Legal, social systems unfair to fairer sex

Ruthu herself was not sure what to do next. She said, “It was 11 am and these guys were actually drunk. I was so terrified and shocked that I could not even react.” When the light changed to green, Ruthu just drove forward and in the process drove over one of the guy’s legs. “I am not sorry about it. This is not the first time, I have been harassed on the roads, but I drove away more out of fear than revenge,” she recalls.

Such incidents are not new or uncommon, but the worry is that they are increasing. Thousands of women, both working and home-makers face differing forms of harassment inside and outside the house. The number of cases where women report such occurrences are increasing, but for every woman who reports an offence, there are 10 who keep quiet about it. More so, as not many believe that the legal or social system is supportive of women who want to be heard about harassment.

“Laws are made for books. They are not of much use for women most of the time,” senior advocate Pramila Nesargi said. An outspoken activist for the rights of women, she also headed the State Women’s Commission for a while. Recalling the nature of complaints she received, she says, “Often we are the last resort for women. Finding no help from either the law or their families, these women found us the only hope fto hear their problems.”

Discouraged by families
Often, families discourage them from complaining and worse, blaming the girls for “inviting trouble” upon themselves. “Even though there are ample laws to protect the women in cases like dowry harassment or domestic violence, police action takes so long that the women are scared to rely on their support,” Nesargi says.

For Geetha Menon of Stree Jagruthi Samithi, the increase in the number of incidences of violence  is a definite sign of the male unease about the independence of women.
“Harassment existed earlier too, but there is a marked increase these days. Women have not yet learnt how to cope with this well. They have to understand why it is happening rather than feel alone asking why it happened to them alone,” she says.
She also suggests women gain self confidence and not get bogged down by the blame which is often directed at them when they complain of harassment. An organisation that is trying to change attitudes and perceptions is Blank Noise which works with the
victims.One of their campaigns has been about eve-teasing, to create awareness that women do not ask for it, but on another, more fundamental level, it has allowed women to overcome their apprehensions about sharing public space.

Geetha Menon
Stree Jagruthi Samithi
“Increasing freedom of women has also meant an increase in attacks on their mobility. In this patriarchal and fundamentalist society, as women come forward in new avenues, men seem to assert themselves by attacking them in different ways.”

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