“Talk to me... Please, listen to me, or I will be cursed. If you don’t, and something happens to me, who will look after my parents? I am their only son.” This is part of a loud appeal by a boy to a young girl. They have never met, nor are they likely to again. To the passerby, it is live Bollywood in the bylanes of Punjab’s capital, a routine matter, part of the campus culture across the city. It is ‘raunak’. Such incidents litter the tricity.
In the past year, 95.4% females in the tricity — Chandigarh, Panchkula and SAS Nagar — have faced some form of sexual harassment outside their homes, including indecent exposure, unwelcome advances, groping, stalking and comments. This offensive behaviour is not always shared. Only 25.8% communicated this harassment, 15.4 to family and 6.9 complained to police, reporting behaviour they found violative and threatening. This trend is reflected in a study by the Institute of Development and Communication (IDC) in Punjab that found the ratio of reported to unreported sexual harassment as 1:21,865, but 1:9 for rape.
Chandigarh, the planned city of civilised government officials and a disciplined workforce, then cloaks offensive male conduct within the folds of its architectural eminence. As more opportunities are created, risks are also increasing.
In Chandigarh in 2007, more girls (46.9%) than boys (43.7%) graduated. More girls are working and move freely, yet 88.5% find sexual harassment has increased, and only 39% find their workplace safe. Sexual harassment in spite of new laws, public anger and women’s empowerment are on the rise.
Girls are being sexually harassed in the public domain, yet this misbehaviour is not under public scrutiny.
“A young girl is embarrassed by the exhibitionism of a man next to her seat, yet the busload of people are unaware; another latches on a middle-aged hand fondling her at a movie entrance, but the crowd ignores it; girls in a restaurant are stared at by a group of boys; when they protest, the boys say we have done nothing,” this was how one of our survey subjects explained the plight of women in the tricity, or even beyond.
The first move to secure women is that the nature and extent of abuse must be understood and people sensitised that it is not just the brutal or the physical that is abuse, but its many forms included indecent behaviour, leering, kerb crawling, stalking. All of these are a violation, and should be unacceptable to any male or female.
Reaction continues to remain focused on brutalities of rape and molestation, while condoning abrasive, intrusive misconduct and even legitimising offensive violation as part of a natural sexuality. India is yet to become a rape capital of the world, ranking low on reported rate of rape (5.6 per lakh) in comparison to Sweden’s 69.2 in 2011. But, if this culture of silence continues, accepting abuse of ‘others’ and blaming modernity, media and victims themselves, an epidemic awaits. Is anyone listening?
(The writer is director, of research, gender studies, Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh)