Anuradha Ganguly Ramaswamaiah*
If you are a woman or girl, you will agree that each one of us, irrespective of caste, class, age, and religion, faces frequent instances of sexual harassment in this country. The criminal could be anyone… a delivery boy, a school staff, a stranger… even a known and trusted person like an office colleague, a teacher, a friend’s father or brother, or even a relative. Yet, why do we not speak about such a rampant malaise in our society that affects us almost every day? Why do we not report such incidents? I want to break down and analyse the reasons.
BECAUSE when a girl undergoes an instance of sexual harassment, which could be an inappropriate touch, verbal harassment, lewd look or gesture, flashing, a forced act/assault against consent which includes rape, the first reaction of the woman or girl, which is most natural for any human, is a sense of immense disgust and shame. The easiest way out of this is to be in denial. “It didn’t happen to me… nobody saw… let me move on… that person won’t remember… I want to forget this episode…. Sooner the better.”
But the fact is that person does remember and gets emboldened with our muted reaction. The next victim of his would face a bigger assault. Probably a rape!
BECAUSE even if we girls or women do muster enough courage and speak about it to our family, they would listen out of love and concern, they would sympathise, but they would ask us to not discuss this matter with outsiders or friends, to not lodge a complaint with the police.
The reaction would just be an extension of the girl’s own. They would feel shame, they would worry about the consequences to their personal lives, of the matter going public. They would worry about the innumerable trips to a police station, the harassment… the long battle they would have to fight. They would try to dissuade the unfortunate girl to not even file a complaint about the crime that happened for no fault of her own!
They would ask her to move on with life. But then, things may not be the same. The girl’s life would’ve changed. The family’s life would’ve changed.
Again, their muted reaction would embolden the perpetrator. He would be well aware of the internal conflict, the hesitation of the girl, the family…. and would probably laugh about it. It would give him a sense of power and control over lives, over the bodies and minds of women.
He might attack the girl again…. maybe more violently this time. He would attack other girls and women and raise the bar of his crime higher with every act…..
The girl or a woman who goes through the unfortunate episode is scarred psychologically forever. The girl or woman’s family suffers silently, watching them go through the trauma, bearing the pain and living through it.
BECAUSE when others in the larger and extended circle of friends, acquaintances, neighbours and what we call a society, get to know about it, they would stun with their apathy, indifference. There would be reluctance to even discuss the incident as a mainstream issue. All one would hear are hushed tones of gossip.
The most familiar refrain heard during these times is appalling. “Oh! that poor unfortunate girl; it cannot happen to our daughter; maybe she was dressed provocatively; maybe her behaviour invited this trouble; maybe her friend circle was bad.” There is no end to such insensitive, irrational barbs.
BECAUSE if the woman or girl or her family muster up enough courage to file a complaint, they go to the police station, where apathy cloaked in uniform greets them with a lot of hostility. It is not easy to get the one who is on the wrong side of the law prosecuted, and if the accused is high and mighty or with a lot of power and pelf, then it is an uphill task from the word go. There is an air of dismissal especially if it is a case of stalking, molesting or harassing by way of verbal abuse or lewd gesture. The police find these too trivial even to take cognisance. Lack of evidence is the most common ruse for dismissal. Obviously, such crimes are committed in seclusion, away from the public gaze. Instead of assisting the public and ensuring speedy implementation of law, order and justice, the law-keepers become deniers of the same.
Why….? The police force is maintained with the tax payers money, to serve the public. But instead, they show reluctance, negativity. And if the criminal comes from a position of power, like it was with long term serial molester Delhi police sub inspector Puneet Grewal, arrested in the recent incidences of molestation at Dwarka and who managed to remain in the position of power despite his deranged habits, the reluctance to even take cognisance of the offence becomes greater.
He remained unscathed and had been successful in evading the cops, but thanks to the spirited fight of a bunch of girls, who came forward to lodge a complaint, release pictures of the numberless black car, and a video about the crime, that the long arm of the law got hold of him.
It serves and makes sense to keep the statistics of crime low; if there are no reports, there would be no investigation, and hence it would not become a part of the statistics. Particularly in the cases where there is no death or no apparent physical damage, then who cares about psychological devastation?
But then, can crime be brushed under the rug, and for how long? The man who begins with casual eve-teasing, stalking, molesting, harassing, gets emboldened with every act of crime that gets ignored, overlooked, dismissed and is unreported. It is a vicious cycle. Just like the greed for ill-gotten wealth has no limits, the lust for sexual supremacy has none too… and the consequences for the victim could be emotional, psychological… even physical devastation and death.
What will it take to break this conspiracy of silence?
*Anuradha Ganguly Ramaswamaiah has served in IAF as a helicopter pilot. She has been associated with welfare activities ever since. She has had a short stint as a visiting faculty at Sabar Institute of Management, Gandhinagar, where she taught HRM, personality development and life skills. She’s passionate about environmental conservation, waste management, and trekking in the mountains