OPINION | My dressing style doesn’t give eve-teasers the right to harass me


~~ By Sushmita Nath

When we talk about the safety and security of women in this country, let us not forget that other than the physical abuse a victim suffers, the emotional and psychological trauma inflicted upon her can be equally painful and dangerous, infact worse, as the physical scars can heal but the same is not so with emotional damage.

From a lone person's point of view, on many occasions a woman suffers from various kinds of abuse (directly or indirectly), be it at home, workplace or public places, all of which causes pain.

Eve teasing and molestation is something which is a very common problem for women all over the world and especially in India.

Though laws have been put in place to check crimes against women, however, the situation remains more or less the same.

Under Article 14 of the Constitution, a woman has every right just as a man under the Right to Equality. The Right to live with Dignity as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution cannot be desecrated by indulging in the intolerable act of eve-teasing.

Despite all these right and laws, the streets are still not safe for women particularly at night and this is evident from a number of incidences across the country reported almost on a daily basis.

Meghalaya known as the 'Abode of the Clouds' where women have more say and where there is a norm of respect towards the gender also witnesses similar incidences with the situation more or less the same as in the other states of the country.

I am sure that there are so many women and girls who have faced eve teasing and molestation in their everyday lives. Speaking from my own experiences, there has been many a time where I have felt those inquisitive eyes penetrating through my skin in a really filthy and disgusting manner be it in open public places or at night in the streets. There is always someone lurking in the shadows looking for an opportunity to commit disgraceful acts towards women.

There was a time when I was in Police Bazaar, the commercial hub of Shillong at around 7 pm, while I was walking on the footpath with my sister, one man who was walking behind us while crossing the road touched my thighs in a very grubby way and when I yelled at him, this fellow felt no remorse and instead out-rightly denied doing such a thing.

Another incident was near Guwahati Club in Assam where my roommate and I went out to pack some food from a small restaurant. While we were about to enter, a group of guys sitting outside were teasing us in public and I was really shocked to see that the people around us were not even trying to intervene. So we just ignored them and entered inside but to my utter surprise, I saw these guys followed us inside and sat just opposite to our table and I still cannot forget the way they were staring at my legs and making comments like 'kiman rate' which means 'what's the rate'. Embarrassed, we got up and left the place because we knew that getting into an argument would not help us in any way and since we were not from the place, there is every chance that we will be tagged as the notorious ones and the culprits will be hailed as 'Watchers of Society'.

We, women are not safe anywhere I say. The most disgusting thing is that there are some women who support the street teasers saying it is the fault of the girls, blaming them based on their dressing sense and the timings they are out.

Often, many women are unaware of the laws and regulations that give them protection against such acts therefore it is very important to remember that the police have to register an FIR in all kinds of situations. There are however times when the police would refuse to register a case, especially in the case of molestation and eve-teasing, so in such cases, we can file a private complaint before the Magistrate under Section 200 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, along with a Section 156(3) application.

A case of molestation needs to be registered where the 'cause of action' has taken place. As per section 468 (2) (c) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, you have a limitation of three years, i.e. you can file an FIR within three years of the crime.

Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code (hereinafter referred as the IPC) says that "Whoever, to the annoyance of others- (a) does any obscene act in any public place, or (b) sings, recites or utters any obscene song; ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.

Section 354 provides for the punishment for the offences involving force intended to outrage the modesty of a woman coupled with the intention to outrage her. Furthermore, Section 509 of the IPC says, "Whoever intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending, that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with a fine or with both".

"Men and women should own the world as a mutual possession."- Pearl S. Buck

(This article is part of an internship programme by Sushmita Nath of Sikkim Manipal University, Shillong)