Neither Eve, Nor Teasing

Why does the Indian media insist on trivialising street sexual assault by referring to it as “eve teasing”?

In Amritsar last week, a policeman was shot dead in public view after protesting against a bunch of thugs (one of them a member of the Akali Dal party) who were harassing his daughter. News reports were thin on detail. They did not mention what it was exactly that the men did or said to harass her. News reports mentioned that the men had been following the daughter for some days. They said they passed “lewd” comments.

And they called the whole thing – “eve-teasing”.

Eve-teasing? How does a sexual crime that includes groping, unwanted sexual comments and catcalls get a cute little euphemism like eve-teasing? Is rubbing against a woman “teasing”? Are comments in public about a woman’s breasts an innocent prank? Is feeling up her bum a harmless, fun thing that makes that bus or metro ride more enjoyable? Is unzipping, showing her pornography, blowing kisses her way, commenting on her clothes or her body – is any of this “teasing”?

Let’s get one thing straight. It is not teasing. It’s a violation of women’s bodies and our dignity by sexually repressed men who believe it’s okay, it’s harmless, it’s “teasing”.

So, let’s stop shying away from calling it what it is: street sexual harassment or, even better, street sexual assault.

What’s in a name really? Why do we need to call a spade a spade?

Here’s why. By glossing over a serious crime, we belittle it. We belittle the woman who suffers. And we pretend that the perpetrator is really a harmless guy who means no ill.

Here’s another reason why: by referring to women as “Eves”, there is an implication that she’s the temptress. Women wear tight clothes. They go to pubs. They have jobs. They own mobile phones. They eat chowmien. Of course they are to blame when they are raped or groped or beaten or burned. So, please, we may be descendants of Eve but call us women and stop blaming us for crimes against us.

In Guwahati, 11 of the 14 accused molesters in a shocking case of public assault – where a young woman was groped, slapped and dragged around by her hair by a group of men before a television camera in June – have just been sentenced to two years in jail. Would you call what they did eve-teasing? Or would you call it what it is: street sexual assault?

Where else in the civilised world is street sexual harassment called eve-teasing? The term is certainly unique to India and the subcontinent, where despite a rising graph in crimes against women, we seem to be unable to articulate the unspeakable.

So ingrained is the utterly idiotic “eve-teasing” in our lexicon that circa 2012 our mainstream media seems to be at a loss for words:

Check these headlines:

“Eve teasing case” said Indian Express.

Hindustan Times played safe if ungrammatical, but mentioned “teasing” in its copy, “Akali leader gun down ASI”

The Times of India dodged “eve-teasing” in its headline, but used it within its copy:

And it was eve-teasing for India Today, Chandigarh Tribune
and Deccan Herald.

Even new media had fallen back on old euphemisms. News website Firstpost’s headline declared, “Eve-teasing Akali man who shot cop claims ‘self defence’”:

Television was no better. “Cop takes on daughters eve-teasers” declared an NDTV 24X7 website headline, even as its editor Barkha Dutt tweeted: “What sort of dumb, archaic phrase is ‘eve teasing’. Call a spade, a spade. It’s sexual assault/abuse”.

Meanwhile, CNN-IBN had announced its campaign on whether there was a need for tougher – you guessed it – “eve teasing” laws. In response to a tweet protesting the use of the euphemism, Rajdeep Sardesai conceded: “Sexual harassment is what it is”.

Leaving the media aside, in a welcome move last month, a division bench of the Supreme Court cracked down on state governments and union territories by asking them to take effective steps to curb “eve-teasing”. Judges K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra noted, “Eve-teasing today has become a pernicious, horrid and disgusting practice”. They were hearing a Tamil Nadu appeal against the acquittal of a policeman who was accused of harassing a couple. “Eve-teasing is a euphemism, a conduct which attracts penal action but it is seen only in Tamil Nadu a statute has been created to contain the same.”

Tamil Nadu is indeed the only state in India that actually has a law against street sexual harassment. Despite the nomenclature, it is a law. The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Eve Teasing Act followed the death of a woman in a sexual harassment incident in 1998 and defines “eve-teasing” as: “any indecent conduct or act by a man which causes or is likely to cause intimidation, fear, shame or embarrassment to woman including abusing or causing hurt or nuisance to or assault, use of force on a woman.”

Meanwhile, the National Commission of Women has been reviewing laws that affect women, among them sections 294 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code and the lapsed Delhi Prohibition of Eve-Teasing Bill. It notes: “Some of the voluntary organisations suggested that the expression ‘Eve Teasing’ should be replaced by a more appropriate expression suitable for the Indian context”.

Can you really argue with that?


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  • sree

    Last month i was travelling in the bus and i found a man rubbing his penis against a lady. I waited for 5 minutes and then asked him not to do.. Guess what happened. People including that lady asked me to keep quiet. I was embraced and left the bust in the next stop. We should blame women who keep her mouth shut against these acts and not the media..

    • NamitaBhandare

      I’m glad you had the courage to stand up for what is right but why blame the victim? It’s possible she was not as brave as you.

  • Manish

    kudos to the writer, though I know you didn’t write this to hear a phrase of praise but you said what others were either ashamed of saying or trying hard to avoid. Women have been considered as a sex object in this country and that’s true. Our customs, traditions everything supports the same paradigm . There have been too many cases when various political personalities if I may say so, and other IPS officers have been accusing women for these sexual assaults.

    What I believe is, even if a woman roam around naked and I am aroused, I have no right to assault her. I know, nobody’s walking naked but just used it as an example.

    • NamitaBhandare

      Women are considered sex objects in every country, which is why we need to change the discourse.

  • Seema Shivhare

    I feel the women and men who want to feel their loved ones protected,need to take a stand. When something like this takes place, voice it out loudly and let the public take care of it right there in the public place and expose him or her for the sinful acts. Embarrass the perpetrator and the victim too for not having the courage to stand up against it . The person who was watching the lewd action should have slapped the guy who was doing it and given a piece of his mind to the women for being such a coward . Hopefully the society still maintain the decent values of protecting the so called weaker section of society. Social embarrassment and exposure of perpetrator is the way to deal with such harassing acts.

  • desi

    The article is well written, and I completely agree with you. My rant is about the Delhi rape which has happened on the 16th Dec 2012.

    Why does media written and television act as a stenographer or a reporter on steroids after an event? Micro analyzing, giving a very narrow perspective of the problem, showing that the problem/event is a rare one that happened, making one person the victim(even though all women in delhi/india are victims), one a hero, and one a villan. There is no special correspondent for a sexual crimes (happens every 20min), or on women’s issues (serious issues..not bollywood or page3 or about makeup or dresses), there is no section of media that covers genuine problems of 50% of indian population. What should a common indian expect from the society where the watch dog (media)..does not care about the problems effecting largest sections of population?

    There is no drive for a sensible solution to the problem, but all suggested solutions are hyperbolas. Women represent 50% of our population, how well are they represented in any field? How many women police personell are women compared to men (not even 15%). All talk about giving a death penalty to the accused (the rate of conviction is less than 10% for of the cases).

    If women can guard the border of India and Pakistan, they well can guard the honor and decency in the society. What we need is a police reform where there is equal representation of women, where there are mechanisms, to deal with specific crimes, where justice is rendered quickly and consistently. Society should be a part of solution as the police, society as a whole needs to bring in reward/punishment for the factors that effect the crimes.

    And for god’s sake please stop showing the tweets of celebrities, as if they are the authority on the subject or they feeling bad makes any difference.

    • Namita Bhandare

      Couldn’t have said it better.

  • Aslam Tikku

    From now on..

    I’ll behave properly and I’ll tell my son/daughter to behave properly!!!!

    This should be the statement to be repeated and said loudly a thousand times by me and if needed my kids would need to write it and say it loudly a thousand times)

    And not ‘tell “your” son/ daughter….’ It sickens me of my attitude that the “other” is not good, while I’m rotten within.


    People should understand that women are not created to just “woo” men and be treated in the way they want to..!!