Intro: The ‘hota hai’ and ‘chalta hai’ attitude towards sexual harassment has to change. Parents must teach their girls to be bold and their boys to be decent. The government must incorporate self-defence training in school curriculum. And the law must be so strict that no one dares.
Incidents happen. There’s media uproar. All of us are agog. We make the right noises. Time goes by, and we forget. Net result: We learn nothing.
Stalking, whistling, lewd comments, the surreptitious touch, the suggestive gesture… every single girl faces these and other forms of harassment in daily life. These acts are so commonplace as to be regarded almost ‘normal’ now.
The Rohtak incident has received much publicity. The media and the public got deeply engrossed in every detail of the story – what happened, how it happened, different versions et al.
The first video that went public showed two sisters thrashing some boys in a running bus. It was alleged that the boys tried harassing the girls, who fought back valiantly with belt and punches. The sisters went to the police who were, it seems, unwilling to file a case. After media uproar, a case was filed and the boys arrested. The girls received accolades and lots of pats on the back for being “bravehearts”. Media also reported that the girls and their family were under tremendous pressure from the boys’ village panchayat to withdraw the case. However, one ‘witness’ said the fight was actually over seats, not sexual harassment. Nevertheless, the state government announced that the girls would be honoured on the Republic Day for their bravery.
Soon after, one more video went viral. This time, the same girls were seen beating up another man on the road. This video, it is said, is a month old. The sisters agreed that this incident did happen, after the boy passed a vulgar comment. They went on record to say that they made it a point not to put up with nonsense, and gave it back to any boy who tried to act fresh with them. The younger sister even had a message for other girls: “If a boy passes a lewd comment on a girl, the girl's first mistake is to take it casually.” Very apt advice.
However, the naysayers had a field day – questioning the very ground of the first report. They made it seem as if the girls were simply fond of thrashing men up. Someone went to the extent of pointing out that the video only shows the boy being beaten up, not what he did to deserve it. Of course, such people never realize that a vulgar comment or gesture can be so subtle that no one except the girl, who it is directed at, can catch it. Making videos may have become a popular pastime, but the few seconds it takes to get the camera rolling means the videographer always misses the first few moments of an unplanned incident. In fact, it would be reasonable to suspect a perfect shot of an incident of harassment, capturing each moment from beginning to finish.
While this debate rages on, no one seems bothered about the serious issues involved here. Regardless of exactly what incited the bus fight, the fact remains that two young girls came to blows with three boys in front of fifty-odd passengers. Yet, everyone remained a silent spectator! You can clearly see many young men watching and side-stepping the skirmish in the bus. What happened to the robust men and women of Haryana who were travelling in that bus? Were they so scared of three men that they dared not raise their voice? Or was it just a collective thought: “why should I get involved”?
What has happened to the famous ‘unity’ in our society?
The bitter truth is that we are allowing distasteful incidents to happen. So long as ‘it’ happens to someone else, we prefer to look away. But do we want the same attitude from others if we are in trouble? Let us not forget that trouble comes in many forms. If there’s no safety in numbers, what’s the purpose of staying in a social system?
Countless sexual crimes take place daily – some are reported, most are not. There’s an obvious need to teach boys to be real ‘men’. Girls, on the other hand, must learn techniques to stay safe. In short, it has become imperative to include value-education and self-defence training in formal education at school and college levels.
The government should actively work towards setting up a schooling system that infuses principles and positivity in the society. Also, parents must play a major role in making their daughters bold and alert, and their boys ‘gentlemen’.
Abha Khanna Gupta (The writer is a social worker and senior journalist)