The Indraprashtha girls mentioned that even woman constables were treating them this way. So definitely, its not a men versus women issue here.
The answer lies in the deeply ingrained stereotypical views of male and female behaviour that many of us are fed, practically from childhood. In this view, women belong to others. (Belonging may sometimes be couched more palatably as ‘love’ or ‘a little possessiveness’). A woman is either a wife, a mother or a sister or a daughter, who must be protected by the men in her life. Conversely, if she chooses to eschew that protection, she has no longer any right to safety. Ergo, the questions, what were you doing alone at that time of the day, wearing these sort of clothes? Even the TV channels, reporting sympathetically, show vestiges of this view. The Headlines Today reporter kept mentioning that these girls were entitled to protection more so because many of them lived away from their families. Its not clear at all what living with your family, or away, has to do with it. Women should be safe on their own campus, irrespective of whether their families are around or not. Surely the reporter didn’t expect that families of Delhi-based girls would be hovering around all the time to protect them?
In this view, men are also defined as brutish creatures of the moment, who cannot think above their libido. Hence women wearing the ‘wrong’ sort of clothes will ‘incite’ a male to wrong doing. This view is ofcourse completely insulting to the many fine, capable, thinking men we all surely know.
Perhaps if both men and women thought about this and realised how much such a view actually denigrates men, while ostensibly giving them power, we would do a bit of a rethink.
In the meanwhile, we will only have such spectacles being played out again and again. I hope the IP girls get their due respect though.