Google defines eve-teasing as ‘the making of unwanted sexual remarks or advances by a man to a woman in a public place’, a euphemism which has become commonplace in India. There is hardly any woman who can deny being targeted by obscene gestures, lewd remarks or an attempt to touch inappropriately almost every day. It is something that women live with, a debilitating side effect of living and working in this country, making women feel helpless, angry and sidelined.
So, when IPS officer Rishi Raj Singh spoke about women’s safety at a state-level empowerment event for students, organised at the Technopark in Kerala, it was meant to be a speech that encourages the girls to take up martial arts for self-defense, carry pepper spray and feel no hesitation before reporting every indecent act. It would have been a speech worthy of applause if not for the now famous ‘14-second stare’ comment.
Duration Doesn’t Matter
When he made the observation that instance of ‘a man staring at a woman for 14 seconds or longer’ was enough for an FIR to be filed against him, it almost felt like a man holding a position of power had squandered an opportunity to spread awareness as far as the alarming levels of rising atrocities against women is concerned.
Unfortunately, the rest of his speech was lost in the noise that this comment garnered. For a society that craves sensationalism, this one comment made the officer tabloid worthy, generating almost the same anger as the comment made by the Haryana Khap in October 2012 that consumption of chowmein led to rapes.
So why did only this observation stand out when the rest of the speech was almost inspirational? The Indian constitution under section IPC 298 (A) and (B) states that ‘a man who is found guilty of making a female the target of obscene gestures, remarks, songs or recitation, can be imprisoned for a period of three months.’ It is clearly stated that the act itself warrants imprisonment and there is no emphasis on the time duration.
In 2015, when Rishi Raj Singh was ADGP, he was pulled up for a breach of protocol when he remained seated adamantly despite state home minister Ramesh Chennithala having entered the podium. So he is not new to controversy. But his latest comment stands out due to the ignorance and arrogance it displayed. At a time, when the world is raising its collective head in response to crimes and atrocities against women, where a joint effort is being made to create awareness and laws being made to undo century-old wrongs, unfortunately, Rishi Raj Singh’s comment highlights the ignorance of the men in khaki.
The Twitterati had a field day after the debacle . It was an explosion of angry retorts and sarcastic rejoinders. What could have been a speech lauded for its stress on women’s safety became viewed as buffoonery. Sports Minister EP Jayaraman called the excise commissioner’s comments ‘irritating ‘, as did many others.
Trust the media, social and otherwise, to highlight a speech on a serious matter, and sensationalise the issue while it suffers collective amnesia about other raging issues.
Don’t Trivialise Women’s Safety
Women’s safety is not a laughing matter and should not be trivialised at any cost. At a time when more and more women are breaking the stereotype, where more women are traveling alone and living alone, we look up to our serving officers and politicians who are here to protect us. As the reporting of rape cases has increased due to increased awareness and swift action, cases against lewd gestures and ‘eve-teasing’ are hardly reported due to the lack of awareness.
Asinine though his comment may have been, let us rest easy knowing that it has put the issue of women’s safety back in the news thus, inadvertently, opening conversations and debates on the subject. Maybe that was his point? And maybe this was the only way to get our attention?
(The writer is a post graduate in radio-diagnosis and is interested in human interest stories. She can be reached at @virtualkarma)