By Shaina NC
Reuben Fernandes and Keenan Santos have become well-known personalities, though sadly only posthumously. Their lives were snatched in a cruel twist of fate, by some ‘eve-teasers’. ‘Eve-teasing’ is probably one of the euphemistic terms in popular vogue today, while masking a problem that is considerably more serious.
‘Eve-teasing’ evokes romanticised notions of Bollywood cliché, wherein the hero teases the heroine as part of the wooing process and invariably, the latter succumbs to his ‘masculine’ charms. The problem that real women encounter in packed buses and trains, in restaurants and bars, virtually anywhere outside their homes, is hardly romantic. It is indubitable sexual harassment of women, irrespective of any demographic profile. In extreme instances, like in cases of Priyadarshini Mattoo, Madhumita Shukla, Shivani Bhatnagar, etc, it becomes pure and simple ‘culpable homicide amounting to murder’, and not the milder (and more romantic) ‘crime of passion’. The question is ‘how does it all end, if at all’?
In a country that’s eminently over-legislated and under-enforced, administration of the law is a challenge in itself. Police officers are indifferent to such crimes in the best of times, and callous in many situations. Neither their unwieldy processes, nor their antiquated technology, nor their attitudes are conducive to even comprehending the extent of the problem. Coupled with this are hare-brained though widely-held beliefs that women invite trouble upon themselves by dressing inappropriately. What this notion conveniently forgets is that as far as we know, this country allows personal freedom. But the fact that overworked, slothful and corrupt policemen will continue to proficiently pass the buck, is hardly unexpected. Haven’t we heard of several instances when cops have sought to harass young men and women enjoying a few moments of solitude in a city where even space to breathe is a luxury of sorts? Even their technology mirrors their callousness. In the Reuben-Keenan case, the emergency ‘100’ number had no response for several minutes, while the two young men stood up valiantly to a bunch of goons while defending their lady friends.
In my view, the real problem is that of attitude. Attitude of men, that’s fed on images of male-driven popular culture, false notions of machismo, and treatment of women as property. Even if the administrative machinery girds up its loins to enforce the freedom and safety of women, are the men ready to accept women as equals, especially in a society that’s churning quite rapidly? Are men ready to concede that their centuries-old domination of women is ending, and that the Constitution of the country is a catalyst in that process of change? I don’t believe so. As long as the mindsets remain fossilised, caught in some time-warp, these crimes of sexual harassment will continue to happen. Education is one antidote that can drive change, but obscurantist social norms and beliefs are a greater hindrance. Enlightened liberal people and the media must highlight these issues, whilst the deterrence of the enforcement machinery is an imperative.
(You like this article? Please respond to [email protected]; The writer is a Social Activist and Fashion Designer)