Sexual Harassment and Gender Disparity in India

“Sometimes I wonder why hasn’t God made women physically stronger, as they made men, at least we could fight back when someone assaulted us and not cry every time and ask for help from other people.”

She was walking on the street in the evening with her friends, coming back from a coaching institute. The sun was about to set and they all were discussing what their teacher had taught them in the class. It was a normal day like any other, with busy streets and markets, but it didn’t take long for that normal day to turn into a dreadful one. She was sexually harassed by a man on a bike; she was touched inappropriately, touched without consent, and touched for being a woman. Devastated, she ran after him, shouted at him screamed her might out, but he was on a bike and he rode away. Her friends stood there numb, they couldn’t figure out what has happened. They ran up to her, saw her face, she was crying, she was crying because someone had just taken a part of her, people all around looked at them as it was them who were at fault, it was them who had invited that man and it was them who were the main reason for what has happened.

I asked her, did you think about complaining to the police. She said, “I did, but I didn’t know what to complain about, I didn’t know who the guy was, couldn’t note down his vehicle’s number, couldn’t recall anything about it; just the touch.” Speaking from experience, I know how difficult it is to report the crime. The event damaged a part of her, took something she would never get back, she would still get fearful, walking alone on the streets, and she would check a thousand times to make sure no one is following her.

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This wasn’t the first event of its kind; such events happen every day, every minute and every second in our country and it was no different from that of the thousands of people who’ve experienced something similar or worse. It’s 2018 and we are still fighting for equal rights for women, equal right to live their life, equal right to walk freely on the roads without the fear of getting assaulted, equal pay, equal credit, and right to wear what we want and how we want. It’s astounding to see how at one hand our country is making a phenomenal evolution in the field of science, medicine, and building extraordinary satellites while on the other hand half of the population of the country doesn’t feel safe in their home just because of their gender.

It was indeed hard for me to talk to my friend about the incident; because firstly, I knew it might bring back the memories of the incident in her mind and secondly, I was sure she didn’t want to live that again. It may sound just like a small invaluable incident that happens every day with women. But what exactly is the problem we are talking about here i.e. normalizing sexual abuse? We hear it in the media, in the news, people are incredulous, and people like to believe that the person maybe did something, or said something or behaved in a particular way to invite the attack. And I think that people think like that because it lowers their anxiety that they are vulnerable themselves, or their family members or their kids. At the cost of sounding a misandrist, I mean there is a chauvinistic attitude towards women being attacked. You will find men, still, in this day and age, who say: ‘Well, did you see what she was wearing? Did you see how she was behaving? She obviously was asking for it.’ You would be more hard-pressed to find women who would think like that. At the end of the day, it also comes from the people who are providing a service, to support victims. So if you have people in the police force, people in the medical profession, who think still to this very day, that most women who make a report are making false reports out of vengeance or… if the police sort of transmitting this message, it’s very hard for the population to change their perspective.

The most alarming thing in our country is the mentality of people, in India, you still have a situation where there is a woman walking down the street and she experiences catcalling, wolf-whistling, and this gets me frustrated, really. It’s 2018 and a woman can’t even walk down the street without being verbally assaulted. And it’s not only the women, who are the victims of sexual abuse, children too face sexual abuse daily in our country.

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The education system — schools, teachers, and parents — play a more crucial role. In the recent few years, 49% [source: India spend] of children reportedly faced sexual abuse within the school premises. If this humungous percentage of children experiencing abuse wasn’t harrowing enough, there are still a lot such cases that go totally unreported. Thus the reality is that thousands of children attending school are being abused without the knowledge of their parents and in this regard, I think that the mentality of people needs to change and people need to be more sensitive towards the victims.

Although we have come very far as a community, as a nation but the progress we are making is still debatable. How could a nation progress when more than half of its citizens don’t even feel safe in their homes and the condition at the workplace is equally detestable? India doesn’t have a body overseeing workplace equality. The sexual harassment law, while welcome, is fairly recent, with little or no oversight. It’s not easy to bring class-action suits to hold powerful men accountable. The burden of reporting harassment at work or in society lies on the individual facing it. Faced with the prospect of a long and frequently insensitive legal recourse, most women choose to move on. In the process, their careers suffer.

Perhaps it’s time to consider safety along with social and economic variables to explain the skewed gender ratio. There is also a long-term cost on a woman’s well-being. Successive studies have documented the mental health impacts of being a victim, from depression to loss of confidence. More importantly, scientists have found evidence that harassment early in the career has long-term effects on depressive symptoms. Not surprisingly, women, not men, are the solution for alleviating the epidemic of sexual harassment. The increasing number of women in leadership positions has a direct effect in preventing harassment. But generally, Women don’t get to reach the leadership position easily, as they have to work twice as hard to reach the same position as their male peers.

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Now the question comes “Can we really solve the issue of sexual harassment”? Now we might start with telling women how to be cautious and careful, or we might also teach our children about good touch or bad touch; but will we ever tell our men and women to behave? It’s high time we start telling the men to behave and respect women not because they could either have been their mothers or daughters but because they are human beings and deserve as much respect as any other human being. We still have a long way to go, and it might even take a century for all the women to get equal rights as men but as long as we are trying, it’s not going to go in vain.

I would like to conclude this discussion with the lines of Barack Obama “”You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls”.

Prepared by: Shakti Babbar

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