Ladki ki galti, sexual harassment in public spaces and parental control: deconstructing the narratives
The YP Foundation as part of its Know Your Body, Know Your Rights programme transacts in community based comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) sessions with girls and young women in partnership with field based organizations. At the end of this year’s phase of work, girls from one of the centres (Samarpan organization in Kishangarh, Delhi) ran a facilitated campaign on sexual harassment in public spaces to engage with their mothers and other community members on the issue. During the CSE sessions, many of them at different junctures brought in their experiences of sexual harassment and the difficulty in talking about it with their mothers. Many of them also shared their experiences of fighting with their parents to come to the centre as their parents weren’t allowing them to attend the sessions for reasons like, it is unsafe to go out for them, why would they want to know about “these things” at such a young age and school education is more important than “these things”.
Discussion around these experiences in the centre led to a facilitated process of social action involving the parents and the local organization staff members for the girls to collectively mobilise their mothers, raise their concerns and engage with them on “ched-chad” or “eve-teasing”, as it was called.
As part of the social action, the girls presented a role play based on experiences of sexual harassment faced by them. The mothers were encouraged to engage with it and intervene in the situation to change the situation. As it rolled out, one of the mothers came up and intervened by encouraging her daughter to find a support group in her friends when she goes out. We thought that this was valuable for the girls too, as opposed to parents blaming the girls for sexual harassment and expressing the need to increased control over their physical mobility. The entire event ran comfortably, even when I argued that naming sexual harassment and violence as “ched-chaad” or “eve-teasing” of our daughters trivialise the everyday violence that all women face related to their physical mobility, also within homes, be they anybody’s daughters or not, in occupying public spaces in day and night.
Later when we spoke to a few mothers individually on why they think girls get blamed for sexual harassment and why should it restrict their mobility, they said, “ladkiyon ko doshi mat thehrao, poori baat pata honi zaruri hai. Agar ladki ki galti hai, agar vo bigad gayi to hi vo doshi hai” (Don’t blame the girls, it is important to know the complete story. If it is the girl’s fault, if she’s become a rebel, only then she should be blamed). I did not ask what they meant by “ladki ki galti” (girl’s fault). The fear in parents of girls and young women willingly getting into a relationship often gets articulated as “galti” (fault), but what took my attention was also a reflection of the patriarchal norm in the statement that decides who deserves protection in cases of sexual violence. As Menon (2012) in a section titled “only good women deserve protection” of her book puts it, “sexual violence is only the most visible aspect of a general climate of misogyny in which all women are always under the scanner for signs of immoral behaviour” (pp. 131). She continues her line of argument on “immoral behaviour” by saying that women live in “constant knowledge” to not behave like ‘bad woman’/bazaaru aurat/ whore in public spaces to deserve protection from sexual harassment. While the mothers we spoke to expressed their anxiety of girls getting involved with boys, the “immoral behaviour” in this context does mean an awareness in the girls to not be seen with a boy on streets and be understood as “galat” (being at fault). It is not surprising then that the girls themselves expressed experiencing closer scrutiny by parents, family and community of where they go and why, what they do, how they dress up etc. especially after they started menstruating. The onset of menstruation connotes having entered the “reproductive age” and hence, greater control over their sexuality by parents till they get married. In one of the sessions the girls also added that if anyone is seen with a boy, they will not be believed by parents in future when they are sexually harassed and they may not even be allowed to go out to study to the school or the centre. This suggests that the fulfilment of sexual rights, educational rights and right to freedom for girls and women is often conditional, as it depends upon coming out and being seen as a good woman in the society. Deconstructing these statements also reveal ways in which public spaces and institutions are socially constructed, based on hegemonic ideas of gender, sexuality and morality, and who deserves protection and who does not, who deserves education and who does not.
Menon, N. (2012) Seeing like a feminist. India: Zubaan and Penguin.
Shruti Arora is the Programme Coordinator (Delhi) for the Know Your Body, Know Your Right Programme.