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Eve-teasing : from a social malady to a suicidal hex

A sly leer, a lingering look, a wily whistle, a tending smile, an unwanted gesture and so forth are enough to make a girl feel threatened of her existence. It is needless to clarify what these aforementioned examples indicate to. There is hardly a single girl or woman in the society who did not face this traumatic experience at least once. There’s no need to define eve-teasing in black and white.

The concept of eve-teasing derived from the biblical creation story, where women are considered as ‘Eves’ who allure men into the state of sexual titillation. The term usually involves young and middle aged men making sexual insinuations against teenage girls and women in public or work places.  This vice is prevalent in every sphere of our society. There is not a single concerned citizen who is unfamiliar with this social pandemic.

We can hardly find any places whether that are the educational institutions, public transportations, shopping malls, public streets, railway stations or even one’s own private vehicle where women and girls are not victimized by this grim social malady. A girl has to live with the fact that once she steps into the outside world, she will be whistled at, vulgar comments will be passed out to her, and will receive unwarranted encounters, cat calls, indecent snap videos, uninvited calls and casual touches and many other forms of eve-teasing.

In the modern era, the girls are often teased by means of electronic media i.e. mobile phone, Facebook in the forms of ‘missed calls’ and ‘dirty messages’.  Every girl or woman in our country, especially those living in urban areas, has at least one story to share of their abuses and humiliations.

The reasons behind this social hex lie deep in the root of our patriarchal society. Children are taught from their childhood that the male persons in the family are the dominant ones and that they can do whatever they like as per their sweet will. Thus, the girls are born into an unwelcome world where they are considered as feeble and inferior. This rampant discrimination against women and the masculine agenda are at the root of this social disease i.e., eve-teasing.

In most cases, the eve-teasers are young people i.e., students and juvenile delinquents. They taunt the teenage girls and women wherever they go in various forms. Even the women of their mother’s age fail to escape from their salacious clutch.

Psychologists and social scientists say, “Eve-teasing is the result of the frustration suffered by the majority of the youths because of unemployment and poverty. These coupled with lack of proper education, discipline and religious values create a fertile ground for eve-teasing. These frustrated youths yearn for something to give vent to their frustration and depression and thus choose this social menace as the medium.”

Again, some movies and songs are also said to be responsible to provoke eve-teasing among the youths. It is most usually shown through these means that eve-teasing is ‘just for fun’ whereas in reality this is a daunting experience for a girl.

The evil effects of eve-teasing have gone beyond our anticipation. Everyday, when we go through a newspaper or watch news on televisions, we always find or are informed of an incident or more concerning eve-teasing and their sorrowful consequences. Although the problem is one of the most important ones among many, it gets swept under the rug!

Though the history of eve-teasing dates back from the ‘70s, the consequences were not as severe as they are now. The victims, being unable to bear with the psychological scars left by the eve-teasers, commit suicide to escape the anguish. The unprecedented rate of suicide cases among the girls due to eve-teasing is shocking. Apart from suicide, many occurrences remain unreported as the victims choose not to share their experiences out of fear of being ‘disgraced’ or part of a social gossip.

Another disastrous consequence of eve-teasing is the marriage of girls at an early age. Parents, concerned about their daughters’ safety and honour, decide to marry them off at an early age. They think that their daughters will be safe with their husband and will be free from harassment. However, in reality, the harassment does not come to an end, rather they have to suffer the consequences of early marriage as well. Because of early marriage, the girls give birth to their first child at a very tender age. This leads to the high population growth in our country which is already beset with multiple problems.

Because of eve-teasing, women empowerment is becoming difficult to achieve. Thanks to the repressive stalkers, the parents are afraid to let their daughter go to schools and colleges. Thus their education is hampered. Even in some cases, the girls are forced to be dropped out of school and are confined within the four walls of their home because of lack of security. This also leads them to become unemployed in near future.

Nevertheless, there are certain provisions of law to prevent sexual harassment of women. In section 354 of the Penal Code, it is stated that, “Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby 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.” Again in section 509 of the Penal Code, it is stated that, “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 fine, or with both.” Also, in section 76 of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976, it is expressed that, “Whoever willfully and indecently exposes his person in any street or public place within sight of, and in such manner as may be seen by, any woman, whether from within any house or building or not, or willfully presses or obstructs any woman in a street or public place or insults or annoys any woman by using indecent language or making indecent sounds, gestures, or remarks in any street or public place, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to two thousand Taka, or with both.” In section 10 of the Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Act of 2000, it is stated that, “i. Whoever, to satisfy his sexual urge illegally, touches the sexual organ or other organ of a woman or a child with any organ of his body or with any substance, his act shall be said to be sexual oppression and he shall be punished with imprisonment for either description which may extend to ten years but not less than two years of rigorous imprisonment and also with fine. ii. Whoever , to satisfy his sexual urge illegally, assaults a woman sexually or makes any indecent gesture, his act shall be deemed to be sexual oppression and he shall be punished with imprisonment for either description which may extend to seven years but not less than two years of rigorous imprisonment and also with fine.”

These provisions rigorously affirm that any acts, conducts or verbal abuses which are used to disgrace women are punishable by law. Although these laws exist in black and white, their applications in practice are in question. Moreover, the punishments stated in the provisions seem to be too shaky in comparison to the crimes committed. They are so poorly drafted that the victims hardly get any assistance from the law enforcing agencies. Owing to the loopholes in the existing legal regime, the culprits can easily escape the appropriate punishment while the people in general and the law enforcers can do nothing but observe inertly.

As the concerned citizens, it is our moral duty, social responsibility and legal right to fight against eve-teasing. Law alone cannot eliminate this social vice. Proper initiatives should be taken from childhood i.e. gender segregation should be reduced. Boys should be taught to respect their female counterparts from their childhood. Government, NGO’s, Media as well as various social organizations should come forward to create mass awareness programmes to prevent this social menace and also should take initiatives for the ethical development of the young minds. The Education Ministry of Bangladesh has declared 13 June as ‘Eve-teasing Protection Day’ to reflect the concern on the distressful number of girls and women who committed suicide in order to escape this sexual harassment.

Laws should be imposed more strictly and more effective laws should be introduced to deter the people from eve-teasing. Moreover, the interpretations of the laws should be made easier enough for the general people to understand and apply it properly. Punitive legal measures should also be introduced to deter the young people from committing this social crime.

Most importantly, the mindset of the society has to be changed as a whole. All the efforts are compelled to be foiled if the people in general do not change their views regarding women folk. Only after that, we can hope for this social malady to be eliminated.

Afrida Noshin

Afrida Noshin

Afrida Noshin is a Law student at University of Dhaka. She is a regular contributor to Bangladesh Law Digest.
Afrida Noshin

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