Stop being harassed!

Stop being harassed!

Ladies, it is time to sit up and take note. Harassment of women has reached epidemic proportions in our society, country and indeed the world. It is high time we took steps to stop this laid back attitude to such a societal evil.
Women face harassment everywhere. At home, at the work place, on the streets, on public transport – think of a place and chances are that there have been attacks on women there. The attack need not be large scale – even leering at a woman, calling out expletives or eve-teasing can be construed as an attack. What is worse is that women ignore this and walk on. Granted that they don’t want to create a scene – god knows, the outcome of revolting might as well be worse than the initial teasing. However, don’t we all agree that ignoring the teasing just gives such people the encouragement to continue committing such acts?
Recently, a woman on her way to work was abused by a man in the metro, in Delhi. This individual tried to touch her inappropriately citing the movement of the train as an excuse to fall against her. When she glared at him and asked him to vacate the ladies compartment that he was unlawfully standing in this man dared to hit her. What is worse is that not a single co passenger came to her help. They watched the fray unfold in front of their eyes while this brave woman decided to scream for help. Scream she did but until the train stopped, there was nothing she could do. The man stood there arrogantly and melted into the crowd when the doors opened. The police at the station, needless to say, could not help.
Such cases are rampant, unfortunately, and the norm. Every day harassers go scot-free because women do not speak up for themselves – and very few do, to avoid experiencing a rerun of the metro incident. There are some people who are not cowardly and who do raise their voices against injustice, however they are very few and far between.
The way society thinks needs to be changed. It is not enough to raise voices against actual acts of harassment but there should be an active movement to change the way society thinks, in order to protect the safety of women. All women live with an inherent fear of being harassed made worse with the knowledge that the perpetrators might go scot free. Those in authority need to be made aware too so that they punish the perpetrators of crime and not the victim. There are numerous disheartening news articles about how the government has refused to acknowledge crimes against women with the astonishing logic that it was her fault. She should not have worn short and revealing clothing, or should not have been out of her home at such a late hour. The implication that a woman was harassed because she asked for it is a completely skewed way of looking at things. Mutual respect and respect for all the people around us is the first step that must be taken to reduce harassment. However, that is a long and tedious process and requires a lot of teamwork from most of society, which, to be realistic, is hard to accomplish.
What we can hope is that people will take notice and start teaching each other the art of respect. If you see someone being harassed please stand up for her, take her side and help her. Do not be a mute spectator to evil and crime because that makes you a criminal too. Women should help women – it is not just a job for men. Women should empathise and come forward to help. Slowly and steadily if you take up the cudgels against crime against women, society is bound to respond. Also, ladies should start actively taking martial arts or self defense classes - this will go a long way into improving confidence and strength.
Dressing provocatively, being out alone, being out at night are not enough reasons for a man to take advantage of a woman. That has to be the bottom line. Taking unfair advantage of another human being for personal pleasure or for “kicks” should be an act that is punishable by law.
Women should not be advised to rush back home at sunset, or wear clothing that is not attractive. What they should do is be assertive. They should carry pepper spray, they should know basic martial art and they should be able to fight back. There are plenty of NGOs and forums who work against abuse and they should be contacted for help. The police and the government should take keen notice and punish offenders. Women should speak to their lawyers and know the legal procedures to take. In September this year, the Lok Sabha passed a bill to protect women against sexual harassment at work, including those employed as domestic help. The bill clearly states that any act or behaviour, implied or otherwise, verbal or physical, will result in imprisonment and fines worth Rs 50,000. We need many more such bills. However, till such a time, we need to be careful in society.
From anecdotes women have told, it is clear that harassment impacts a woman’s hobbies and career choices, ability to go out alone at night and even their desire to be polite to strangers because they don’t know if that will lead to harassment. Women should be free of this constant fear and guilt and all of us should work towards ensuring this. Remember, any kind of injustice is harassment. If a woman is harassed by her in-laws, husband, family or if she sustains abuse on the roads or at the workplace, she should not grin and bear it. Ignoring this abuse will only be construed as a silent acceptance and those who dare to do it, will be encouraged to commit such crimes over and over again. We must work together to end this evil.

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