#TalkingStalking | Girls Battling Harassment Just to Go to School

Sexual Harassment on the streets is forcing girls to drop out of schools. But who’s at fault? The Quint reports.

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(This story was originally published on 1 Feb, 2017. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives in light of our campaign #TalkingStalking)

On 16 September 2016, a minor scuffle between two groups in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district erupted into a communal clash. The scuffle had an eve-teasing incident at its core.

While the jury was out on whether it was a Hindu or Muslim girl who got harassed, we, at The Quint, decided to investigate the street safety of women in Bijnor. We wanted to understand how rampant the harassment is, and how comfortable women are in commuting to their schools and colleges. Here’s our report.

The Quint’s Aaqib Raza Khan and Muskan Sharma went to the riot-hit district of Bijnor to investigate if there are any apparent trends of sexual harassment and girls’ education. Here’s a transcript of their conversation:

Muskan: The first thing that came to my mind when I was assigned this story, was ‘is it safe for me to go there’? The fact that the reason behind the riots was an eve-teasing incident got me concerned about the on-ground situation for girls there.

Aaqib: Initially, I was a little sceptical of going to Bijnor as well. The riot was a very recent episode, and I had no idea about the kind of people who live there, what’s the environment like, whether people will talk to us, and more importantly, if the girls will talk to us. I think, Muskan, your presence did help them get comfortable. What was your experience like to listen to the stories there?

Sarita (Name changed) is not sending her younger daughter to school after her elder daughter got kidnapped 
Sarita (Name changed) is not sending her younger daughter to school after her elder daughter got kidnapped 
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

Muskan: I was quite shocked to hear most of them. The most intriguing point was when girls confessed to episodes of stalking and harassment by the local police officers. The girls are, therefore, scared to step out on the streets, and also to report the crimes. The obvious escape being dropping out of school.

Aaqib: I was definitely taken aback at those statements. It was surprising, even by the worst I was prepared to find there. A policeman stalking a girl? That is indeed really worrying. How will law and order function then? And more importantly, how do citizens feel safe? I can totally empathise with the parents’s concern.

Mohd. Furqan has decided to not let his daughters attend school, after a few boys harassed her, and let to a riot. 
Mohd. Furqan has decided to not let his daughters attend school, after a few boys harassed her, and let to a riot. 
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

Muskan: If you talk about boys, I found them to be quite outspoken.

Aaqib: Yes, I observed that too. I would let you talk more about them.

“There’s bound to be a riot if a guy like us harasses a girl” 
“There’s bound to be a riot if a guy like us harasses a girl” 
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

Muskan: They have a certain image for the ‘ideal woman’. If a girl talks to many boys they don’t approve of it. If a girl is going out, even with a single boy, they consider it a good enough reason to stalk and tease her, even if it leads to a fight.

Aaqib: Something similar fuelled the Bijnor riots of September 2016. An eve-teasing incident in Bijnor’s Peda village grew into a communal riot, leading to three deaths. The local politicians believe it was all politically motivated. But not much is being talked about the security of women.

An eve-teasing incident led to a communal riot in Bijnor.
An eve-teasing incident led to a communal riot in Bijnor.
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

Muskan: And this could be a story of not just Bijnor, but practically any region in our country. Being a girl, I know what difficulty one has to face, say, when you take a public transport, even in broad daylight. There are creepy uncles loitering around.

Aaqib: True, the situation is indeed quite upsetting, and the drop-out rates appalling. In the data for school drop-out rates, girls outnumber boys in dropping out of studies. The data which we have used in our video is from the Indian government’s official portal, but logically, you see there’s definitely something amiss here.

Dropout rates of Upper Primary Schools in Uttar Pradesh: Half-truths? 
Dropout rates of Upper Primary Schools in Uttar Pradesh: Half-truths? 
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

A 4% drop-out rate in Uttar Pradesh? You understand that the cases are not being reported, or worse covered up by the administration. But, we need to go by the official word for it.

Muskan: The administration? They don’t even acknowledge that such crimes exist. That lady police officer of Bijnor said she has seen no cases of eve-teasing in her six months of being posted there. If the police genuinely doesn’t have any records, then I’m quite angry as to why aren’t girls going out to report them?

Administration stays in denial
Administration stays in denial
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

Aaqib: Maybe for the same reason that policemen too are involved in all of this somewhere. The girls also confessed to not approaching the policemen because they asked them uncomfortable details of the crime, such as, where did he touch, how did he touch, and other personal details. To not relive the trauma once again, and to avoid any embarrassment, the girls simply let it go.

This definitely bolsters the confidence of the perpetrators.

With police inaction, and silence of the victims, the girls carry most of the blame.
With police inaction, and silence of the victims, the girls carry most of the blame.
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

Muskan: It also leads to all the blame getting shifted to the victim. The boys also said that they only approach a girl if ‘she incites them’. Where does it end?

Aaqib: I think they should understand that a ‘no means no’. That can be a nice start.

Instances of stalking, teasing and kidnapping are quite common across the country. 
Instances of stalking, teasing and kidnapping are quite common across the country. 
(Photo: Screengrab from the video)

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

(#TalkingStalking: Have you ever been stalked? Share your experience with The Quint and inspire others to shatter the silence surrounding stalking. Send your stories to editor@thequint.com or WhatsApp @ +919999008335.)

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