By guest author Darshini Shah
One central paradox in India is that while womanhood is elevated and symbolized in the forms of deity worship (namely Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati, Durga, and Kali) and political leadership (e.g., Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and current President of the Indian Congress Party Sonia Gandhi), many Indian women struggle with inequality related to issues of gender, culture, patriarchy, economics, religion, caste, and class (“Abused goddesses,” 2013; Kumar, 1997; Tilak, 2013).
This conundrum has engendered a struggle for gender equality and identity in the Indian milieu that has led to a rise in violence against women. While India is not alone in gender violence, particularly toward women, this pattern of violence against many Indian women permeates the public and private spheres. It is often overlooked, invisible, and silenced (Tilak, 2013) (Wolf, 2013).
One of the most common violent manifestations in India is labeled “eve teasing” (Mohanty, 2013). Eve teasing is a local euphemism meaning public sexual harassment, which can include lewd comments, stalking, harassment, assault, and even rape.
The “eve teasing” term is not accepted by many human rights groups, activists, and feminists, despite extensive use of the phrase by some media and the police. Even some Indian movies encourage, invoke, and appropriate mythological and folk images in teasing and harassing women (Pauwels, 2010).
The reason for rejection of this phrase is that it minimizes the serious nature of the behavior and dismisses sexual and gender violence. Moreover, a survey by the Indian Centre for Research on Women found that 1,000 male teenagers in Mumbai, India, perceived “the practice of eve teasing as harmless and inoffensive.” (Dawn, 2011)
Darshini Shah is a researcher and yoga instructor who divides her time between India and the United States.
“Abused Goddesses” shows shocking images of Hindu deities for campaign against domestic violence in India. (2013, June 9). Huffington Post.
Kumar Jaya, G. S. (1997). Victimization of women coping with violence. International Journal of Sociology and the Family, 27 (1), pp. 139-155.
Mohanty R. I. (2013, April 21). The term ‘eve teasing’ must die. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2013/04/21/the-term-eve-teasing-must-die/
Pauwels, H. (2010). “The woman waylaid at the well” or panaghata-lila: an Indian folk theme appropriated in myth and movies. Asian Ethnology, 67 (1), pp. 1-33.
Tilak, S.G. (2013, May 11). Crimes against women increase in India. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/12/2012122991735307545.html
Wolf, N. (2013, January 3). Ending India’s rape culture. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/01/20131393027992335.html
Women rally against ‘eve teasing’ in South Asia. (2011, March 1). Dawn. Retrieved from http://beta.dawn.com/news/609882/women-rally-against-eve-teasing-in-south-asia