Sexual harassment and violence in Mumbai

They call it “Eve teasing” in India.  This cutesy term refers to a world of horror for women, encompassing public harassment ranging from lewd remarks on the street to sexual molestation and violence.  Such treatment is common and often let pass.  Yet a recent tragedy in Mumbai has evoked public outrage over how the law, society, and women regard what must be called by more appropriate names: sexual harassment and violence.

On November 3 two young men, Reuben Fernandez and Keenan Santos, were brutally stabbed to death while trying to defend their female friends from a group of men outside of a restaurant in a busy part of suburban Mumbai.  One of the women repeatedly dialed the number for the police, but there was no response.  Around 50 people stood by and watched as the two men were murdered.

This story has captured the public’s attention to an unprecedented degree and the outrage has been expressed in a number of ways.  Directly afterwards, people took to the streets demanding that “Eve teasing” be made a non-bailable offence.  Organizations such as Yuva Satta, Zero Tolerance and India Against Corruption are campaigning in Mumbai to have the laws regarding sexual harassment made stronger.  A petition is being circulated to put pressure on the Home Minister, Mr. R.R. Patil.  The movement is gaining momentum through social media, which have helped to spread the word and get people involved. 

Central to all these crusades is the idea that sexual harassment issues are treated much too casually by both the law and by society.  Women feel unsafe in the city because of a lack of security measures, police intervention and appropriate punishment.  Women face abuse in many forms, but being harassed on the streets, public transportation and in other community areas is a very common occurrence.  Most women living in Mumbai have at some point been groped, touched inappropriately, or been subject to lewd remarks by men.  Generally the women, feeling humiliated, ignore the abuse.  The social stigma is such that the women are afraid to discuss the issue, much less speak out against it.  The movement for zero tolerance of sexual harassment has outlined four main goals: spreading awareness; empowering women by educating them about their rights; establishing an online and offline petition to the Home Minister soliciting his support; and filing public interest litigation to strengthen and improve the relevant laws.

This movement is in sync with MarketPlace’s ongoing efforts to empower women with knowledge.  Educational programs have given them a better understanding of their legal rights.  Group discussions have helped them to understand their own human rights including those for respect and dignity.   At MarketPlace we have always encouraged the women to speak up against injustice and harassment in any form.  We believe that education, moral outrage, and uniting for a common good really can change the world.  MarketPlace strongly condemns the violence that occurred and the social atmosphere which contributed to it, and we support the Zero Tolerance movement wholeheartedly.

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