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Containing or combating eve teasing?

A few million female workers are engaged in country’s readymade garment sector. Significant segment of these female workers are teen agers. It is rumored that, for getting employment with the garment factories, most of the girls are rather forced to comprise their dignity and offer sexual comfort to male workers, mostly security staffs and supervisors.

by Mehnab Khan

(November 08, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Just in 2010, more than 20 girls were forced to commit suicide just because of severe harassment by some derailed males! At least four guardians of female died in attacks by the eve teasers. And the tendency is increasing in such alarming level that most of the guardians of females and feeling totally unsafe in sending their children to educational institutions or various working places. Mostly importantly, tendency of eve teasing is mostly taking place in the educated segment in the society, or we can say; only such cases are drawing the attention of media, while such eve teasing or even forceful sexual exploitation of thousands of female in country’s readymade garments industries and households are yet to be reported.

A few million female workers are engaged in country’s readymade garment sector. Significant segment of these female workers are teen agers. It is rumored that, for getting employment with the garment factories, most of the girls are rather forced to comprise their dignity and offer sexual comfort to male workers, mostly security staffs and supervisors. In some cases, it is even reported that, female workers are sexually exploited by the owners in exchange of small amount of cash. With such bad experience, a large number of readymade garment workers ultimately fail to attain peace in marriage, as their spouses treat them no better than a sex worker.

Cases of sexual exploitation of female workers in textile and readymade garment sector mostly skip media’s attention, as the victims are afraid of losing job in case of exposing this issue. They are silently tolerating such situation for years while their stories of agony remains untold.

Eve teasing is a euphemism used in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for public sexual harassment, street harassment or molestation of women by men, with Eve being a reference to the biblical Eve. Considered a problem related to delinquency in youth it is a form of sexual aggression that ranges in severity from sexually suggestive remarks, brushing in public places, catcalls, to outright groping. Sometimes it is referred to with a coy suggestion of innocent fun, making it appear innocuous with no resulting liability on the part of the perpetrator. Many feminists and voluntary organizations have suggested that the expression be replaced by a more appropriate term. According to them, considering the semantic roots of the term in Indian English, eve-teasing refers to the temptress nature of Eve, placing responsibility on the woman as a tease, as though the aggressive response of the males was normal rather than criminal.

Eve-teasing has been a notoriously difficult crime to prove, as perpetrators often devise ingenious ways to attack women, even though many feminist writers term it as "little rapes", and usually occur in public places, streets, and public transport.

Some guidebooks to the region warn female tourists that eve teasing may be avoided by wearing conservative clothing, though eve teasing is reported both by Indian women and by conservatively-dressed foreign women.

Though the problem received public and media attention in 1960s, it was in the following decades, when more and more women started going out to colleges and work independently, which means they are often no longer accompanied by a male escort as had been a norm in traditional society, that the problem grew to an alarming proportion. Soon the Indian government had to take remedial measures, both judicial and law enforcement, to curb the menace and efforts were made to sensitize the police about the issue, and police started rounding up eve teasers. The deployment of plain-clothed female police officers for the purpose has been particularly effective; other measures seen in various states were setting up of Women's Helpline in various cities, Women Police stations, and special anti-eve-teasing cells by the police.

Also seen during this period was a marked rise in number women coming forward to report incidence of eve-teasing like cases of sexual harassment due to changing public opinion against eve-teasers. In addition, the severity of eve-teasing incidences grew as well, in some cases leading to acid throwing, which in turn led to states like Tamil Nadu making eve-teasing a non-bailable offense. The number of women's organization and those working for women's rights also saw a rise, especially as this period also saw a rise in reports of bride burning. The increase in violent incidents towards women meant previously lackadaisical attitudes towards women's rights had to be abandoned by law makers. In the coming years, such organizations played a key role in lobbying for the eventual passing of legislation designed to protect women from violent eve-teasing, including 'The Delhi Prohibition of Eve-teasing Bill 1984'.

The death of a female student, Sarika Shah, in Chennai in 1998, caused by Eve-teasing, brought some tough laws to counter the problem in South India. After this case, there has been about half-a-dozen reports of suicide that have been attributed to pressures caused by eve teasing. In 2007, an eve-teasing resulted in the death of Pearl Gupta, a college student in Delhi. In February 2009, female students from M.S. University (MSU) Vadodara thrashed four young men near the family and community sciences faculty, after they passed lewd comments on a girl student staying in SD Hall hostel.

Many other cases go unreported for fear of reprisals and exposure to public shame. In some cases police let the offenders go, after public humiliation through several minor punishments. In 2008, a Delhi court ordered a 19-year-old youth, after he was caught eve-teasing, to distribute 500 handbills, detailing the consequences of indecent conduct, to youngsters outside schools and colleges.

Traditionally, Indian cinema has depicted eve teasing as a part of flirtatious beginnings of a courtship, along with the usual accompaniment of song and dance routines, which invariably results in the heroine submitting to the hero's advances towards the end of the song, and young men tend to emulate the example, depicted so flawlessly on screen and which gave rise to the Roadside Romeo which even made it a film version in Roadside Romeo (2007- Staring Saif Ali Khan). Now-a-days this issue is also shown in Indian Television Soaps. It may be mentioned here that, alarming increase of the eve teasing tendencies in Bangladesh society might also be an adverse effect of freely available Indian movies and soap-operas on Indian satellite television channels, which are already within Bangladeshi households, though India never allows even a single Bangladeshi TV channel to enter their territory. Some unscrupulous Bangladeshi cinema hall owners are even conspiring to start import and projection of Indian movies in local cinema halls, which surely will add further social adversities to the current situation.

Though Indian law doesn't use the term 'eve-teasing', victims usually take recourse to Section 298 (A) and (B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which sentences a man found guilty of making a girl or woman the target of obscene gestures, remarks, songs or recitation for a maximum tenure of three months. Section 292 of the IPC clearly spells out that showing pornographic or obscene pictures, books or slips to a woman or girl draws a fine of Rs.2000 with two years of rigorous imprisonment for first offenders. In case of repeated offence, when and if proved, the offender will be slapped with a fine of Rs.5000 with five years imprisonment. Under Section 509 of the IPC, obscene gestures, indecent body language and acidic comments directed at any woman or girl carries a penalty of rigorous imprisonment for one year or a fine or both. Women activists and legal experts believe that, Bangladesh can easily apply the clauses under existing Women and Children Repression Act against the eve teasers, so that there will be very strong signal in the society, which would surely stop or at least greatly reduce such cases of eve teasing in the entire country.

Bangladesh is the only Muslim nation in the world, which has females in the position of Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Home Minister and Foreign Minister. Women in Bangladesh are enjoying equal status in politics, judiciary and other services. But, unfortunately, they still are failing in taking appropriate measure in combating the ongoing tendency of eve teasing. This matter cannot be taken lightly anymore. No way! Most of the measures, taken so far are aimed at containing the tendency of eve teasing. But, such measures are not sufficient at all. Stern action against the eve teasers can only eliminate such bad practice from the society.

Mehnab Khan is a free lance columnist writing on regional and international issues.

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