Empowerment Through Education
A LEGAL AND MENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVE ON SEXUAL HARRASMENT.
Q. What law is missing currently with respect to sexual harassment in India?
Ms Chaudhari: India has really strong laws in favour of women. What is missing is the implementation. We have laws on paper, but this does not translate into rights. If you face harassment, you should go and file a police complaint, but not many of us really do. There is a barrier. Therefore, implementation is what is missing in India.
Q. I read an article about you on The Quint. Give us a legal insight into dealing with sexual harassment.
Ms Chaudhari: Sexual harassment is not just physical. It can be both verbal and non-verbal. Verbal can be spoken words. For example, if someone on the road calls you names. Non-verbal harassment includes gestures. For instance, you may see it while travelling by public transport, when someone’s body language makes you uncomfortable. The first step would be to file a police complaint, but it is tough and I know this is not the easiest solution. Always try to collect whatever evidence you can- CCTV footage or a picture of the number plate of a car. We don’t quickly remember that we need to take these steps in that moment. We should file a complaint in the area where the nearest police station has jurisdiction. Another thing to know is we can file what is called a zero FIR. This is a right that every woman should know about — a zero FIR can be filed in any police station irrespective of where the crime has taken place.
Q. How did you start with Pink legal?
Ms Chaudhari: We wanted it to be a platform that answers legal queries. I wanted to create a platform where women can understand their rights. From a personal experience, one reason that propelled me to start was from the time when I was inHyderabad. I was driving home at night when my car met with a minor accident with another vehicle. Two men got off the vehicle, started banging on my window, and broke my sideview mirror. There was no one to stop them. Luckily I had the presence of mind to take a picture of the number plate of their vehicle. I got back home safely. I was very affected by this incident.
But I was determined to file a police complaint. I knew the law, and the police took my complaint seriously. I filed a police complaint and got my FIR in two days.
Having studied the law is different from going to the police station and filing a complaint. This made me realize that for any other woman, doing this would’ve been very difficult. If any woman is in trouble, she should go ahead and take these steps. We have a section in Pink Legal that contains procedures to file a complaint, procedures police should follow while dealing with women, etc.
Q. You have been trained in psychotherapy. What are the effects of sexual harassment?
Ms Bhandari: With sexual harassment, the reaction to it is similar to having gone through extreme stress. There is also anger, guilt, and the one feels disconnected from their self and surroundings. One may also feel dirty and withdraw into themselves. These are some short-term effects.
Some other effects are feeling like you have been wronged or feeling like you don’t know your rights, feeling like it is your own fault or a feeling that others may start judging you, a constant feeling of needing to prove something, of disappointing people, hopelessness, anxiety, guilt among others.
Q. How do you suggest we combat trauma with animals and other approaches?
Ms Bhandari: Animals are extremely comforting. With them, you feel like you’re not being judged. Another thing is that you cannot touch a client, any touch can be misinterpreted.
When someone is going through something major, sometimes the touch is important to provide comfort. An animal is a breakthrough through that. There can be an extreme feeling of distrust with people who have either caused the trauma or have not reacted properly. Animals serve as a substitute for trust, and then gradually translate to people, of course, with a therapist in the room. People also tend to be more compassionate to animals. One thing I usually tell my patients is “Treat yourself the way you would treat an animal”.
Q. How does one deal with sexual Harassment?
Ms Bhandari: One needs the reassurance that they can reach out to people. Victims know that people around them are aware of them and how they are feeling. Educate yourself. The more you do so, you know how harassment affects people and therefore you can modify your behaviour accordingly. Victims also many times feel cornered and have an “us vs them” feeling. When they talk to people, one needs to look at them as beyond what has happened.
Q. What are the laws when it comes to cyber harassment?
Ms Chaudhari: There are two types of laws :IPC (the Indian Penal Code) which is the main criminal law in India, and the IT Act that deals with cybercrime among other laws. Our law has not evolved where it accounts for all cyber bullying. For Example, sharing a woman’s picture, recording something without consent, etc. is protected under these Acts, (but) we don’t have laws for rape threats that occur over the internet. We don’t have police educated about that. So, in that respect, there is a legal vacuum. I strongly believe we need one law for rape threats. When these crimes are online, it doesn’t count as anything. There is no specific law for cyberbullying. Already existing laws are interpreted to deal with these crimes.
Q. How can we understand from a psychological perspectives signs of sexual harassment?
Ms Kajaria: At the individual level, one needs to recognize the trauma caused through abuse or bullying. This translates into psychoeducation in clinical work to understand at a neuropsychological level, what we are doing with that trauma and how we prevent the trauma. At an organizational level, there needs to be sensitivity training, a redressal mechanism, and recognizing underlying patriarchy where it is normalized.
We need to bring in the social justice component into therapy. Part of it is to normalise the talk. Lot of abuse is normalized. The more we talk about it, justice will be put in place. We are taught to be ignorant about abuse. Breaking the shame associated with the act for the person facing it is important, otherwise we are not motivating them to reach out.
Q.What are some miscommunications and misconceptions about sexual harassment?
Ms Kajaria: The idea that harassment is only verbal: it can’t not be harassment just because the other person was joking or the idea that it needs to happen more often for it to be called harassment. It is important to understand — that constitutes bullying. It is sometimes not a joke or a compliment. A joke or a compliment comes across very differently. It is important to take a stance and communicate effectively to break the stigma around it. Sometimes victims fear losing their jobs or respect.
Q. Please stress the importance of emotional intelligence in dealing with harassment.
Ms Kajaria: Before even opting for the legal aspect, some form of support is required. One needs to feel supported and not isolated — the idea that a community is protecting them, not a feeling of being blamed that they called for it — that leads to shutting out any form of support. They don’t want pity. To be able to offer support is to be enabling them to reach out. We might not be competent in providing legal advice. Redirecting them to the appropriate people and encouraging them to report is a correct step. Questioning the narrative rather than believing it is where emotional intelligence comes into play.
Q. How do we help a friend that is dealing with a situation like this?
Ms Kajaria: To help them means to be able to offer support to the extent you can, and discard the notion that only if this situation occurs,it is traumatic. What a person has gone through is their subjective experience, and if one is stuck at judging the situation or asking them to brush it off, one is not going to be able to offer support. One needs to be able to redirect them to the appropriate channels, because you don’t know what victims are going through. Only then we can empathize with them.
Ms Bhandari: You are telling them the channel is open, I’m sure it takes a toll on you as well. It is right to be admitting that one is not competent to deal with this, and then redirect them. Educate yourself about what are the things you can say and what you can’t. There are a lot of resources available online. And if it takes a toll on you, tell them. They would appreciate it most of the time.
Q. Do you think movements like #metoo have encouraged speaking about harassment?
Ms Bhandari: So many stories of harassment have come up, some have been too triggering at times, but you do want to know what they have gone through. One positive impact is that people are talking about it more. One might think that they could have reported it before, but at that moment of it happening, they did not know what to do and whom to go to. Though people have been encouraged to share, it hasn’t gone beyond that.
Ms. Kajaria: Victims are told to keep quiet about it, that “you’re not supposed to say anything about it.” A lot of stories came out on what happened and what needs to be done but nothing on what is being done until now to improve the situation such as what kind of support systems are in place. At a mental health level, reading these stories, for some, can be retraumatizing and that could cause anxiety and overwhelm.
Q. Recently, a proctoring scandal took place in our college where male proctors stalked female students and harassed them. The institute then promised to replace them with female proctors. Does this give an idea that “men will be men”? What is the future course of action?
Ms Bhandari: One thing we need to understand that some people choose to engage in harassing others and some don’t. For those who have chosen to, penalizing athem, or replacing female proctors is not going to be very useful.
Ms Kajaria: The solution of replacing male with female proctors is like a bandaid. There needs to be a more effective mechanism. One needs to check what are proctors’ qualifications. One can’t just appoint anyone and everyone to proctor an exam. Doing a background check to ensure safety for students is important to understand safety. It requires a lot of in depth exploration.
Q. What do you think of male sexual harassment? Do you think it is given enough credit?
Ms Kajaria: It is real. There is a lot of underlying social conditioning that men are supposed to stay strong or the saying “mard ko dard nahi hota”. This shows how men are projected and leads to a lot of ignorance. This is a real issue and deserves attention. There is this act that is happening which is not justified. It is not spoken about much. It is unfair and traumatising.
Ms Bhandari: People are not aware of what qualifies as male sexual harassment. Sometimes even men are not aware of what constitutes harassment. Men are encouraged not to read into the situation like women usually do. We are socially conditioned to not view men as victims.
Q. How do we sensitize ourself to sexual harassment?
Ms Kajaria: Sometimes advertisements shape the narrative of how men are portrayed. There are norms for how men should be resilient and there are stereotypes attached. One should check the validity of these stereotypes — of whether it is resulting in a lot of internalized feeling of sadness and aggression. A part of this step is to recognize and challenge these norms.
Ms Bhandari: Stereotypes have been normalized at times. We need to normalize openness, creating an inclusive space. If a man expresses feminist ideas and interests, treat it like something that happens everyday instead of ridiculing it. This also helps in understanding self and others.