The #Metoo campaign took social media by a storm, however, more often than not issues like sexual harassment come to the fore when celebrities come forward. Sexual harassment and violence is widespread and happens with children, housewives, students travelling to college; everywhere and anywhere. NT BUZZ tries to highlight the need for women to open up about sexual harassment and face life head-on confidently without looking behind
Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
Clara Dias was in her early twenties when got into a rebound relationship with her friend, who befriended her. In the beginning it was about roses and taking good care of her, until he won her trust. Then the demands for sex kept coming in, and Savita didn’t want it. She was encroached upon, through sexual abuse and blackmails. She still recalls every detail of the incidents that she says will never fade away.
Reshma Naik was having a tiff with a sub inspector on the main road when he sexually abused her through his gestures and body language. He ogled at her breasts and belittled her for being a woman. Though she fought back and went on to register a complaint – he’s scot free.
Haven’t we heard of so many Clara’s and Reshma’s stories? Doesn’t each of us (women) have a sexual harassment story or, not astonishingly, more than one to talk about? Women face sexual harassment at home, in public spaces and at workplaces, too- and the majorities aren’t even really white skinned, drop dead gorgeous or even rich. I’m not being a racist at all here- the point here is that sexual harassment in all forms has been happening for a long time, and its magnitude is beyond those who command respect and awe
#Sexual abuse is not limited to celebrities
And while in October 2017 the #Metoo campaign was initiated by Tarana Burke in the wake of Hollywood celebs voicing out about sexual violence and harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the magnitude of sexual violence was felt across the globe as women posted statuses and went on describing the atrocious memories of being a victim of sexual harassment or assault. The statuses were less to show solidarity and more a platform to stand up and empower other women to do so. For many of the women it was an outlet to tell their truth.
Sexual abuse and harassment are perceived in many ways. And #Metoo was definitely much beyond the celebrities who spoke up after years of being victims- when they didn’t have the fame, money and power. Founder of safecity.in and crusader against sexual harassment Elsa D’Silva tells us that the call to action was to use the hashtag to highlight the extent of sexual harassment.
“The outpouring of stories from all over definitely indicates how large and pervasive the problem of sexual harassment is. Not only is it pervasive, it has become ‘normal’ and so one has learned to ‘deal with it’”, she says before explaining that how despite it being perceived as trivial, it actually has short and long term effects – on mobility, opportunities and mental health. “Without realising it, many women and girls, adjust their behaviour so that they never have to experience the problem again or meet the perpetrator,” Elsa says.
Sexual Harassment of Women at the workplace is a serious criminal offense and the new Act of 2013 recognises sexual harassment as such. Elucidating further, professor and HOD, Women’s Studies says that in addition such crimes are a violation of the Indian Penal Code – Section 509 and 354 A and the Constitution Articles 14 and 15 which talk of right to equality, Article 21 which guarantees the right to live with dignity and Article 19 (1)(g) which is the right to practice any profession. Shaila has served on several Internal Complaints Committees which are mandatory committees to be set up in any organisation where women are employed, government run or privately owned.
“So, it no more matters what an individual person thinks…it is not what is intended by the actions of the offender that is important, but the impact on the victim, that decides the gravity of the offence,” she says, before adding that the moment men sense that the woman is uncomfortable with his actions, words, jokes, touch, he just has to stop.
Harassment continues not because men aren’t aware that sexual harassment is incorrect, but is more because they do not believe they will be caught or punished. They prey on the both the physical body and the mind to silence you, and bury the truth. Miriam Koshy Sukhija is of the opinion that misogyny is so deep seated in most people’s psyche that they don’t even realise they are crossing lines.
Women are afraid to report harassment due to a power imbalance between an individual victim and the perpetrator. Explaining further clinical psychologist and writer Amrita Narayanan says that sexual harassment is about the exercise of power. It occurs whenever women find themselves in the vicinity of men who are in powerful positions. Gender based sexual harassment is also about fragile masculine identity that gets bolstered up by its capacity to cause distress. “Harassment is a power-based communication from one person to another that says “you will remember me, I am important”, and of course, most distressingly “I have a right to do this to you”,” she explains.
She says what makes it tricky for women (as well as being awful) are that women are so often trained to make sure men are satisfied. In the case of the man who wants to exercise his power to cause distress of course, the satisfaction always comes at the cost of the woman who is being harassed.”
It devastates, the physical hurt pain might fade off, but the emotional and psychological scars left behind can be tormenting, and while many, including women (who’ve probably been lucky not to go through it) feel that recalling such incidents is a way of getting sympathy or self pity, the damage of such abuse is beyond contemplation- one that only women who’ve gone through can relate to. Shaila says: “It is not an exaggeration to say that sexual harassment is even the cause for suicides among women!”
General manager of a media firm, Sonia Kuncalienkar isn’t embarrassed to say that she’s faced sexual harassment and has also been witness to other women face it in public places. “It just jolts you and you are disturbed, making you doubt your own self, change your own behaviour,” she states.
Sexual harassment is one of the gravest forms of human rights abuse, as it can mentally tear down a person and defeat one’s spirit. Lawyer Fiona Cardozo explaining the gravity of damage it can cause says: “In many cases, it even results in the victim losing all trust in the opposite sex, thus damaging any potential personal relationships that the victim may have.”
Amrita recalling her most salient personal experience with harassment says that it was a two year long stalking and verbal-telephonic harassment that she had in her teens. She says that harassment that goes unquestioned breaks your trust and confidence in humanity as a whole. “It fractures your relationship to power such that you often no longer believe also in power that can be used for good It could have so many effects including identifying with the aggressor or living a life of victimhood,” she says.
More than the harassment, what shook her most about it was how paralysed everyone was, including her parents particularly. “They said that given how broken the police system was (1980s), lodging a police complaint made no sense and would only open another chain of bribes and violence.” The message she took from it was that the broken criminal justice system was quietly complicit to sexual harassment.
#Fear not #Shout out #Don’t keep quite While many would like to believe that incidences of sexual harassment are increasing, the other side to the story is that women are talking! Much more, than ever before, women are being empowered to speak up and fight back.
Unfortunately most of this harassment comes from people we know whether in and around our homes and in offices. And while women need to raise an alarm, scream and nail the perpetrator, women take the route of being silent, leaving that incident behind letting it pass by as just another bad day in her life.
“From girlhood, women are given the message that their work is to bolster fragile male identity. So we are taught that harassment is something that men need to do to feel good and that as women if we can let them do it, then it will ultimately help the family or couple. But sadly a male identity that is based on bullying and harassment is never fully fed or satisfied, feeding it perpetuates it,” explains Amrita.
Delving deeper to understand the reason for women to suffer in silence, Shaila states fear as the major basis- fear of negative consequences, fear of social stigma, fear that there is nothing that will come out of complaining, they may not know how powerful the law is today. Sometimes they fear that they do not have witnesses. “Women need to be made aware that like domestic violence there may not be witnesses and the victim’s own testimony is what is needed. We need to have the courage to go through cross examination so that it is made easier for victims that come after us,” she explains.
Shaila believes that women should be encouraged to speak out against all forms of oppression and injustice and take a no tolerance policy towards sexual harassment at the workplace. “ We must treat the provisions in the Act seriously and also think before claiming anything as sexual harassment.”
# Men change your ways # Fighting sexual harassment
Based on research it has been found that that harassment typically does not come from those who are secure in their power, but instead from those who do not have power they desire. It a small person’s attempt to control that which they cannot or should not control.
The reality of seeing our folks – friends, neighbours, co-workers, family – open up about their various experiences with sexual violence is as much jarring as it is enlightening.
We all know that the way to fight sexual harassment, like many other issues lies in creating gender equality. Fighting sexual harassment has several components to it which Amrita deconstructs for us. She says that in the external system we need to keep up the work of getting power re-distributed across both genders- so that women do not so frequently find themselves in positions where men hold all the power. The issue of consent needs to be on centre stage, where the difference between a private consensual sexual act that involves a female enjoyment of male aggression should be clearly distinguished from random throwing around of male aggression as a right (and rite) of manhood. She says thirdly, both men and women need to de-condition from the idea that masculinity is something that involves harassment and femininity involves the enjoyment of harassment.
“This means that men have to be comfortable in a male identity that does not get rid of powerlessness by harassing those who are less powerful. And women need to become comfortable with anger and a female identity that does not host and receive male aggression as its normal duty. For women this means being willing to go against the myth that beauty and forbearance are linked (and that protest is therefore ugly and shameful).Finally I think we can go beyond gender difference in examining how whenever anyone has power, the temptation to exercise it without consent, at someone else’s cost, always exists and must be resisted.- Amrita
Shaila believes the change begins at home, early on where young boys need to be taught respect equality. “We need to teach children the difference between good and bad touch. Sexual harassment of women is one manifestation of patriarchy and the imbalance of power in society. It has nothing to do with dress, sexual attraction or love.”
Sonia lays great emphasis on the need for women, men and the community to take a strong stand and be responsible. She says that men should be made aware that certain comments, jokes, stares are not acceptable at all. “Men should correct other men, I have not seen this happen. No one should say ‘forget it.’ Even if the comment or stare is for another lady, others should stand up. We get all jittery only when it happens to us.”
While she opines that sexual harassment is a community evil, for which the community has to come ahead. “On hearing some weird comments, I have personally corrected people saying “that is sexist. Don’t continue.” Sadly, she says she has also seen other ladies titter and subtly ‘allow’ it to continue. “I have seen young girls play along, bordering on consensus and then just stop short. This behaviour is also acceptable. In all areas, there are written and unwritten codes of decorum, dressing, speaking. We need to follow them,” states Sonia
Lawyer Celeste Saldanha says: “Parents should stop giving children doll houses rather give them the same toys like the ones their sons play with.”
Moving on from sexual harassment can be a task most impossible. It certainly takes time and a great deal of boost and support system from family and friends. One cannot give up on life and blame herself all through, but face life ahead with a more strong and positive outlook- to take on any harassment that comes ahead.
Amrita believes that this attitude could give the impression that harassment is no big deal (not that that was your intention). “And I wouldn’t want to suggest that. Rather I would say if you’ve been harassed though you could live a good life- the scar remains. Scars may make us stronger but they also remind us of unspeakable hurt.
#Facts for you
l The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013, attempts to safeguard women against any incident of sexual harassment that they may face while at work.
l The Information Technology Act, 2000 seeks to protect women from sexual harassment online, with specific penal provisions to deter offenders from the commission of such crimes.
l In addition, IPC also contains effective provisions to punish offenders who indulge in sexual harassment of victims.
l If offence is committed at the workplace, immediately lodge a written complaint with the concerned superior, giving all the details about the alleged unacceptable behaviour, with proof if any. If no action is taken within a suitable time, approach the concerned police authorities and file a complaint.
l In Goa, the most appropriate authority is the Women’s Police Station in Panaji. Lodge a detailed written complaint and insist on the filing of an FIR, which ensures that the police will carry out an investigation and the offender will face consequences for his criminal actions.