‘Eve teasing’. When I first heard the expression, it sounded like some kind of children’s game or innocuous mischief, like blowing a raspberry or pulling at someone’s pigtails.
In India, the term has darker associations – a common euphemism for public sexual harassment of women; a theme which has made headlines recently with the trial of five men in Delhi, accused with the rape and murder of a female student Jyoti Singh Pandey on a public bus.
Cases of harassment are hardly exceptional in India. Indeed, they are all-too common, reflected in the large number of ‘fast-track courts’ springing up throughout the country to deal with hundreds of thousands of sexual harassment trials.
Too often however, it is these same institutions which stand accused of fuelling such crime through inaction and “widespread misogyny”. One recent case saw several Punjabi Police officers suspended amid accusations of ignoring the appeals of a female rape victim, who subsequently committed suicide. Alongside persistent problems of sex trafficking, female infanticide and abductions throughout the country, such cases plainly demonstrate the vital urgency of curbing gender discrimination.
With the court-case in Delhi gaining global attention, there has been much discussion in India on the wider problem of entrenched sexism which Jyoti’s death so tragically illustrates. As her father Bandri remarked:
“Society cannot any longer turn a blind eye to these sorts of incidents which are happening every day. We have to change ourselves. If there are no changes then these horrible things won’t stop.”
Bandri Singh Pandey is not alone. It seems that in the wake of these sad events, many share his resolve to ‘change themselves’ and their institutions, reflected in a forceful and growing outcry for reform. In this sense at least, Jyoti’s death will not have been entirely in vain. As such root problems of gender inequality are increasingly articulated and addressed in the public eye; hopefully harassment is not the only crime that will begin to wither.