One of eight sexually harassed women dares to complain

Feb 01, 2012, 08:07 IST | Vaishali Chandra

Survey says 8 of 10 women are harassed daily in Mumbai; and colleges, where 90% of students don't know sexual abuse from sexual harassment, are a haunt for offenders

Survey says 8 of 10 women are harassed daily in Mumbai; and colleges, where 90% of students don't know sexual abuse from sexual harassment, are a haunt for offenders

All the feminist discourse and Pink Chaddi campaigns and Slut Walks have not been able to change the fact that harassment of women is commonplace in Indian society. And if we needed any further proof, a recent survey conducted by NGO We The People reveals the extent to which we have tacitly allowed this repugnant act to infiltrate, even to dictate, our daily lives.

Representation pic

The survey that was conducted at different locations in Mumbai -- supposedly the most friendly city for women in the country, so you can imagine the rest -- such as railway stations, bus stands, beaches, malls, parks, residential areas and popular hangouts such as Marine Drive revealed that 8 of 10 women face sexual harassment in their daily lives.

Of these, only one comes out to lodge a complaint. Not more than two actually confront or bother to catch the perpetrator. Another two just give angry stares to the miscreants rather than taking them to the police. The rest grimace and bear it, or worse, are ashamed.

And, here's the shocker. Colleges, the bastion of progressive thought and liberal attitude, and that too those in this city -- arguably the most free-thinking and post-modern and uber-forward in the country -- are a hotbed for louts and gawkers and abusers. 

Colleges targeted
Speaking to MiD DAY, Jason Temasfieldt, founder member of the NGO under whose aegis the survey was conducted, said, "Colleges are the more targeted places for harassers. College authorities are now taking up this issue as one of core importance. Though there are many campaigns against sexual harassment, abuse etc, institutes are now more vigilant in organising special campaigns for their female students."

What's what
The survey further revealed that over 98 per cent of females do not know the difference between sexual harassment and sexual abuse, while over 90 per cent of college-going students are oblivious to it.

This majority is also not aware of the laws and procedures under which they can book the culprit (see box).  
"A majority of females are not even aware of the helpline numbers, which are the most convenient option when a women faces harassment. During the survey, we gave handbills containing important helpline numbers, IPC sections, and information on sexual abuse, and molestation. We also held a campaign which talked about women's empowerment and what can one do to be strong and to fight in untoward situations," Jason said.
After the survey, the NGO made a presentation at Tolani College, Andheri (E) and St Andrews College, Bandra last week.

Said Dr Marie Fernandes, principal, St Andrew's College, "Youngsters are stepping out to combat this evil and educate others about it. Students need to realise they can defend themselves and put an end to this vice."
Mubeen Sheikh, professor, Tolani College, said, "Jason and his team interacted with the students who raised many doubts and issues about safety of women in Mumbai."

Speak up: Students hold up anti-harassment banners after the presentation
at St Andrew's College in Bandra and at Tolani college

Students speak
Chaitra Shettigar said, "After the empowering talk, I feel we are not alone; that fear is gone. Now I can proudly walk the streets and face the wrongdoers."

Felicia Pinto said, "The confidence the presentation instilled in us works; nobody dared to eye me. But still, there are some on the streets who will take a long time to reform."

The law says
Section 509: Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment up to one year, or fine, or both.

Section 294: Whoever
a) Does any obscene act in any public place, or
b) Sings, recites or utters any obscene song, or words, in a public place shall be punished with imprisonment up to three months or fine, or both.

Section 354: Whoever assaults or uses criminal force on any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or with both.

However, it is difficult to exploit these provisions to deal with various expressions of sexual harassment. The provisions under these sections and the procedural laws are complex and the type of proof that is required make it very difficult to get the culprit punished.

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