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Manini Mishra

A woman is molested every 26 minutes in India. And this statistic is only the tip of the ice berg.

Formally called as ³Sexual Harassment´ and more coyly known as ³eve-teasing´, laws pertaining to
safety for women in India can at best be called moderate. And that would be over-estimating its
importance. Sexual Harassment can range from molestation, physical abuse and verbal maligning to
something as subtle but equally traumatic like stalking, situational harasser or bullying.

As per the constitution of India, Sexual Harassment is dealt under article 14 pertaining to gender equality
and under article 21- the right to life and dignity. Provisions in certain legislations also exist to protect the
modesty of a woman and prevent sexual harassment in workplace. However, there is so far no express
law which specifically prohibits sexual harassment and which has a fixed minimum penalty for the

Women, especially in large parts of rural India, have long been seen as a secondary entity. Their freedom
is usually subject to the whims and fancies of their paternalistic family and later to their equally inclined,
if not more, husband¶s family. Being economically dependent and emotionally moulded since birth to
consider themselves as an appendage to their better halves, they find themselves ill-equipped when faced
with a lecherous father in law or a random roadside molester.

There has been infinite number of instances of sexual harassment. Some making national headlines and
others being swept under the carpet called µhonour¶. A Rakhi Sawant gets media headlines when she
accuses Mika of sexual harassment. But the thousands of nameless women whose very existence is being
continuously threatened under the guise of µeve-teasing¶ are ironically encouraged to keep quiet and
preserve their dignity.

However this is not to say women in urban India are spared the horror. A case in point being the incident
which happened on 1st January 2008 in Mumbai, the so called safest city for women in India. DNA India
reported the following on 2nd January 2008- ³A mob of 70-80 men reportedly tore up the women's
clothes, molested and groped them while their male companions, overpowered by the crowd, watched

Such nightmares unfortunately are not restricted to women alone. Sexual Harassment is prevalent across
age as well as sex. Sexual abuse of children, adolescents and men has seen an increased number of
reported instances. Studies have shown that men who do not stick to the general notion of how a man
should behave are more at risk of sexual harassment at workplace. Aggressors generally tend to be those
people who believe that their gender is somehow superior to that of the victim¶s.

Following is the account of a young working executive who was faced with sexual harassment at his

When 22-year-old Rohit (name changed to protect privacy) started temping as the secretary for a
prestigious real estate firm, he expected a professional environment where he could learn about a
booming industry. What he got instead was a different type of education -- one that stressed him out and
that forever changed his concept of sexual harassment in the workplace.

³I always thought this kind of stuff only happened to women with male bosses,´ Rohit complained, years
later. ³But being the only guy in the office, I was the target of a lot of rude comments about my
appearance -- both good and bad -- and the fact that I was a male secretary was joked about incessantly.´

After being subjected to a lengthy bosses¶ lecture on how he was µtoo cute¶ to wear the boring clothes he
wore and how he should µspruce up¶ to µgive the girls some eye candy,¶ Rohit quit. However, he didn¶t
mention the offenses to the higher-ups at the company or at his temping agency. ³I wanted to tell
someone, but every time I tried to explain I just felt so stupid, so emasculated. I felt better just sweeping it
all underneath the rug.´

Cases of adolescents and children being harassed are not very dissimilar to the above account. Many
don¶t speak up because it is either too embarrassing or it¶s simply shrugged off as not being important
enough to be voiced. What is more disturbing however, are studies which show that sexually harassed
children grow up to have seriously dysfunctional interpersonal and social relationships as adults. They
also become more prone to inflicting violence. This poses a danger to themselves as well as their
surrounding society.

In order to keep sexual harassment in check and prevent the happenstance of anyone of us becoming an
unsuspecting victim, the following guidelines can prove useful:-

Y  eep checks on the body language of people surrounding you. An overall observation can be
useful to take precautions against a potential harasser.

Y Any behavior, gesture or spoken innuendos that make a person uncomfortable will come under
sexual harassment. Report the incident to concerned authority immediately without hesitation.

Y Studies show that sexual harassment is usually perpetrated by those who are known to the victim.
Parents and elders need to be aware of this fact and have a lookout for any suspicious behavior
regarding the safety of their children.

Y In case of venturing out of the house at odd hours or going to an unsafe place, ensure that
someone knows about your whereabouts.

Y In particularly violent situations, scream and for self defense, try to aim at the attacker¶s eyes and

Y  eep pepper spray or some chilly powder handy while traveling in case of a sudden attack.