Neither Eve, Nor Teasing

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

WrittenBy:Namita Bhandare
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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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