What do women do when faced with sexual harassment on the streets? According to a recent survey of 1,000 women conducted by the We the People Foundation, 34 per cent glared or reacted verbally, 15 per cent asked bystanders for help and 35 per cent did nothing.
“Most often, women are too scared to scared or shocked to react. They feel embarrassed or ashamed of themselves... They just go blank when somebody gropes them,” says Jason Temasfieldt.
Temasfieldt founded the Mumbai-based NGO in 2012, a year after his cousin Keenan Santos and Santos’ friend, Reuben Fernandes were killed in a stabbing incident in Amboli, Andheri, while protesting sexual harassment faced by a female friend at a local bar.
Since 2012, Temasfieldt has been conducting surveys every year to understand the extent of sexual harassment. While 81 per cent of those surveyed admitted to facing sexual harassment in 2014, the figure has gone up to 90 per cent this year. The survey was conducted at railway stations, buses, promenades, entertainment parks, educational institutions and even residential complexes.
The women surveyed were aged between 12-50. As per the survey, the maximum cases of verbal and physical harassment take place in crowded areas such as trains, railway platforms and narrow streets. Last year, 61 per cent of the women surveyed said that they had faced harassment at railway stations. This has gone down by just one per cent this year.
Anand Vijay Jha, Senior Divisional Security Commissioner Mumbai division, Western Railway, says, “This year we have received 7,708 cases under Section 145 B, categorised as nuisance that includes pushing, shoving and passing lewd remarks. Out of these, 18 offenders were sent to jail.”
Jha, however, adds that the Railway Protection Force (RPF) doesn't have the legal teeth to register molestation cases. Only the Government Railway Police (GRP) has the power to take action. “We refer our cases to them,” he says. Jha says the cases need to be brought to their notice within 29 days of the incident as CCTV footage, which will provide incriminating evidence, is only kept for that many days.
What has changed in the last one year is that the number of women reporting such crimes, according to the survey, has risen from 9 per cent in 2014 to 16 per cent in 2015. “It was a dismal one per cent in 2012,” says Temasfieldt.
The spokesperson for Mumbai police, DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni, says there has been a significant rise in the number of cases being reported. While last year, a total of 678 cases of sexual assault under Sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 376 (rape) of the IPC were reported across the city, 677 cases were reported till October this year.
The punishment for harassment, he says, depends on the nature of the offence. “It can go from 3 months to even seven-year jail term.”