I've been reluctant to write all along because I don't want to sound moralistic about my opinions on 'eve-teasing' and other forms of harassment. But there is a lot of doubt, perhaps among women especially, about the reasons for harassment. I don't know if what I have to say will help, but for those who are interested in an academic effort it might offer some clues.

Growing up in Kerala, and having spent my most memorable childhood days there, exposed me to a different world. The 'difference' here is what UR Ananthamurthy talked of in an essay on his boyhood; the access to the backyard, or the women's area of the house. The frontyard (to Ananthamurthy) was always his father and his friends discussing the world, the big questions of politics and so on, while his mother's friends, gossipping in the backyard, would obviously indulge in 'women's talk'. Not that one form of gossip is higher than the other.

My experiences were similar. When I was in Kerala for two months every year (the most memorable part of the year, I might add), I was always amidst women. This was until I was 12 or 13, after which one tends to rebel against being treated like a baby. The menfolk were generally away, on Army or other duties, and grandpa was the only male around.

Anyway, what happened was that it opened me up to a world that is not obvious in the living room. The womenfolk had their pet pastime of talking of neighbours, and movies and so forth. There was another vocation -- the fortnightly women's magazine which ran serialised stories. All the women had a terrified fascination for one kind of story -- the rape. There would invariably be an illustration of a man tugging away at a woman's saree. The word 'balaalsangham' was spoken in whispers when they discussed those stories. It implied something horrific, unspeakable.
I don't know if the stories were written by men or women. Looking back, I suspect they were written by men. Such things usually are.

So that was my earliest intimation that what mattered to men was very different from what mattered to women...

We used to go to the pond to bathe, early morning. I would go with the women (this was until I was ten or so). The pond had separate embankments for men and women... and (not surprisingly) there were always a couple of men at least ogling the women.
And the women... they just felt disgusted. They felt helpless being stared at, but they had their own ways of getting back. They assigned nicknames to the oglers and discussed them with contempt. When they crossed them in the street, they looked through them, as if they were invisible.

Much, much later.... I discovered I couldn't sit through fashion shows (my college had a hugely popular annual inter-college fest with a fashion show) because to me it meant women being paraded in front of a bunch of oglers.

I'm surprised when I'm told it's difficult for girls in Kerala. After all, my experiences were not unique. Given the matrilineal/ matriarchal system in Kerala, kids always grow up around the womenfolk. I don't know what happens when they get into their teens. My teens were not spent in Kerala.


The horror of being construed as an ogler or harasser... even by accident! It cramps one in public, sure... for there is a fear of whistling or singing on the road or in the bus. Or even smiling inadvertently at a stranger. These are small privileges to give up; I think the girls have it much harder. (Why can't men keep their hands to themselves!)

How do I see eve-teasing? I think it's part wooing behaviour, part misguided machismo, part bravado, part peer pressure. You get to hear war stories when you're among the boys in hostel (I was, for four years). The guys made it look like a conquest. A lot of this happened on buses... especially on the long-distance routes. There never seemed an element of shame in narrating those stories. I suspect a lot of their inspiration had to do with what our film heroes portray on screen, that the way to woo is to 'break' feminine resistance. Behave incorrigibly for long enough, and the maiden would be bowled (over). There are class questions too that come up, but that's for another time.



  1. it's really interesting. thanks dss. makes me think of adolescent boy behaviour- when do they start leaving the company of women in the family and aspiring for male company. i think i will be observing boys in their pre teens.

  2. I feel that in our system wherein women take dominance in the emotional life of children with no father in sight except to bring home the meal, a guy may feel emotionally dependent and inferior and want to 'get back' at women later on in life. Deep inside they seem to be terrified of the power a woman (mother) had once upon a time and now try to show off their domination as a revenge!

  3. This is an interesting response in terms of accounting a more critical male perspective. However, I wish there had been more analysis devoted to the power structure that is reproduced through such gender roles. The privilege of being able to 'oogle', however mild of violent in form, comes from basic assumptions that men are actors and women passive receptors. So even if these actions are misguided adolescent attempts, they still reproduce certain notions of what it means to be a man and in doing so maintain the position of male privilege. The sad part is that such notions of masculinity are so embedded within the 'courtship/dating' process that they get valorized within Bollywood and other mainstream media. It's interesting how the process of socializing girls and boys into women and men itself is centered around enacting passivity or dominance. Instead of passively avoiding, what if young girls were taught to pick physical fights when they felt threatened or harassed?