Being pestered on the street is not new to women in India and all over the world. Stopping street harassment is a major task now because the problem has gone above and beyond. For a woman to feel safe and secure when walking on a street is a distant dream. However, there are ways to deal with this harassment.
Catcalling, wolf-whistling – ever wonder why these words have animal prefixes? These are the names given to the street sexual harassment that thousands or maybe lakhs of women and girls face every day when they walk out of their homes. These are kinds of sexual assaults by men and boys out there on the streets.
The type can range from eve-teasers to molesters to abusers, and the magnitude can range from calling them ‘chashmish’ (bespectacled) or whistling or smooching sounds, to groping, molestation and in extreme cases, rape.
What Is Catcalling?
Catcalls, as defined by Urban Dictionary, are a whistle or yell for the purpose of getting attention and with the hope of a future hook-up. Why do men catcall? For ridiculous, sexual reasons. They think it is okay to ask for sexual favors blatantly in the middle of the road and that women are obliged to respond.
Most of the abusers forget that 99.9% such advances never result in any scenario of actually hooking-up. Most women have faced this kind of street sexual harassment during their lives and many might still be fighting it while we are reading this.
Catcalling is not limited to any age, background, or gender, and definitely does not have to do with appearance. And yet, these misogynists out on the road are under the delusion that it’s some kind of compliment or their right to speak their mind, no matter how uncomfortable the recipient might be.
But when faced with rejection, they can go to extremes like throwing acid. This is why we must stop street harassment because is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with on micro and macro levels before the abusers resort to more violent means.
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Harassment starts young…
A 12-year-old girl was going with her grandmother to buy a new dress for her birthday. As they walked towards the door of the shop, she heard a guy sitting on a motorbike parked a few meters away whistling and smiling at her. She looked perplexedly at Granny and asked, “Do we know him, Granny? Why is he smiling?”
This was her first encounter with the world of hoodlums waiting for opportunities to make her uncomfortable. Granny held her hand tighter and said “Just don’t look at him, and ignore such sounds in future.”
…And continues at work
Working in a corporate world was her dream, but it came with a price. Twenty-six-year-old Sarah completed business school and was ready to make her presence felt. She did make it, but not without feeling the presence of constant unsolicited remarks. These remarks could be for her clothes, with male colleagues scanning her body. Or then her female co-workers would gossip and taunt, doubting her efficiency, hinting that she had done ‘special favors’ to get to the top.
This situation is not limited to just corporates, it can be any in any field of work where there is no system or work culture that makes women feel safe and ensures punishment for harassment. These may sound like innocuous incidents, but nevertheless are not trivial . To stop street harassment, one has to be aware that they are dealing with delinquents in society.
Related Reading: Men get sexually harassed too! Here’s how to identify it…
Getting progressively worse
Those who have confronted this in severe form have been through worse, being called sl*t/wh**e, with comments on anatomy, unhealthy boundaries and stalking, and also being victims of crimes like rape or acid attacks. The tragedy of this crime is that it rarely evokes a response or retaliation from onlookers. There are countless accounts of such street sexual harassment, but even the police turn a blind eye until it converts into a violent sexual assault.
The majority of women express concern over how catcalling escalates into assaults that can be sinister in nature, but then there are some who silently accept it as an inevitable part of life. There are millions of articles, stories and interviews with statistics proclaiming that India is not a safe country for women. But why?
Reporting street harassment
Wondering what to do when cat called? Look no further. There are ways to protect yourself. Tough laws hardly work as a magic wand to tackle such crimes. Instead, there should be high conviction rates that can create a fear of punishment and persecution in the mind of such people. The punishment should be calibrated to the degree of the crime committed. Stand up and speak against sexual harassment to put an end to this widespread practice.
Is cat calling sexual harassment? Yes, and there are laws to protect you from it as well. Moreover, the wolf whistling criminal offence can also be dealt with in a similar way. The Indian Penal Code was modified in 2016 after a young woman was brutally raped in Delhi, causing nationwide outrage and protest. Being aware about these laws can help a victim while filing an FIR and eventually stop street harassment:
Section 354 (A)
A man committing any physical contact, advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; demanding or requesting sexual favors; or showing pornography against the will of a woman; or making sexually colored remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment. This can lead to rigorous punishment extended up to 3 years.
Obscene acts in any public place, singing obscene songs to the annoyance of other. This can lead to imprisonment up to 3 months or a fine, or both.
Related Reading: Empathy – A short film on sexual harassment
Uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman. This can lead to imprisonment for 1 year or a fine or both.
Stop street harassment
Let’s not be bystanders to such incidents. The problem lies with us too if we continue to let it happen without intervening . Till the law takes its course, we can make an effort to put an end to such horrifying incidents by creating a continuum of intervention.
Help can be in any form (verbal/non-verbal), any mode (from calling the police/security to just standing between the perpetrator and victim). Every situation has a point where one can intervene and put a stop to this assault. Things like wolf whistling criminal offence cannot just be watched from a distance.
Asking the victim, “Are you OK?” or “Do you need my help?” will give her the power to stand up and not feel alone. Rally other bystanders to join you in voicing disapproval. Create a culture which doesn’t sit idly in silence condoning violence against women; instead help to empower them actively to prevent such crimes. If women feel unsafe on the streets because of these abusers, let us make the realize that they can feel safe as well because of citizens like us. We all need to join hands to stop street harassment.
One can file an FIR and be aware of the various laws listed above while doing so.
Any gesture to insult the modesty of a woman can be considered sexual harassment and there are laws to protect you from the same. Wolf whistling criminal offence can be dealt with under Section 509.