“Eve teasing” in India, Part 1

By guest author Darshini Shah

The seven mother goddesses flanked by Shiva-Virabhadra and Ganesha

The seven mother goddesses flanked by Shiva-Virabhadra and Ganesha. Image in public domain.

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. 

References

“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

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6 Responses to “Eve teasing” in India, Part 1

  1. Anna S says:

    This blog post has led me to think about the commonalities and differences between the United States and India regarding violence against women. In the United States, the 1960s marked the start of the movement against sexism (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Ch. 5, p. 122) and since then, there have been significant decreases in men’s maltreatment of women (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Ch. 5, p. 170); however, despite the efforts of legal and social services, the problem persists. Even though physical assault, sexual assault, and stalking are considered crimes in all 50 states (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Ch. 5, p. 159), numerous studies have indicated that the use of mandatory arrest does not reduce subsequent violence (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Ch. 5, p. 162). Although protection orders are available to victims of abuse, less than half of the women who apply for them actually receive the order, primarily because they themselves stop the process (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Ch. 5, p. 160). Furthermore, while there are over 2,000 domestic violence programs in the U.S. for battered women and their children, women who only use shelters without the aid of other services may actually have an increased risk of abuse (Hines & Malley-Morrison, Ch. 5, p. 169). The fact that violence continues despite legal and social services suggests that the problem of sexism must be addressed in another way, perhaps through changing the culture’s mentality. Although the phrase “eve teasing” is specific to India, the sexist mentality behind this concept exists worldwide and is one of the main factors perpetuating the rape culture within the United States. According to Hines and Malley-Morrison (Ch. 5, p. 129), several researchers have found that attitudes concerning traditionalism and the approval of violence against women may be related to physical abuse. Thus, to decrease violence against women, we must change the societal perceptions regarding what is considered abuse, and therefore what is unacceptable behavior, towards women.

    • Jessica Petritis says:

      I completely agree with this comment, though I’m not sure what could facilitate change in this culture’s perception of what abuse is. It’s so puzzling to me the way that Hinduism reveres goddesses and has some women in positions of political power, and yet violence towards women is so accepted. There were a couple of articles online that featured a recent PSA campaign in India highlighting the problem of domestic violence by taking portraits of Hindu goddesses and having them appear with bruises and cuts on their faces (link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/abused-goddesses-campaign-domestic-violence-india_n_3880515.html). I very interested in if this campaign will facilitate a change in attitude towards the tolerance of violence against women.
      I was thinking of how some aspects of issues specific to ethnic minorities in the US and specific to US immigrants are relevant. According to Family Violence in a Cultural Perspective by Malley-Morrison and Hines, regarding male immigrants in the US researchers strongly urge that batterer programs to help these men take responsibility for their violent actions and “should not be allowed to use their cultural traditions as excuses for abusive behavior,” (pg 247, ch 15). Also, it is urged in communities of color that “practitioners need to differentiate between culture and violence. It has been argued that oppressive practices exist in many very different cultures. However, that does not make those practices cultural,” (MM&H, pg 237, ch 15). Malley-Morrison and Hines state that certain traditions, such as women being made to wear veils or the binding of feet, are “traditional patriarchal customs tolerated in various societies for generations,” (p 237, ch 15) but stress that they are not culture. In many services offered to battered women in the US, people have realized that we shouldn’t apply necessarily apply what we do for white women to all women because of the differences attitudes. So, even if these services worked well for women in the US, which as you mentioned they don’t always, they would need to be altered to fit women in India. I definitely agree that what needs to be changed is the perception of abuse and the tolerance for it, but the question is how. My first reaction was to arrest people for commenting the violent acts and harassment, but as mentioned mandated arrests don’t always work, and might not be enforced.

  2. Anna Tam says:

    Reading about this manifestation of violence in India saddens me, especially because it seems pervasive not only locally, but also in the greater society of India. This blatant disregard for the women of India is shocking to me because some interpretations of the Hindu Sacred Texts honor and respect women. For example, “Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased…Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers” ((Hines & Malley-Morrison, chap 13, p. 429). However, other interpretations, which denounce women, also exist. For example, some people interpret the Hindu texts to say, “In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent” (Hines & Malley-Morrison, chap 13, p. 427). Despite these various interpretations of the Hindu texts, male dominance ultimately prevails in Indian society, which can explain why many Indian women are maltreated.
    While these interpretations of Hindu texts dictate family life and the place of the woman within the family, this maltreatment of women seems to have entered the larger society through “eve teasing.” The fact that it is positively portrayed in the media teaches others that this is acceptable behavior. However, it is hard for me to imagine a society that tolerates the disrespect of others through the induction of fear and maltreatment.
    As a side note, when I initially read this post, I thought of “knockout,” a prank in which one person of a group punches and attempts to knock out an individual walking down the street. This prank is gaining popularity in America, but it differs from “eve teasing” in India because the media has portrayed it as a dangerous game and cautions the public to be careful. However, it is similar to “eve teasing” because it instills such fear in people that they must be careful when walking down the street in broad daylight.

  3. Pingback: “Eve teasing” in India, Part 2 | Engaging Peace

  4. Liz Dorso says:

    Posts like this really make me reflect on something our class has been harping on all semester and that’s that abuse is such a broad term that can mean so many different things. In this instance obviously the acts being committed against these women are abuse but even just the term “eve teasing” seems to be abusive. Automatically, the first thing I thought of was racism and how we respond to it in this country. I know we would all like to say that there’s no more racism but that unfortunately isn’t true. Listen to the radio and you’ll hear about ten derogatory racial slurs per 3:00 minute song these days, slurs that were used to oppress people. Using slavery as an example, Malley-Morrison and Hines says that the victims of slavery “were dehumanized, brutalized, and terrorized to maintain social order” (MM&H pg. 107). With such an awful description that we know to be true, how is it that we can just toss around a word that we know was part of this dehumanization so casually? That’s exactly what the “eve teasing” appears to be. This locally accepted term is attached to an act that’s so horrible that just the usage of the phrase continues to perpetuate the abuse.
    Thankfully, this phrase isn’t accepted by human rights groups, but unfortunately, it is accepted within the Indian culture. What really concerns me the most is that the post says 1000 male teenagers were asked about “eve teasing” and saw no problem with it. How does a person come to see sexual harassment as an okay practice? From a general standpoint, Malley-Morrison and Hines points out that any individual’s idea of abuse will come from “their own experiences-such as the deeds and words of the adults who reared them” (MM&H pg. 6). If a young boy watches their parents, grandparents or other older family members with influence condone this kind of behavior, they may grow up seeing something as disgraceful as “eve teasing” as just a common practice and not a red flag of abuse. You will do what you know. And if what you know is to mistreat and accept the mistreating of women, you are likely to continue that behavior on. Culturally speaking, “the values of the cultures in which the individuals operate are among the important distal causes of behaviors” (MM&H pg.6). While culture may not have as large of an impact as your family does on how you come to see abuse, it definitely shapes what you know and define to be abusive behavior. The blog post described “eve teasing” as something that goes overlooked or unnoticed. I’m horrified that someone could be sexually harassed, not just in general but in a public place, and have it be cast under the rug. I have to wonder how that happens; it could be out of embarrassment, but I think that would lead to a decrease in the behavior. It could be that this is such a culturally accepted practice that, at this point, no one cares to pay any attention to it. It’s sad that something so disgusting could be so culturally ingrained that an entire group sees this as the norm. Unfortunately, women are mistreated in a number of different places around the world, part of the cause being that it is the cultural norm.
    Hopefully, human rights activists’ refusal to accept the “eve teasing” term will be an eye opener. Change can begin with just one person or one group and if enough people start to recognize “eve teasing” for what is it, abuse, then maybe we can see it start to be phased out.

  5. Sunanda Sharma says:

    As someone who grew up in an Indian household, speaks two Indian languages, and practices Hinduism I must say that the recent reports regarding violence against women in India upsets me. Reports have been more abundant in recent years, with perhaps the biggest uproar coming on the heels of the Delhi gang rape in which a 23-year-old woman died as a result of injuries she sustained. An important thing to remember is that these horrific and gruesome acts have not just begun – they have just been receiving more press and attention.

    I agree with Anna S’s comment about the pervasive traditionalism and the fact that the traditionalism itself is so divided. While Hindu religious texts laud and revere the Goddesses and assert the importance of respecting women (Hines and Malley-Morrison p. 429), traditional cultures (culture tends to vary state by state) in India treat women as lesser than second-class citizens. The “eve teasing” in India is a manifestation of this rift. It seems that this dichotomy also exists in Filipino culture; Malley-Morrison and Hines state that in the Filipino word for God, the first consonant refers to “woman” yet the women are constantly and consistently maltreated. Though there is more outcry now – the issue is that so many women, as they grow up, have become accustomed to the fact that they will be sexually harassed most days of their lives. They do not take action; they see it as routine chatter that they have to endure. For women who have been raped, the police are often ineffectual and intimidate the women into recanting the allegations they have made, or the most they do is encourage the male(s) to pay a minor fine. As a result, often the girls’ fathers feel compelled to commit suicide because they are ashamed of their daughters.

    Unfortunately, there has not been much research on particular facets of Indian culture but I will note that the Vietnamese quote that Malley-Morrison and Hines cite “A hundred girls aren’t worth a single testicle” (p. 200) is an attitude held that has been mirrored by Indians as well. Female infanticide in India is practically an epidemic; boys are preferred because instead of having to spend money on their dowry, they bring a wife into their father’s home, she comes with dowry, and spends her life serving her in-laws. While the exchange may not be in (as much) practice presently, this attitude against having daughters has still prevailed, particularly in more rural states. Women are simply not seen as the favorable sex in Indian culture, and several other Asian cultures it seems.

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