Eve teasing is a term commonly used in India to describe the act of verbal and gesticulated sexual harassment faced by women in public spaces. It is a pervasive issue that affects the safety and well-being of women across the country. In order to combat this problem, the Indian criminal law has defined eve teasing as a criminal offense, and specific punishments have been established to deter such behaviour.
Definition of Eve Teasing
Eve teasing refers to the act of making unwanted sexual remarks, gestures, or advances towards women in public places. It often includes verbal harassment, stalking, and other forms of non-consensual contact, which can cause significant distress and discomfort to the victims. The term itself stems from a colonial-era phrase, where “eve” refers to a woman, and “teasing” suggests playful or harmless behaviour. However, it is important to note that eve teasing is far from harmless and can have severe psychological and emotional consequences for the victims.
Punishment for Eve Teasing in India
Eve teasing is considered a criminal offense in India, and there are specific legal provisions to address it. Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with assault or criminal force used to outrage the modesty of a woman. This section includes acts such as eve teasing, making sexually coloured remarks, or forcibly disrobing a woman. The punishment for such offenses can vary depending on the severity and circumstances of the incident.
Under Section 354A of the IPC, the act of sexual harassment is also criminalized, which encompasses unwelcome physical contact, advances, or demands for sexual Favors. The punishment for sexual harassment can range from imprisonment for up to three years to a fine, or both.
Additionally, Section 294 of the IPC states that any individual who, with the intention of causing annoyance to others, engages in any indecent or offensive behaviour in a public location, or sings, recites, or speaks any lewd song, poem, or words in or around a public place, shall be subjected to punishment, which may include imprisonment for a duration of up to three months, or a fine, or both.
Section 509 of the IPC states that any person who, with the intention to disrespect the dignity of a woman, speaks certain words, produces certain sounds or gestures, or displays any object, intending for the woman to hear or witness them, or invades her privacy, shall be subject to punishment. The punishment may include simple imprisonment for a duration of up to one year, or a fine, or both.
Government’s Initiative to Curb Eve Teasing
The Uttar Pradesh (UP) government has taken significant steps to curb eve teasing and ensure the safety of women. In recent years, the state has implemented various initiatives and measures to address this issue. One notable initiative is the establishment of anti-Romeo squads, which comprise police personnel deployed in public places to deter and prevent eve teasing incidents. These squads conduct regular patrolling and take immediate action against those found engaging in such behaviour.
Moreover, the UP government has also set up dedicated helplines and women’s safety apps to enable women to report eve teasing incidents and seek assistance. These measures aim to create a safer environment for women and send a strong message that eve teasing will not be tolerated.
Is “Eve Teasing” Considered “Sexual Harassment” under POSH Act?
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, enacted in 2013, provides legal protection to women against sexual harassment in workplaces. While eve teasing is not explicitly mentioned in the Act, it is generally considered a form of sexual harassment. The POSH Act defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome act or behaviour, either directly or by implication, including physical contact and advances, showing pornography, making sexually coloured remarks, or any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
Therefore, if eve teasing occurs in a workplace, it can be considered a violation of the POSH Act, and the employer is obligated to take appropriate action to address the complaint and ensure a safe working environment for women.
Court Rulings on Eve Teasing in India
The Supreme Court of India in Dy. Inspector Gen.Of Police & Anr vs S.Samuthiram (2012) observed that “We notice that there is no uniform law in this country to curb eve-teasing effectively in or within the precinct of educational institutions, places of worship, bus stands, metro-stations, railway stations, cinema theatres, parks, beaches, places of festival, public service vehicles or any other similar place. Eve-teasing generally occurs in public places which, with a little effort, can be effectively curbed. Consequences of not curbing such a menace, needless to say, at times disastrous. There are many instances where girls of young age are being harassed, which sometimes may lead to serious psychological problems and even committing suicide. Every citizen in this country has right to live with dignity and honour which is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Sexual harassment like eve- teasing of women amounts to violation of rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15 as well. We notice in the absence of effective legislation to contain eve-teasing, normally, complaints are registered under Section 294 or Section 509 IPC……. Eve teasing today has become pernicious, horrid, and disgusting practice.”
In 2017, a three Judge Bench of Supreme Court, in the case of XYZ V. State of Himachal Pradesh was considering an appeal filed by Accused against his conviction for abetment to suicide of a girl because of his continuous harassment and eve teasing, and it observed that a woman is entitled to the same level of equality as a man under Article 14 of the Constitution. Engaging in offensive acts of eve-teasing violates the right to live with dignity, which is protected by Article 21 of the Constitution. Such behaviour undermines the fundamental principles of gender sensitivity, justice, and the rights of women as guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution.
It stated that “We are at pains to state that in a civilized society eve-teasing is causing harassment to women in educational institutions, public places, parks, railways stations and other public places which only go to show that requisite sense of respect for women has not been socially cultivated….. Woman has an individual choice which has been legally recognized. It has to be socially respected. No one can compel a woman to love. She has the absolute right to reject…. The Constitution of India confers the affirmative rights on women and the said rights are perceptible from Article 15 of the Constitution. When the right is conferred under the Constitution, it has to be understood that there is no condescendation…. Egoism must succumb to law. Equality has to be regarded as the summum bonum of the constitutional principle in this context. The instant case portrays the deplorable depravity of the appellant that has led to a heart-breaking situation for a young girl who has been compelled to put an end to her life.”
The Bench upheld the decision of the High Court, which found the accused guilty and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a duration of seven years. Additionally, the accused was ordered to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/-, and in case of failure to pay the fine, he would be subjected to further rigorous imprisonment for one year.
Eve teasing remains a significant issue in India, affecting the safety and well-being of women in public spaces. The Indian criminal law recognizes eve teasing as a criminal offense, and the punishments for such acts vary depending on the severity of the incident. Furthermore, the POSH Act provides legal protection to women against sexual harassment in workplaces, and eve teasing can be considered a violation of the Act if it occurs in a professional setting.
To combat eve teasing effectively, it is crucial to raise awareness, implement stringent laws, and ensure their enforcement. The efforts made by the government and various judicial pronouncements have played a vital role in addressing eve teasing and providing a safer environment for women. However, continued vigilance, education, and community involvement are necessary to eradicate eve teasing and foster a society that respects and protects the rights of women.
– Adv. Deeksha Rai – Associate Equilibrio Advisory LLP