PUCL Bulletin, February 2002

Women: A long Way To Go

By Neelofar Haram

Till 19th century she was merely an obedient daughter, sincere wife, and an affectionate mother. But today a woman has more roles to play than just remaining a housewife. Now women have got liberty and can go out, pursue higher education, work at different places and perform all kinds of activities, which were earlier dominated by men. However, to perform multiple duties they come across a large number of males every day and are often harassed by them. The most common is the experience in crowded buses wherein men taking advantage of the crowd bump into women and try to touch their body parts. At times they press themselves onto women leaving them nowhere to go.

The situation is no less harassing in other public places, which are crowded, e.g., in Delhi, markets like Chandni Chowk, Sadar Bazar, etc., which are renowned for all kinds of female outfits, jewelry, and other stuff. Shobha and Sadia, residents of these localities say that its too difficult for women and girls to walk on pavements as men coming from the opposite direction either hit them in the chest or on other parts. And those men who walk behind them spare no moment to pinch their behind. Varsha, Riti, and Iram, students of Class twelfth, fearing sexual assault on their way home unanimously say that they prefer hiring rickshaw to walking on foot.

The worst kinds of sexual harassments witnessed by women are at workplaces wherein they are constantly in touch with male colleagues who always try to misbehave and consider them as commodities of sexual desire. Their intensions are expressed either through leering eyes, roving hands, or lewd remarks. More often, if a male colleague finds female counter part standing or working at some corner, he tries to come and lean over her or sometimes sends messages through different gestures. These days with half of the work done by computers; often male colleagues pretend as if they are pressing keys of the keyboard but actually try to touch fingers of their female counterparts.

Ironically, nobody raises voice against the perpetrators of such acts, not even women colleagues, and if somehow a woman musters enough courage to complain about it, female colleagues do not dare to support but rather give suggestions to compromise with the situation as was reported in The Asian Age, dated 7 September 2001: in this case an Assistant Librarian was harassed by Chief Librarian of AIIMS and when she developed enough courage to take a stand, it was shunned by AIIMS authorities. Here too, her colleagues had given her same suggestions.

Actually, women are reluctant to file complaints firstly because it is difficult to prove harassment and secondly even if they do, there is a fear of losing the job. And these complaints may also mean insubordination. As a result they might be subjected to great humiliation by the higher authorities.

Although the National Commission for Women and the National Human Rights Commission and many other human rights organisations have recommended and demanded serious actions to deal with this pervasive menace, nothing concrete seems to have happened. The present chief of the NHRC had delivered the Supreme Court's verdict in Vishakha case, but a mere judgement and directives are not sufficient. What is required is to bring about a social revolution, to introduce necessary education in all boys and co-educational schools for respecting girls and women. Family is where this education has to begin. The Family structure in the society has to internalise the concept of gender equality. All families should adopt this practice. Human Rights activists have to look towards their family and make a beginning. Only then, and not till then, we can get rid of this social malaise (sexual harassment is just one of its ugly heads), which is becoming more insidious day by day.

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