Don’t Trivialise Street Harassment

KO File Photo By Abid Bhat

Street Harassment is not harmless, it perpetuates rape culture

By Dania Sheikh

THE recent National Family Health Survey reveals that there has been an upsurge in violent crimes and sexual harassment against women in J&K. The survey report suggests that in 2019-2020, 9.6% women in the age group of 18-49 experienced domestic violence , and 1046 rape cases were registered during this year. These numbers are a grim reminder of the lopsided power dynamics which relegates a lower status to the women in our society. It is this position of authority and power which gives men a sense of impunity and license to get away scott free after committing heinous and barbaric crimes.

Uprooting patriarchy is the only way to end the systemic suppression that women face in our society. Change in social attitudes, coupled with a robust justice system can put an end to the myriad forms of atrocities that women face on a daily basis and make the society a habitable place for women.

Violent and unfathomable crimes do not emerge out of a vacuum, they are a consequence of ignoring and trivialising  sexist jokes, catcalling, whistleblowing and groping etc. These behaviours exhibited towards women are not harmless, they create an environment conducive for men to assert their power over women and perpetuate rape culture.A society which tolerates any form of harassment (verbal pr physical) against women capacitates the harasser and gives him the confidence to disregard a woman’s agency and violate her consent. An outcry against harassment is the first step in the long haul of subverting the rape culture that exists in our society. Refusing to accept it as something harmless is essential for reclaiming our agency and public spaces and moving around freely with calmness and comfort without the fear of being visually profiled and assaulted. Reports indicate that 50% of the women who face harassment chose not to report it and this is why no statistical survey can reveal the actual extent of the harassment faced by women in the society.

This reluctance to report harassment stems from the warped notion of honour that is fed to women from a very early stage. Young girls are conditioned to believe that harassment erodes their honour, it leaves them scarred, this stigma and shame attributed to the victim makes rape and harassment an instrument to control women, to subdue them and discourages women from speaking up. Eradicating the stigma and shame attached to the victim is essential to take this power away from men and empower women. The prevalence of victims shaming makes speaking up against harassment more morally reprehensible than harassment itself, this needs to be countered.

The flailing justice system and the apathy shown by the law enforcement agencies dissuades women from reporting instances of harassment. Additionally, the burden of proof that rests on the victim makes seeking justice traumatic. The fear of harassment, harassment and the process of seeking justice are distressing and adversely impact women, their quality of life and their well being. In our society every woman is either a victim or a potential victim and has to live in trepidation and constantly tweak her choices to ensure her safety. We cannot claim that we live in a civil and democratic state if women have to be hyper vigilant whenever they step out. It is incumbent upon the state to play an active role in ensuring that women’s rights are protected and their freedom of movement is not restricted and that they are able to live life freely without fear. Apart from the effective implementation of laws that safeguard and protect women’s rights, the government also needs to ensure that women are adequately represented in all spheres of the society, representation is the tool through which women can assert themselves and reclaim their agency, otherwise the only way women can ensure their safety is by being invisible in the public sphere.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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