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‘Tips to prevent eve-teasing’

Female feticide, child marriage, rape – these words have made headlines in India in recent months. In response to the crisis about the way women are treated, a bizarre guideline issued by the police in Kolkata has poured more fuel on the fire, says DW’s Debarati Guha.

The city police of Salt Lake City, one of the poshest areas in Kolkata, the so-called cultural capital of India, have put out an advisory post entitled “Tips on How to Prevent Eve-Teasing” on their website. The guideline includes twelve tips, some of which may sound hilarious, about how women are supposed to avoid harassment and worse. The document is almost akin to a medieval ‘fatwa’ coming straight from a fundamental religious group. The most baffling part of this saga is that this document, which is supposed to be advice to women, is full of sexist and patriarchal views and was issued in a state whose Chief Minister is a woman!

The list of tips shows that the police have learnt nothing from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent Independence Day speech in which he called for women in India to get a better deal and a new place in society. Perhaps the police in Kolkatta weren’t listening to their Prime Minister. Their list includes suggestions that women should dress “decently” and avoid staying out late or moving about alone (without their fathers or brothers). And they should also learn martial arts and also be “street smart”. It expresses quite clearly the traditional police view that it is up to women to avoid being murdered, raped or harassed on India’s streets.

The advice is ridiculous and has no place in a country that aspires to be modern. What is the definition of “dressing decently?” Needless to say, the advice to dress decently is an age-old phenomenon and comes from men, never from women. Whenever a case of harassment or rape occurs, the usual questions asked in Indian society are: “What was the woman doing so late at night in that area?” Or “Why do women have to wear these revealing dresses?”

But who defines what is a “decent” dress or not? What are the critieria? Why do restrictions come for women only? If the skirts, backless dresses etc. lead men to commit such heinous acts, then why do they rape of a five-year-old girl or an 80 year-old woman? None of this makes any sense at all.

Women in India have every right to ask why the police are there in the first place if women have to take care of things themselves. Women’s rights groups have rightly responded by criticizing the police for taking the wrong approach. This kind of parochial, moral preaching will do nothing to bring down the rising crime against women in the state or the country.

Fortunately the guideline has now been dropped in the face of protests by women’s groups. That would not have happened a few years ago. So things are changing, albeit slowly. But that cannot be the end of the matter. Indian women must now take Modi by his word. We need a far-reaching debate about a new deal for women in Indian society. The Prime Minister has started the debate, now we women want action not ridiculous “guidelines” about our behavior.

Author: Debarati Guha

Editor: Grahame Lucas


08.10.2014 | 8:34