By Rajiv Shah/
Recently, there was some controversy (storm in a teacup?) around a photograph. A photo went viral on the social media following an unemployed youth demonstration in Lucknow, picked up by several Facebook and Twitter enthusiasts, including journalist Rohini Singh, who claimed in a tweet it was a clear case of sexual harassment of a female demonstrator at the hands of a UP cop.
I couldn’t find the tweet, which I believe she must have deleted following a UP police “clarification” that, “since the crowd was huge, it was difficult to distinguish between the genders on the basis of their attire”, hence, by mistake, “the female protestor was taken away by the police personnel, after mistaking her for a man.” It added, “Even the female protestor has acknowledged the misunderstanding caused over the attire.”
A video simultaneously went viral where the female protestor is seen stating that she was indeed a protester near Gate No 1 of Lucknow University, but the cops mistook her “for a boy” due to her dress, hence the talk of “sexual harassment at the hands of the police personnel” does not stand. She targeted Rohini Singh for the tweet. Some commentators on the UP police “clarification”, carried on its twitter handle, suspected that the protesting girl must have given her denial “under duress”.
While the alleged sexual harassment took place on September 17, and the UP police clarification came on the next day, a concerned academic, who has authored several interesting blogs, which we published in Counterview, sent me a WhatsApp message a couple of days later, attaching the photograph, stating, “Hi Rajiv. I’m so upset with this event…”, adding, “If the present generation handles the future generation like this…. the situation is grave…”
The message, which was also shared as a “friends of friends” post on Facebook (one reason why I am not revealing this academic’s name), said, “We already moved from Siya-Ram to Shri Ram in the country”, wondering, “Will Sita be even required in this society?”, apparently suggesting how the misogynic atmosphere atmosphere has now gripped Indian society, which perhaps may not have been the case earlier.
While this academic insisted that the parents should start teaching “boys empathy and equality and when will men learn to behave like men…”, adding there should be “nationwide” condemnation with “necessary legal action on the police”, even as appealing to “friends” — officials, activists, mediapersons and in those politics — to take up women dignity as a priority, there was indeed nothing to disagree except one fact: That today the “present generation” is handling “future generation” like this.
Maybe the cop concerned acted the way he did because of the mistaken identity (or did the girl give the statement under duress?), yet, the fact is, it’s not a generational issue at all. Misogyny that prevails today existed in full force, at least in Delhi, where I spent all most of my early life. Travelling in a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus, I remember, it was a norm when women, especially young college going girls, were teased. I personally saw this happening, with goons going so far as to pinch breast. Using abusive language was a normal.
While nobody ever protested for fear of being beaten up, I recall how once when we, as members of the left-wing All-India Students’ Federation (AISF), were travelling in a DTC bus, the eve teasers were confronted and silenced. We were all boys, except for for one – Amarjeet Kaur, who happened to be our leader. She was sitting while we all, standing next to her, were listening to what she had say about our activities.
Suddenly, a group entered the bus, and one one them said, “Hamse bhi kucch bate kar lo jee” (talk to us as well, my dear), and Amarjeet shouted at them: “Come here, I will teach you a lesson of your lifetime.” The harassers saw something may have gone wrong, jumped off the bus on the next stop. Amarjeet today is general secretary, All-India Trade Union Congress.
In another event, a classmates in BA (Hons) English, told us what happened when she was sitting alone in a University Special (they were called U-Specials, they were all DTC buses carrying students to the university and back).
The girl, usually quiet and sober, said, “Since the U-special had parked, I though of taking the best of the seat in the front row. Other students were yet to turn up. Suddenly, a young hatta-katta youth entered the U-special, took the seat next to me. He had a chana wrapped in paper in his hand, and tried teasing me: ‘Have some chana, my dear’. I decided to tell him who I was, took my brother’s name, who is a student leader. And this person quietly slipped out.”
I told this academic, who agreed with me, that the situation was and appears to have remained the same as far as eve teasing is concerned, except for one difference: That there is a lot of awareness today, which was the case those days. There was, in fact, lot of indifference towards eve teasing. Such movements like #MeToo and social media campaigns against misogyny have seem to have changed things. The UP police denial following tweets on the young girl a proof.
Let me add this as a post-script: I found, those days, and perhaps today too, eve teasing was common in Delhi (and perhaps other North Indian cities) as compared to Gujarat, where I haven’t found it happening on that scale. Someone must do some sociological analysis about the reason. Is is because most of the schools (and many colleges, too) in Delhi were only for boys and only for girls, which isn’t (and wasn’t) the case in Ahmedabad, where coeducation is a norm?