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 Home » News » India - Sunday 16 Jul 2006

In India, women fight harassment of "Eve teasing"

On the streets of this booming Indian city, Laura Neuhaus says she is constantly on guard against men who brush against her body.

"People run up and grab my butt, my breast and brush against me purposely," Neuhaus says. "It happens so fast."


"I will be walking with my boyfriends and it makes no difference. After that I go through post-traumatic stress. You are so angry and humiliated," she says. "There is no one to talk to."


To help stop the practice, the 23-year-old technology executive from the United States joined Blank Noise -- a group that fights "Eve teasing," a euphemism in India for the sexual harassment or molestation of women.


According to official statistics, around 7,500 expatriates came to Bangalore for extended stays in 2005, and there are now around 15,000 foreigners working in the city, India's technology hub.


Many of them spend much of their time in walled enclaves, safe from the streets while living in villas that often cost several hundred thousand dollars.


But a few say it is time to break out and work to make their lives and those around them better.


"Many live in expat bubbles of private cars and five-star hotels or are not in India long enough to experience harassment or grow connected enough to the community to become active in women's issues," says Neuhaus, the only foreign member of Blank Noise.


"Foreign women such as myself usually are not exposed to this hidden side of Indian society and violent repressed sexual aggression," she says. "I thought I should do my bit."


On Sundays, Neuhaus spends her time trying to recruit more expatriates, who have borne the brunt of Eve teasing, and participating in demonstrations held by Blank Noise.


"It is not an activist or radical group. My aim is to help increase public awareness for street sexual harassment because it not only perpetuates the subjugation of women, but often erodes self-esteem of young girls," she says.


A year ago, police arrested 39 people for Eve teasing in Bangalore. The law provides a maximum of two years in jail but offenders are rarely prosecuted.


In India's male-dominated society, 16 cases of various types of violence against women are reported every hour, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. More than 18,000 rape cases are reported against women every year.


Some 8,800 women are killed in India every year in dowry disputes, the bureau reported.


India is currently mulling laws to combat sexual harassment.


Jasmeen Patheja, the 26-year-old founder of Blank Noise, says she started the outfit in the high-tech city to encourage a public debate on eve teasing.


"This group encourages women to open up and question the harassment on the streets," Patheja says. "In India your family or your peer group dismisses the topic of Eve teasing. A vast number of women choose not to question it.


"We are in an environment where every girl has to protect herself in a public space. Women are made to feel that they are asking for it."

The group holds silent demonstrations on the streets of Bangalore, holding posters and banners reading "Y R U LOOKING AT ME".

Volunteers for Blank Noise, which has offices in all major Indian cities, distribute pamphlets and literature on eve teasing and also hold workshops on the topic to boost public awareness.

The group is in the process of collecting clothes, ranging from school uniforms to saris to jeans, worn by women when they were sexually harassed on the streets.

"All these will be strung together and put up at a public place to prove that the clothes you wear, whether it is western or saris, have nothing to do with the harassment," Patheja says.

Neuhaus says she felt a "huge sense of relief and hope" after joining the group.

"I saw there were other women who were planning to do something about it. Sexual harassment happens everywhere in the world. But only in India have I experienced Eve teasing," she says.


By Jay Shankar
Source: Agence France Presse

 
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