Eve teasing leads to young women’s suicide in Bangladesh
November 1, 2010, Rupali Rani of Bogra, who was a student of class IX, hanged herself from a ceiling beam after stalker1 Sushil Shil, kidnapped her and kept her confined in a room of his residence in Sirajganj. Sushil forcefully put vermilion on her forehead to imply that she was married to him according to the Hindu custom. Shushil had been harassing Rani with unwelcome advances on her way to and from school and the coaching centre over the last few months.2 Recently a number of girls have been the victims of eve- teasing in Bangladesh. The unhappy girls resorted to suicide in a bid to end the mental pangs they suffered as a result of perverts’ verbal and behavioral abuses. They took the extreme decision.
Eve teasing beings as an attempt to irritate a girl or catch her attention A lewd stare, a sly whistle, a well-timed lap, an unwarranted bump, a seemingly causal touch, a lingering look at a vulnerable time, the humming of suggestive song, passing downright uncouth comments, cheap gestures, display of indecent snaps or videos, giving “unwelcome call” or “missed call”, sending indecent text all these are typical examples of eve teasing.3
Although the term “eve teasing” originates from India, in recent times, this vice has spread over all the sub-continental countries. Eve teasing was not that acute problem in Bangladesh till 1980s. However, from 1980s, when girls and women, especially at rural areas started going out for education and employment at a large scale, eve teasing with its sharp jaws has started to pollute our social fabric.
1 Stalking is a social illness like other crimes rampantly going on in the country. No law or guidelines or will help in reducing the social crimes. It is the willingness or ability of the government that is lacking.
2 See the “ Prothom Alo” November 2, 2010, page 1, column 5.
3Eve Teasing is a term which usually involves young men annoying or disquieting girls or women by making sexual innuendos against them in public or in work places. Eve teasing refers to any act that upsets the modesty of women while in the US it is any act that is sexual in nature including gestures, words and acts that are unwelcome. Sexual harassment qualifies as an illegal form of discrimination against women in direct violation of a human right. Eve teasing is a euphemism used in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan for public sexual harassment, street harassment or molestation of women by men. People found the term 'Eve Teasing' to substitute the erotic term sexual harassment. Eve is believed to be the first woman created by the Almighty and all women are the descendants of her and thus generically could be called Eve. So, teasing a woman is called 'eve teasing.
2.1. PRESENT CONDITION OF EVE TEASING IN BANGLADESH:
Eve teasing is rising both in number, recklessness and ferocity. Parents and guardians are passing days in great anxiety for the safety and well-being of the young women under their charge. Civilized life and living in the country is being challenged by the depraved and brutal behavior of eve teasing. Figures released by the Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK) human rights organization reveal that 62% of the school girls become victims of eve teasing. According to the information of “Mohila Porishad” eve teasing has increase by 39.6% compared to the last year.4
Cases of eve teasing are shooting up alarmingly. Apart from suicide, one statistics has revealed that during January-July 2010 period only, about 13,000 women became victims of eve teasing of different forms across the country. This figure counted only the reported cases. Many occurrences remain unreported as the majority of the victims of eve teasing prefer to ignore this out of fear or not to be ‘disgraced’ or part of a social ‘gossip’. The situation has become so alarming that, in general, it can be argued that at present no girl has been spared from being a victim of eve teasing in one from to another. 5
In recent days, some who have spoken out against sexual harassment have been murdered. A 50- year- old women died after a motorcycle was driven over her when she protested against the bullying of her daughter last week. A college teacher who spoke out against such bullying was also murdered. Everywhere the pattern is the same. Simi of Charukola, Fahima of Mirpur, and many other girls – students, workers and slum dwellers – were found to have been preyed upon by depraved and brutalized males while the state – society – took all for granted, as it were.6
4 See the daily newspaper “Amar Desh” November 04, 2010, page 9, column 3
5 How the incidents of Eve-teasing have become alarming can be gleaned only from counting the number of such incidents in the recent days and keeping a tally over a longer period. This would show the real extent of the spread of such crimes. All such incidents, on a greater scale than ever before, do only reveal police's gross underperformance in these matters. Eve-teasers do continue to oppress their victims at various places.
6 See “Too many cases of eve teasing” , The financial express Bangladesh , Thursday October 28 2010
2.2. CAUSES AND IMPACTS OF EVE TEASING:
The main reason behind the increasing numbers of cases on eve teasing is the down gradation of our cultural outlook towards female. The morale and mentality of the young people have changed. Our education has no moral stint, our religious exercises become ritualistic, society is becoming more materialistic and our politics is not bound by ethics. As female gender is considered the fairer and the weaker sex, they are considered more vulnerable. Especially in places like us which is having a male-dominated society. It is in fact a way of showing male’s superiority over females.7
Our culture is fast losing its identity and our media is more to please the teens than to depict the reality and truth of life. Also, being a suppressed lot, females generally don’t always raise their voices against such harassment, which makes the males bolder in their approaches. Due to social stigma for a girl, less and less cases are reported. Another reason is the old laws existing over eve-teasing. First of all, the corruption doesn’t catch the real culprits, with they being let off on may be a small favor or money. Even if they are caught, laws don’t have stringent punishments for them. There are enough loopholes to go scot-free. There have been very few convictions in such cases.8 Lack of education is also a contributing factor to such a menace. Illiterate and uneducated people consider this as their birthright and see nothing wrong in it. They are unaware of the trauma of the girl who faces such harassment. But one wonders then what happens in the metro cities, good educational institutions etc. Incidents in such places make people wonder whether education contributes to controlling such a problem.9
7See the weekly publication “ The star”, October 29, 2010.
8 In post-independent Bangladesh the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance (DMPO) of 1976 first addressed the women teasing directly. This is for the first time, in Bangladesh, an act other than the Penal Code addressed the teasing offence against women. However, the term 'eve teasing' is still not used. Likewise, the other metropolitan police acts/ordinances made similar provisions to penalize the offence of teasing women.
9 In extreme cases, vulgarity makes the boys perverted. Apart from obscenity in films, it may be found in websites. Information technology has in fact intensified the crisis. The teenagers may go to a cyber café and peep into the secrets of male-female relationship. They are driven by their curiosity to explore the hitherto unknown territory and get easily aroused. They witness with awe and admiration the physicality of love. They cannot control themselves any more. Primarily they feel shy but soon they overcome their shyness to the way of mischief. They become adults prematurely. A set of new eyes are opened, burning with new desire. They can hardly suppress the inner stirring.
The problem of eve teasing is closely connected with gender issue as well. In a male dominated society like ours, the boys think themselves more powerful than their girl counterparts. They are physically strong by natural builds and mentally emboldened thanks to the male-chauvinistic pampering.10 They think they can propose a girl and if she rejects he can abuse her verbally and physically. He may throw acid to her or threaten to kidnap rape and kill her. This audacity comes from the gender imbalance in society. Society endows the male with greater role and the female with smaller role, which create a bias towards men, often leading to the violation of rights of the weaker sex.11
Eve teasing increases girls’ drop-out rate from school. Parents concerned about their daughter’s honor or safety sometimes keep their daughters home and/or marry them off at an early age. Girls who are teased or harassed are also pushed into marriage, before they are physically or mentally prepared.12 Eve teasing also contributes to maintaining the low status of women. It also hinders women in participating in the formal employment sector. As nearly half of the population of the country are women, for the economic development of the country their participation in employment is a must.13
10 The gender bias has ominous impact on the psychology of the growing boys. And for this reason, teasing is always unidirectional -from men to women. Men are hunters and women are hunted; men are predators and women are preys. That is why, in dictionary also, we get only 'eve-teasing' and never the contrary term 'Adam-teasing'.
11Electronic media, especially some movies (both Hindi and Bengali) may be blamed for propagating eve teasing. Many movies depict scenes of teasing, showing this behavior as a way to win a woman's heart. Others show this as a behavior for men indulged in some fun, at a woman's expense of course.
12 Sometimes, women are blamed for 'alluring' eve teasers by their 'seductive' dresses or make-ups. But the reality is, the majority girls who become the prey of eve teasers are from rural areas and they are more conservative in wearing dresses compared with their counterparts in the urban areas. Even in Pakistan rural women in strict 'pardah' are not escaped from the harassment of the eve teasers. In a recently held discussion on eve teasing, alleged war criminal and the apex leader of Jamaat has blamed women as they go out at night time. What an audacity!
13 Limiting the movement of womenfolk goes against the essence of our constitution as it has ensured both the genders indiscriminately to move freely. In a male dominant society like ours, the concept of 'masculinity' is usually equated with patriarchy. So, eve teasing can be viewed as a rite of passage for boys on their way to becoming men. Considering that sex is not the only motive, it would be reasonable to conclude the psychodynamics of eve teasing are closely associated with the issue of masculinity and the masculine agenda. Gender segregation from the childhood and the domination of the male members in a family over the female members contribute much to reinforcing the patriarchal model of masculinity in the society.
2.3. WAYS TO GET RID OF THIS PROBLEM:
Although the rise of eve teasing have been noted for quite some time, responses to the same have hardly been appropriate. First and foremost, we need tougher legislation and it should be properly implemented to stop this menace. Some of the laws like the section 76 of the ordinance states some degree of actions but first of all this is not implemented properly and secondly, it is not enough to punish the teasers. There is no specific law to deal with Eve teasing but the attackers can be subjected to relevant sections of the law that deals with repression of women and children till a particular law is enacted to address such abominable crimes, with provisions for particularly heavy punishment. More importantly, prompt and effective enforcement of the law is an imperative. 14
Education ministry in Bangladesh had designated 13 June, 2010 as Eve Teasing Protection Day.15 The announcement reflects increasing concern over the worrying number of girls and women who have recently committed suicide in the country to escape eve teasing. Recently, the government is planning to introduce a strict law against eve teasing. No doubt, this is a timely step to move forward. These steps will only be successful when our attitude will change. The attitude of the male has to be changed if this menace has to be eradicated. A general respect for the female gender will go a long way in building a healthy society.16
14 Section 76 of the ordinance defines women teasing as, "willful and indecent exposure of one’s person in any street or public place within sight of, and in such manner as may be seen by, any woman, whether from within any house or building or not, or willful pressing or obstructing any woman in a street or public place or insulting or annoying any woman by using indecent language or making indecent sounds, gestures, or remarks in any street or public place". Women-teasing is punishable with a maximum one year of imprisonment, or with a maximum two thousand Taka fine, or with both.
15 See “The Daily Star” June 11, 2010, P.1.
16 After the amendment of The Prevention of Women and Children Act-2000 in 2003, there remained no legal provisions in the country addressing directly the problem of sexual harassment. But, newspapers bring out heart rendering reports on sexual harassment every now and then. At this backdrop Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) filed a Writ Petition (No. 5916 of 2008) to the High Court Division. The Honorable Court, after examining the pros and cons of the problem issued their Judgment on 14.5.2009 giving the government an eleven-points directive which will fill up the legislative vacuum in the nature of law. In these directives the Court suggested a detailed definition of sexual harassment that included all other existing definitions of non-contract sexually connoting offences. It also incorporated the modern means of erotic insults against the women that are prevalent in our present age of information technology. However, though the ingredients of the offence of eve teasing are easily distinguishable from the order, the court did not use the term eve teasing. Actually, eve teasing, though commonly used and popularly understood a term in Bangladesh, it remains outside the explicit legal definition.
Eve teasers in notable number enjoy political shelter or patronization which gives them a feeling of impurity. Therefore, the first thing in order is recognition of the seriousness of Eve teasing by the relevant ministry followed by the issuing of stern instruction to police and others at field levels to go after them without any fear or favor. Issuing of such instructions alone will not do. The minister, who ought to be concerned, will need to regularly monitor whether the directives are being needed or not, and followed-up, to ensure that the same is needed. 17
We need to reduce the gender segregation in the society so that children of both genders can know each other well. In a family, children of both sexes should be given equal emphasis. We also need to formulate a mass awareness program in this context. Media, NGOs and other social organizations may play pivotal role in this respect. Besides, the government should also initiate special projects focusing school/college students with a view to increasing awareness about and against eve teasing. However, all the steps will be futile unless male segment of the society change its patriarchal mindset. Otherwise Government needs to bring in stringent measures to curb this problem. People should be given harsh sentences, and such cases should be brought in public domain for people to understand and to fear doing any such thing. I, for one, would say that one of such people should be left to public punishment where they are left to be tortured by people in public places. One such case would go a long way in scaring the wits out of a lot of people. 18
17 ‘EVE-teasing’ is a misnomer, a cruel one, trivializes the rapacious mindset currently manifest in some delinquents in the country who are found stalking, oppressing and preying on young girls. This pursuit has nothing of the innocently romantic chemistry of healthy adolescents, but comes with a pathological acquisitiveness that may lead to outright killing of the quarry, or suicide, when the victim is unable to cope with such harassment or humiliation. Indeed, all kinds of crimes against girls and women – from the seemingly innocuous eve-teasing to deadly acid assaults, full-blown sexual violence to outright murder and mutilation – have become so rampant that misogyny may well be listed as a deadly mental disease.
18 Healthy guidance in good time can do wonders to youth, transforming potential demons into heroes. What we need, therefore, is more proactive people, who have the moral capability to compel government and communities to invest in the growing numbers, guiding and training them for productive employment rather than letting them get derailed by drugs and dirty politics. It would be too simplistic to presume that inhumane attitudes and behavior can be transformed merely through deterrent punishment or through social strictures and dress codes for women. The hijab is no bar for the leery. True deterrent must come from within, from early upbringing and positive peer pressure to opt for mutually enriching gender interaction. This calls for a broad-based universal education that reaches deep into humanity’s spiritual core. It is only then that inter-personal relations between the genders — including intellectual, sexual, emotional and spiritual relations -can become free and wholesome enough to rid society of the psycho-sexual afflictions all around.
In a country where the prime minister, foreign minister, home minister, agriculture minister, deputy leader of the House and the leader of the opposition are female, It is very hard to believe that in that country women and girls cannot walk on the streets, use public transport, or go to school, shops, parks or other public places without often being ogled, taunted, harassed, humiliated, sexually molested, groped and assaulted and in some cases, attacked with acid, abducted and raped. The situation is very frightening. The suicide of 20 girls within 1 year is an alarming sign of the times. If it is not controlled, the women can no longer live in society with any dignity. Government is recently taking some steps but proper implementation of those steps is required. Framing appropriate law to combat the ever-growing eve teasing is yet to be done. Committees are being formed in the institutions to protects the women attached to the institutions and punishment will be imposed on the persons inside the institutions, but the street Romeos, who commit their offence outside the institutions are still remain outside expected legal net. So, the enactment of an appropriate law to address eve teasing to cover the whole gamut of the problem is an unavoidable urgency. We have to mend up the society we inhabit infusing more civilized norms, preaching through education and collective exercise in practical life. After doing all of this we can expect significant decrease in the number of suicides women are committing because of eve teasing.
1. “Mass protest against eve teasing”, October 31,2010. The financial express Bangladesh.
2. “Eve teasing protirodh”, November 3, 2010 Prothom Alo, column 8, P.1.
3. “Voyaboho Porjaye Eve Teasing” November 04, 2010, Amar Desh, column 1, P.9.
4. “PM for enacting law against eve teasing”, October 28, 2010. The financial express Bangladesh.
5. “Modhukhali” Prothom Alo, October 28, 2010. column 2, P.1.
6. October 29, 2010, Prothom alo, Column 5, P.1.
7. “Eve Teasing-Karon o Protikar”, November 04, 2010 Amar Desh, column 7, P. 9.