Another apect of the daily, all pervasive, constant atmosphere of sexual harrassment (read more about it HERE and HERE), and abuse, and objectification of women, trans people, effeminate men, and all possible “others” is our very own home grown quaint and innoccuous sounding phenomenon of eve teasing.
Fantastic, isn't it? We see daily public molestation and harrasment of a large section of our population as so much of a non problem that we dont even bother to call it harrassment at all! We call it teasing. As if it is something like a dear friend gently teasing another for fun, or a sibling pulling anothers leg gently, and with love. The reality? It is abuse, it is violation, it is violence on the person, it is harrassment, it is disgusting, sick-making, scary, threatening, and a lot of other things. It is NOT fun, not for the recipient at least, and it is not cute. It is not cute when the recipient is a child (yes children are “eve teased” too), and it is not cute when she is a teen or an adult.
Most people i talk to... no thats not true ... most MEN i talk to dont realise 2 things. How common it is, and how horrible it feels to the one on the recieving end. Like ragging in colleges, eve teasing has been given social sanction, has become a “boys will be boys” “harmless fun” “dont overreact” “not a big deal” “everyone does it” kind of activity that almost seems to be a part of some male rite of passage, of proving mardangi. As if treating half the population as objects, as playthings, as less than human, says anything complimentary about you at all. Bollywood makes matters much worse, with almost every movie showing the hero “eve teasing” and harrassing the heroine for often extended periods of time as a way of showing his romantic interest, after which the heroine proceeds to fall in love with him. NO, groping, harrassing, catcalling me are NOT aceptable or welcome ways to show me you like me. And NO i am DEFINITELY not going to like you for this behaviour. It will disgust me, anger me, make me want to castrate you, but it will NOT, under any circumstance, make me want to date, romance, or marry you.
And most men seriously dont understand how common or horrible it is! The occassional news report of a woman molested in something as flashy as the Delhi Metro, and protesting, has them clicking their tongues in annoyance and muttering about how unsafe Delhi has always been for women, but they have NO clue what their own friends, sisters, mothers, wives, aunts, daughters face every single day as they go about the business of their daily lives. Of all the men i have talked to in my life... and that numbers in tens of thousands both online as well as face to face ... almost 90-95% had no idea how everyday and common molestation in daily life was and is for women, especially in india.
I do not know of a single indian woman who has never faced the nasty creepiness of “eve teasing”. The milder forms – catcalling, crude comments, leers – we just habitually shrug off, in spite of the ditry feeling it leaves on our skins and the nasty taste in the mouth, because it could have been so much worse, and often is. The first few times a girl (yes girl... for example the first explicit molestation i can remember in public transport was when i was 10-11) has to deal with some creepy man pressing in too close to her in a bus or local train, often with an erection (which she may not know about but which feels icky nevertheless) pressing into her back, it comes a a huge shock. She freezes, feels nauseated, shaky, and before she can get her wits together, she has been groped a few times and the guy is gone.
She may or may not choose to tell someone about it. May not... because she has been brought up not only to feel powerless and without agency in most things, but also because anything to do with sex, men and women, those body parts, and so on is such a taboo that she may not even have language to describe what happened or why she feels violated. May not because she fears, rightly, that she will be the one to blame, that it is somehow her fault, because that is what society will think too. Too much freedom, too short/tight/few clothes, too much agressiveness, too much something. If she does tell, it will probably be another woman, her mother or an elder sister/cousin, or friends. And that's when she will realise that it happens to all of them, even to much larger and scarier extents, and that they shrug it off as part of being a woman in india. And they will advise her to do the same, and she will learn to do it.
And it gets worse when men are in groups. All girls/women/transpeople/ohers soon realise the basic rule. You can easily and and safely walk past or be around most men, as long as they are alone. Chances are above avarage (not good, but better than otherwise) that you will be fine, and unmolested. Yet put them in a group, and it is best to cross the road to avoid them. Even boys we knew, at durga pujas or neighbourhood gatherings, perfectly well behaved and even nice as some of them were, we would not walk past them when they were surrounded by a bunch of their pals. Something about havint to prove themselves to be men in the eyes of their pals, and the egging on from the mob, makes perfectly decent seeming men (or are they pervs but just afraid to act alone?) to turn into creatures to be afraid of.
It is a coping mechanism for us, ignoring or just not thinking about what happens almost everyday. We cant afford to think about it, because if we did, the rage, humuliation, disgust would be so great that we would just curl up in bed and refuse to go anywhere and do anything. So, we tell each other our stories (or not), tell each other “hota hai” and we move on. When a faceless stranger gropes you on the bus, move on. When a passing bicyclist reaches over and pinches your not yet fully grown breasts, move on. When men expose themselves to you and jerk off while looking you in the eye-- on the street, in trains, across the street, in the house next door, move on. When an autorickshaw/cab driver adjusts his rearview mirror specifically to look into your cleavage, move on. When 4 boys, not much older than you, feel perfectly secure about surrounding you on your way back from school to grope, pinch and molest you while saying nasty things, move on. When a long distance taxi driver thinks it is perfectly fine to lean over and grope you between your 14 year old legs just because you happen to be sitting in the front passenger seat, move on. When the guy next to you on the bus keeps “accidentally” pushing his thigh into yours and his elbow into your breast, move on. When travelling in the ladies compartment of a local train, when a man in a saree presses his erection into your lower back, move on.
And no age does not seem to matter much. From around 8-9 unless you have the misfortune to run into serious pedophiles on a regular basis, this has been part of life, expected, accepted, shrugged off wth a “what can you do, that's what it is like” till today, when i am less than a year away from 40. and no it has not abated, reduced, or disappeared. Nor do looks or figure. All the women i know face these things, no matter what they look like, and whether skinny or massively overweight. Neither does what she is wearing. We have faced these things in everything from burkhas and demure salwaar kameezes to jeans.It becomes so everyday, so much of a non event, that we dont even think about it anymore.
Some of us do, however, take some innovative countermeasures. Making a noise may not always be fesible, or comfortable. So we come up with our own ways of discouraging the pervs. A rolled up umbrella under my arm, for example, is standard equipment for me when i step out of the house, rain or shine, summer or winter or monsoon. Delicate darling afraid of a few drops or a tan i am not, but the umbrella has a serious purpose. Any lothario who makes the mistake of getting too close is going to feel it thrust back... sharply... into his solar plexus. When a hand reaches between the seat and the bus wall and under my arm to grope my breast while i travel, or reaches forward from the row behind me in a cinema theatre to do the same, it will feel the sharp jab of my supersize safety pin – another essential i always carry.
And yet, we still call it teasing. We still dont think it happens very much, or assume that it is mild, harmless, and fun for both parties when it does happen. Isnt't it time to wake up? Realise the truth? And act?