Deal sternly

The Supreme Court has issued some welcome directives  to all state governments and Union territories to take effective steps to curb eve-teasing which is a serious form of sexual harassment but is often not considered so. The court used very strong language when it said that eve-teasing  'has become a pernicious, horrid and disgusting practice' and described the experiences of women and girl children in most public places as 'horrendous and painful.'  It is taken lightly by most including police and other authorities but the humiliation it causes to women is hardly realised. It violates the self-respect and sense of dignity of women and brings ridicule to them in front of others. Many suffer serious  psychological  trauma and there have been cases of women committing suicide after they became victims of eve-teasing.

The court has criticised governments for not taking  the problem seriously.  It has felt that the provisions of the bill against sexual harassment of women in public places, which is pending in Parliament, are not sufficient to curb eve-teasing.  It has issued some guidelines to be followed till suitable legislation is framed to deal with the problem.  No state except Tamil Nadu has a law to deal with eve-teasing. The law was enacted there after the death of a woman as a result of eve-teasing. The court’s guidelines  impose a responsibility on owners of public places and  institutions like theatres, malls, places of worship etc to take steps to prevent eve-teasing and to immediately report to the police when a complaint is made. Those who provide services and are in charge of public facilities should also act responsibly. For example,  a bus driver has to take  the bus to the nearest police station when there is a complaint of harassment from a passenger. Failure to do so might result in cancellation of the bus permit.

Eve-teasing is only one sign of the unhealthy gender attitudes that pervade society.  It is rampant everywhere and varies from the subtle and suggestive to open and vulgar ways of behaving with women. It is  sometimes  even difficult to pinpoint and identify. Very often the public do not come to the aid of a woman who is a target of eve-teasing. Some even enjoy it. The court’s directives or the  law will not change these attitudes immediately. But they can have a deterrent effect if the authorities sincerely try to implement them.

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