When will it be Safe to Walk on the Streets
In a chauvinistic society like ours, a girl or woman is never completely safe on the street. It is evident that a girl never feels the freedom of life whilst walking alone on a street, or in a market place or even in her own school, college or university. Why is it like that? Is the society made for males only?
Clockwise from right: Simi, Rumi and Tisha all three were forced to take their own lives after they were continuously harassed by street hooligans.
Everyday girls and young women have to face the worst kind of harassment in the form of unwanted attention, lewd remarks or gestures or even physical assaults from complete strangers who happen to pass them by on the streets. Almost every woman in our society has faced this kind of harassment at some point in her life creating enormous mental trauma and often resulting in tragedy. In the long run an incident or incidents of harassment can have permanent psychological trauma on the victim. Even now this harassment, which is termed 'eve-teasing', is not considered a crime. Many respectable citizens of our civil society have contended that it is the way some women dress that invites such unwanted attention. Recently BNWLA has organised a meeting at national press club on 'eve-teasing', where a student of Eden College protested by saying, “ Every girl is victim of 'eve-teasing', but how many girls of our country wear vulgar dresses?” Many in our neighbouring country India also hold the same idea that girls are victims of harassment because they wear western clothes. The daily newspaper 'Jai Jai Din' on July 16 has published a report that, an organisation has been formed named 'Black Noise' at Bangalore in India, in order to address this problem. They have collected the clothes of girls who were victimised in the streets and other places by men. It has been found that the collected clothes do not fall under any category. The girls were equally victimised whether they were wearing sarees, jeans, or even school dresses. Thus our question to every responsible person of the society that, why a little girl like Trisha and 'Rumi' who wore a veil, were forced to commit suicide after being continuously harassed?
Romana from Savar, a victim of Eve-teasing, complained at the local thana and her school committee but no one paid any attention to it. As a result, the girl was further severely teased and committed suicide. (14.09.06 Jai Jai Din).
Tanni from Kushtia, a student of Mirpur Pilot High School, did not commit suicide though she was disturbed by a number of depraved boys as the school authority took this issue seriously tried to solve this problem with the help of the Officer in Charge of the local police station, political leader, guardian and other respectable person of the area. (19.9.06 Prothom Alo).
The existing Penal Code of 1860 contains several sections under which acts of eve-teasing can be determined as punishable offences. Though Section 509 covers almost every point related to eve-teasing under this section such harassment is a non-cognisable, bailable offence. In addition, the term 'modesty' is not defined and the punishment is very light. A victim has to prove to the court, to the lawyers and to various institutions, where, when and how she faced the problem, which places her in a humiliating position. These criminals take pleasure in harassing girls often restraining them from going to their regular destination by standing in front of them. This situation prevails all over the country including Dhaka. Section 76 Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Ordinance states that, any person willfully and indecently exposing his person, pressing and obstructing a woman, or, insulting or annoying her by using indecent language or making sounds, gestures or remarks in any public place, such that the woman can see or hear the act from inside or outside any house, will be punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of one year. It is mentionable that our police can play a strong role in order to control this matter but instead, police also get involve in such immoral activities and encourage these criminals. It is clear that existing laws do not give enough protection to girls and women thus social protection is necessary for them to be independent and be safe while walking alone in a road.
The writer is Executive Director of Bangladesh National Women's Lawyers Association (BNWLA)
(R) thedailystar.net 2006