The problem with what is still referred to as ‘eve-teasing’ in India is best illustrated by the phrase itself. It trivializes the sexual harassment of women and girls in public places, and implies that the offence is a natural male reaction to female allure and frailty that must be regarded with an indulgent eye by society. But the Supreme Court has now rightly pulled the matter up to a level of seriousness with a series of directives to states and Union territories. The court deems the sexual harassment at workplace bill of 2010, which is pending with Parliament, inadequate to deal with the range of public spaces in which women might be sexually harassed, asking for a uniform law that would cover every place from educational institutions to public vehicles. With vehicles, for instance, any reported case of sexual harassment inside, say, a bus, should be taken up by the driver, who must take the vehicle straight to a police station, failing which its permit may be cancelled. Owners of facilities, services and spaces thus have greater responsibility for handling promptly such complaints.
Sexual harassment in public places is notoriously difficult to pin down, especially if it involves forms of action like verbal abuse or suggestive behaviour. Besides, the public environment in India, especially in places of perpetual busyness, is just as notoriously callous, self-centred and weighted towards overlooking offending males. The presence of females in public places sometimes discomfits men strongly enough for the latter to somehow look at the former as the offending party. So, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Supreme Court’s directive to, say, bus drivers is being scrupulously implemented. Female proactiveness still remains the most effective means of tackling the offence.