Ask any girl about it, and she would tell you that she is ‘teased’ and harassed every day, everywhere. Oral, visual, physical and (now) digital teasing and harassment is taking place on the streets, in market places, in buses and trains, in schools and colleges. Many parents do not want their daughters to go to a secondary school or college because of fear of harassment. Girls themselves are afraid, and hesitate. Those who walk, try to do so in groups, so that comments from boys walking behind, and around them, can be ‘faced’. Those riding bicycles to schools and colleges witness similar harassment from boys. Therefore, the recent study findings are not surprising at all (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/51130446.cms?_ga=1.97820703.1244633854.1456454559).
Over the past two years, a youth-led campaign of young boys and girls has been focusing on preventing and addressing violence against girls and women in parts of Haryana, UP and Rajasthan (http://www.marthafarrellfoundation.org/Campaigns.html). In Sonipat district of Haryana, these youth groups conducted ‘participatory safety audits’ (PSA) in several communities, schools, colleges and universities. The results of these PSAs were surprising to girls and boys, both. What boys thought was very safe, girls found unsafe (http://priacash.org/kadam-badao/men-sign-a-petition-to-ban-liquor-shops-in-rehmana-village-sonepat-haryana/).
The results of these PSA exercises were then shared by boys and girls with the local authorities. In panchayats, the findings were shared with Sarpanch and elected representatives of panchayats. The youth asked them to ‘pledge’ to act for the safety of girls. Likewise, principals of schools/colleges and Vice-Chancellors (and Deans) of universities were asked to respond to the results of these PSAs in concrete manner. The Vice-Chancellor of a women’s university was ‘surprised’ to learn that girls were feeling insecure and faced harassment inside the campus. (http://priacash.org/sexual-harassment/sexual-harassment-is-rampant-on-college-campuses-across-the-world-what-are-you-doing-about-it/).
It is shocking to learn how a girl is forced to commit suicide due to such a constant teasing and harassment in a prestigious educational institution (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rmJhMRWWgU).
The most common place for harassment is at the entrance of the girls’ schools, colleges and universities. Gangs of boys hang around their whistling, taunting, gesturing and even physically touching and pushing girls going in or coming out of school/college campus. This is a daily phenomenon, everywhere in this country, in every village and town.
Recent data from the government shows a substantial increase in drop-out rates of girl students in secondary schools. Girls are unable to take advantage of new learning opportunities offered in vocational and skills training, post-secondary professional courses due to severe constraints on their mobility. Teasing and harassment by boys is one of the most common reasons for restricted mobility of young girls, thereby obstructing their access to further education, and even employment.
So, ‘Beti Padhao’ is only possible if a vigorous campaign for ‘Beta Samjhao’ is launched in every household, neighbourhood and community.
Dr. Rajesh Tandon
Founder-President PRIA, New Delhi