Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Profile of Eve Teasers


When I was living in Nungambakkam, around 1992, an incident happened in the road behind our house. A college girl was driving a scooter. Two guys saw her driving and decided to harass her. They drove near her and kept aggressively pushing her off the road. At one point, the girl lost balance and fell down. A passing bus hit and crushed her.
The guys were nowhere to be found and I am guessing nobody got caught.
This incident was one of the earliest incidents of "eve-teasing" (a very benign term describing a horrible murderous affliction in Indian cities) that burst into news. It was following this incident and the death of another girl near Ethiraj college that police started deploying women's brigades in plain clothes. Every year brought its own outrages - including the incident at Satyam theater a few years back - the daughter of an army officer was hit repeatedly in full public view; an intervening police man beaten up. In that incident the girl's family decided to drop all charges because the guy involved was a politician's son.
The problem of eve-teasing, is, of course, not specific to Chennai. Jammu and Delhi are said to be the worst in India.
Now, our society has dealt with this problem in different ways - the usual suspects have shown up and blamed the women themselves. Police, in their typical clueless way started harassing lovers sitting in parks and beaches. All these are known.
What is also known is that "star" dumb asses such as actors Vijay and Surya started justifying and promoting violence against women in their movies. They have hidden behind the usual excuse of "oh, the story writer wrote it - I just acted in the movie" while taking all praise and money for "their" movie successes. Whether movies influence society or it is the other way around is a separate topic. But there is no doubt that these guys tried to make money by appealing to chauvinism in "their" fans. I also have no doubt that the classic Indian rich guy defense of "I-can-do-anything-for-money" will be taken by these star clowns. I sometimes wish for militant feminism so that women chase these guys down the road with chappals and broomsticks.
Before I go on to the main purpose of this post, please take your time and read through the Blank Noise website. It has some of the most moving accounts of the victims of eveteasing. They are also trying to get something done about it. All help to them.

The Profiles of Eve-Teasers
You see, when I was in high school at Madurai, I had a few friends with whom I used to hang out. Generally we used to commute to school together. Some of these guys were interested in "eve-teasing". Because we were in the same class, I knew a lot about them.
I again came in contact with such guys in Chennai when I was in college.
In our media, just as "terrorist" (Theeviravaadhi) has become a term without any meaning, eve-teasing also has becme detached from the actual meaning. For example, an eve-teaser is treated as if he is a separate species (like a terrorist in a Vijaykanth movie). The true motives and psychology of such a person is not probed. This allows movie stars to harass women in their movies but at the same time punish "eve-teasers". The hypocrisy does not bother them. If a "good" guy, with "love" in his mind harasses "his" woman that is fine. It is just not proper for those eve-teaser bastards to do it.
In my contact with classmates and neighborhood little guys who engaged in eve-teasing, this is what I found:
1. First of all, the eve-teaser was extremely afraid of his parents. All these brave guys who whistle at women and yell at them - they usually had a father who would beat them in circles OUTSIDE their homes if the fathers found out what was going on.
2. The eve-teaser did not like to be alone. He was at his bravest when there were 10 big guys around him from his own college or school to protect him. If there were a lot of people, he would scream, whistle and "have fun". Instead if he was alone, all his bravery left him. He would sneak around with eyes averted. His courage comes from anonymity and the mob.
This is why you see guys who yell at women from a passing bus or motorbike.
3. What the eve-teaser values (from my observation and hindsight) is not really feminine contact. He values two things:
a. He wants desperately to be respected by his friends. His self-worth springs from his friends' approval. This is probably because his parents have not given enough self-worth to him. The female, in this case, is simply a tool - she is the best shortcut to win approval from his friends. Movies get this completely wrong - a guy who loves a woman does not go about whistling at her in public. In most cases, the eve-teaser's hope is to do something dangerous and win approval from his gang-brothers.
There were guys among my classmates who would dream up something new to impress friends every day. They would cackle loudly in public without having said anything remotely funny. In short, they were pathetic.
b. The second thing, in order, that some of them have, is a fear of women. It is hard to explain this - our society being very conservative, kids are brought up in boys-only or girls-only schools and colleges. For these guys (not all of them), women are a completely scary mystery. They get annoyed by women behaving normally in public places - somehow they see an unconnected woman laughing at a joke in a busstand as a threat to themselves.
I don't know what causes this great insecurity - but it is tragic for the guys and for the women who end up getting harassed.
I have seen some of my classmates show anger at something as simple as a woman walking confidently. It is an extreme resentment.
Again, this has nothing to do with the women themselves. Most of the time they are unaware that they are provoking this resentment just by being themselves.

Thus you see that BOTH the reasons why guys indulge in eve-teasing have little to do with sex, love or with the women's dress (as some magazines keep insinuating). It has to do with the inner demons in a teen-aged or even adult man in our society. It is very much a psychological issue.
Thus this problem can never be solved by compartmentalizing men and women further. In fact eve-teasing has somewhat gone down recently in Chennai mainly because men and women are working together more and more.
The only way to solve it is through education, particularly sex-education, and encouraging co-education schools. The more you are self-aware, the less you would engage in a mob-activity.

4. Now, from the above description, it may seem that the eve-teaser is a pathetic little guy. But we hear all the time (as in the Satyam complex incident) about powerful politicians' sons engaging in this "sport". How do we explain that?
From my observation, I would say 95% of guys who engage in eve-teasing have NO political or any other connection. What they are HOPING though, is that you would THINK they had such connections. As I said, a single call to one of their fathers would have them crapping in their pants.
But their approach seems to work. A couple of years back, my wife beat the hell out of a guy in a Chennai road. When we were narrating this to a woman colleague, she said, "what if he had come back with some goons?". This happens only in movies. Almost all the time the eve-teaser has no support from anyone. He is hoping that you would be scared of him, thinking he has political connections. But he has none.

5. What movies provide in the case of eve-teasing, is not (as some people think) a direct encouragement. By showing women in a belittled fashion and spouting comments about women's dresses, what "actors" like Vijay and Surya provide is a MORAL justification for guys who may feel squeamish about it. What they provide is a moral framework in which a random person can assault a woman and harass her. Eve-teasing will not stop if these movie actors stopped doing it - but at least society will not have to engage in these stupid arguments about women's dresses in a problem that has nothing to do with women.

Again, this problem is not going to go away with deterrence or punishment. It needs a systemic approach.

5 comments:

Gayathri said...

Nice one Ram! I totally agree with you.

Thirudanai parthu thirundha vittal thiruttai ozhika mudiyadhu!!

Destination Infinity said...

Interesting analysis. I knew inferiority complex should be one of the reasons for such activities. In fact, misunderstanding and inferiority complex is a dangerous combination, especially if a group of such people come together.

Destination Infinity

Mouli said...

Ram,

Rightly said. It's mostly for recognition.

But I don't see why you recommend that "the only way to solve it is through education, particularly sex-education" when you think "guys indulge in eve-teasing have little to do with sex, love or with the women's dress"

Ramiah Ariya said...

Mouli,
Sex education generally is more than about the raw act of sex. It sensitises a student to how the opposite gender feels and behaves. It also gets rid of the weird "mystery" factor about women that is so prevalent in our culture. My hope is that sex education would deliver the same benefits that co-ed schools do - that they "normalize" the presence of women in our minds.
More importantly sex education should provide a level of "self-awareness". Psycholigists believe that building a level of self-esteem makes you immune from complexes.

indianhomemaker said...

@I agree with Ramiah Ariya.

It is essential for boys to see girls as people, just like themselves, with feelings, opinions, dreams, ambitions, capable of making choices they might regret (just like boys) and not as 'mysterious creatures who no man can ever understand'.

The mystery factor is simply romanticization of women's objectification.