Frolicking in the gentle breeze

Nidhi Dutt experienced a little “Eve teasing,” or as you might call it, assault, in Bombay one afternoon.

My colleague and I were piling into a rickshaw, heading back to the bureau. And that’s when it happened. We were suddenly surrounded by a group of boys, barely teenagers.

At first the whole thing seemed harmless, if a little predictable – the cheery interest of a group of bright eyed, smiling boys.

Their approach was not unusual, foreigners and cameras make for an unmissable attraction in India.

But it was only a matter of minutes, possibly seconds, before the smiles turned into a blur of pawing, grabbing hands. Their indecent behaviour was punctuated by cheers, laughter and explicit comments in Hindi.

And that was it. I had been Eve-teased. Or as we describe it in the West, sexually harassed. In broad daylight, on a street in a busy business district of Mumbai.

“Teasing” they call it – a group of boys physically attacking two women. That’s not “teasing” and I don’t think we call that harassment, either, not when it’s unwanted resisted physical contact – I think we call that assault.

This kind of harassment, often described in India as innocent play, is commonplace. Yet this is a country in which the predominant Hindu religion worships female deities and claims to respect women.

Described as “innocent play” is it – being treated as a commodity as public as a toilet? That’s not any kind of play. It’s an assault on women’s autonomy and ability to be in the world without fear.


  1. Daniel Waddell says

    Respect for “religion” or “culture” will never contribute to human rights. This kind of vile behavior should be treated with disgust and the bastards with disrespect and mockery.

  2. Christopher Petroni says

    It’s battery. An unwanted offensive or harmful contact is battery, and behavior that causes someone to fear that kind of contact (even if it doesn’t occur) is assault.

    Disgusting, of course.

  3. says

    The thing I can’t get over is the infantile level of it. I know how horrific it is, and how traumatic, but without wishing to make light or excuse or anything, the image of the attackers is a bunch of giggling, immature teenage boys.

    The attacks are no less wrong for that but I’m reminded of Hitchen’s point about suicide bombers. “The problem isn’t just the virgins they think they’ll get, the problem is they are virgins”.

    I suppose this is a roundabout way of saying Patriarchy hurts men too. I’m disgusted by the behaviour of these excuses for a human being and the sooner it is stamped out the better.

  4. SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

    I suggest guns?

    I know you were probably being facetious, but seriously: NOT HELPFUL.

  5. julian says

    Maybe it’s my cruel nature surfacing but I really don’t find fault with Improbable Joe’s suggestion. You have the right to your own space and you have the right to protect it. If someone else wants to force you to decide between being molested and maiming/possibly killing someone that’s on them.

  6. says

    The attacks are no less wrong for that but I’m reminded of Hitchen’s point about suicide bombers. “The problem isn’t just the virgins they think they’ll get, the problem is they are virgins”.

    That seems to indicate that Hitchen’s grasp of Islam is lacking

  7. says


    He was referring to the fact that the majority of suicide bombers, Mohammed Sadique Kahn and Mohammed Atta and others notwithstanding have been hothoused in religouse schools from childhood and told that matyrdom is the greatest thing they can achieve.

    I wish I could remember the article but it was on how the pupils were segregated as soon as they arrived at the madrassa, with the intellectuals going to study the Koran, the physically gifted being trained as soldiers and the weakminded ones being trained as suicide bombers. It was really chilling as it showed the manipulation of children by the adults for political and religous ends.

  8. SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Jebus christ on a cracker.

    Did it ever occur to you dudes that the ladies might prefer to not have to fucking shoot people in order to live our lives in peace?!? I don’t want to live in a battle zone and neither do Indian women, I’m sure. We just want to be able to use public spaces like everyone else. For fuck’s sake, take your puerile comic book fantasies home and just leave them there.

  9. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Or as we describe it in the West, sexually harassed.

    Sadly, it would probably be more correct if she wrote : “Or as we describe it in the West, “boys will be boys””. Same shit, different term. The West is a couple of steps ahead, but let’s not pretend that sexual harassment is not more often than not excused as only teasing or a bit more persuasive hitting on a woman, or the good old “boys will be boys” which can really excuse anything from telling sexist jokes to pushing a hand down an unwilling girl’s pants.

    Sorry, this “we in the West (you know, the proper side of the world)” gets on my nerves.

    Also, QFT for SallyStrange’s comment #9.

    Did it ever occur to you dudes that the ladies might prefer to not have to fucking shoot people in order to live our lives in peace?!? I don’t want to live in a battle zone and neither do Indian women, I’m sure. We just want to be able to use public spaces like everyone else. For fuck’s sake, take your puerile comic book fantasies home and just leave them there.

  10. says

    I’ve never understood the incredibly hostile and insulting reaction to the suggestion that people have the option of taking an active role in their own safety. If you don’t want to carry a gun, good for you. Attacking and insulting people who see that as a viable option doesn’t make a bit of sense to me.

    It isn’t just women who would “prefer to not have to fucking shoot people in order to live our lives in peace.” But, wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled first. The only “comic book fantasy” I see is the idea that people should do NOTHING while we wait for the world to become free from violence. I guess every woman who has taken a self-defense class is engaged in “puerile comic book fantasies” right?

    I carry a gun, because I’m past the “puerile comic book fantasy” of thinking I can protect myself with my mad ninja fighting skills. I live in a neighborhood where people get robbed on their porches in broad daylight and get shot at every week, where men on bicycles have yelled at my wife while she was sitting on the front porch, where drunks wander through the alley behind my house in the middle of the day, and where homeless people(possibly on drugs) hang out in abandoned houses in the evenings. What should I do, get people to sign an online petition? Write my congress-critter and get them to work on the crime problem pronto?

    I’ve got an alarm, and a dog, and a gun. My wife has got her eyes on a .357 magnum revolver, and plans on taking classes and will probably get a concealed-carry permit by the end of the year. I’m not suggesting anything that I don’t consider good advice for myself and my family. And I know it isn’t for everyone: I was a shooting coach in the Marines for a little while, and I didn’t trust some of them to hit the broad side of a barn from inside the barn. If you’re philosophically opposed, or temperamentally not comfortable, or not willing/able to get the requisite training, then don’t buy a gun.

    But I don’t see any reason why your personal choice should be the only choice, or why it is wrong to give people other choices. Obviously the best thing would be to create a word where we could just melt down all the guns and be done with it. And as soon as we live in that world I’ll be the first in line to toss my gun into the smelter. Until then, I’m going to support the right of people to defend themselves more or less however they see fit within the boundaries of the law.

  11. julian says

    Their environment is far from friendly as is, SallyStrange. The previous post on this provided a news story of 2 young men who’d attempted to put a stop to the harassment were beaten to death. That is hardly a non hostile environment.

    Do I think anyone is going to be served by a pile of dead bodies? No. And I know even assault rifles can’t guarantee safety from rape and sexual assault in the streets.

    But I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone carrying a firearm for self defense if that’s what someone wants to do.

  12. says

    Since that last comment, I remembered the big criticism I got the last time I said something about guns that got this reaction, so let me make sure that I’m being perfectly clear.

    I’m not in any way suggesting that women who choose not to arm themselves are in any way responsible if they are attacked. I’m not trying to say anything like “hey, if you won’t protect yourself you deserve what happens to you.” I understand and respect the reasons people have for choosing not to defend themselves with a gun, and I’d prefer those people not have a gun for their own safety and the safety of others.

    And I know it’s horrible that women have to use defensive strategies, instead of men stopping the attacks and abuse. You didn’t do anything wrong, so of course it is unfair that you should have to take precautions against being attacked, instead of men changing their behavior. No place should be an unsafe place, and you shouldn’t have to go out in packs and have to look over your shoulder all the time. None of the self-defense advice is a solution to the real problem, and it is completely unfair.

    I don’t know how to solve these sort of problems, and apparently no one has a solution that is remotely 100% or doesn’t involve creating generational shifts in attitudes, behavior, and the culture as a whole. I don’t know about how you do anything about that. But I know how to shoot, and I sort of know how to teach people how to shoot.

  13. skmc says

    The prevailing attitude seems to be that men and boys are entitled to this sort of behavior, so I can imagine how ferocious the backlash would be against women who dared to fight back in self-defense.

    That is a problem in the States, too, btw.

    The attitude is the basic problem; I think that guns would only lead to more lethal force being used in attacks. That is just my guess, and I have nothing against handgun ownership, etc. I used to enjoy target-shooting, myself, back before I developed autoimmune arthritis. These days I could still shoot to save my life, but not everyone is able-bodied enough to do that, even if they had access to weapons and training. Inevitably, there would be more armed attackers, and still some unarmed victims. I see dead people.

  14. amavra says

    This almost exact thing happened to me in the states, in a nice suburb at 3 in the afternoon when I was 14. I was walking home from school and a group of boys surrounded me and verbally sexually harassed me and then taunted each other into touching me. I was afraid to actually fight at all, so I ended up walking into someone’s fenced in backyard and cutting through a couple more backyards to get away from them. They might have all been high school students (like me) but a few looked as young as 11, others could have been seniors. My school was large enough that I didn’t know them or recognize them at all.

    So while we may not see it as much, or have a “cute” name for it, I am certain it isn’t unheard of over here. Less pervasive, or less open and less socially acceptable perhaps.

  15. says

    It’s hard to get too angry at kids, so I’ll be mostly angry at the people who raised them to not respect people’s boundaries until such time that their brain develops. Hopefully, in the meantime, they’ll come across someone who will teach them a little about personal space before that kind of behavior becomes too entrenched in their minds as “acceptable.”

  16. Vicki says

    Improbable Joe: I can’t immediately find the blog post I read yesterday about someone who physically confronted a man who was sexually harassing a female friend of his in the pub, when the bouncer didn’t remove the harasser. The harasser then hit the intervening man hard enough to send him to the hospital, and the pub responded by banning the harassment victim, the friend who had tried to protect her, and the rest of their group.

    No, the man who tried to protect his friend wasn’t carrying a gun. A man in East New York was, when he responded to an attempt to break in to his brother’s house. The police department insists that it was appropriate for them to kill him.

    I don’t know the answer, but it’s not as simple as “carry a weapon.”

  17. says

    Vicki, I’m not sure what the point of the first story was, and your second example is remotely relevant. But I agree with you that it isn’t simple… if you look, I’ve posted more than enough just this morning to make clear that “everyone carry a gun!” is NOT my position. I mean, I made it to my 37th birthday before buying my first handgun, and I’ll be happy when I find my way to a place where I can lock it up and leave it in the safe except to fire it at the range and clean it 2-3 times a year.

    I’m not sure I should respond to this thread anymore… Ophelia, have I ruined things with my derail yet?

  18. says

    Beatrice @10 – well I’m not sure we would call a whole gang of boys forcibly mauling two women “boys will be boys.”

    Sorry, this “we in the West (you know, the proper side of the world)” gets on my nerves.

    Well keep in mind that it was Nidhi Dutt who wrote that, so it’s at least not mindlessly Eurocentric. She did come right out and say it was a relief to get back to London and be able to walk around freely though…

  19. says

    amavra @15 – point taken. I had a similar-ish experience once, with one boy instead of a group – I was walking up a street toward home in the town where I was at university, on a summer evening after dark but not terribly late, and some kid just came at me and knocked me down. ! I screamed bloody murder and away he ran. The end. Totally weird – but yes, it happens. But as Dutt says in her case it was a busy street in Bombay in broad daylight.

  20. says

    Joe, it’s ok.

    I think the thing is, though, advice to carry a gun isn’t really relevant to this kind of discussion. It might be if this were an advice thread, but it’s not – it’s more like a sexism & misogyny thread. (I do a lot of those…) It’s about the culture and behavior and thought-world of sexism & misogyny, not really about what to carry if you’re a woman in Bombay. Saying “guns?” doesn’t address that.

  21. says

    Well… saying “guns” addresses something, but a long debate about it doesn’t address “Eve teasing” and I didn’t intentionally mean to derail that discussion.

    Back on topic, I checked the Wikipedia entry, and it’s pretty horrifying. Apparently some “milder” version of public sexual harassment of this sort is considered “flirting” in some movies, which just goes to show the point about how normalizing “less harmful” sexism creates a space where it can easily escalate to more aggressive abuses.

  22. says

    “normalizing “less harmful” sexism creates a space where it can easily escalate to more aggressive abuses.”

    Exactly. Munkhaus is hugely excited that I said no I don’t think what Ivanoff said about me was a threat – but he shouldn’t be, because I do think it’s the kind of talk that, indulged and continued and ramped up, can prompt someone to “more aggressive abuses.” I don’t think it was a literal threat at the time, but would I be pleased to learn that Ivanoff was at a conference I was attending? Would I feel 100% confident that he wouldn’t attack me in some way? Hell no.

  23. SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Look, Joe, the point here is that not every woman wants to carry a gun. Not every woman CAN. What about the very young girls who are sexually harassed and assaulted? It happens on buses and subways and streets in cities all across America: 12-13 year old girls being harassed and assaulted. Are we supposed to arm them too? Suggesting “guns” does nothing to change the culture that enables and allows such behavior on the part of boys. Suggesting guns only means that you’re saying, “Hey let’s shoot a few of those boys!” Which is stupid, honestly, because as awful as it is, it’s not a crime that’s worthy of fucking death! How many fucking onlookers witness these sorts of attacks and do nothing? Answer: LOTS. THAT is what we need to concentrate on changing. And thanks for the idiotic false dichotomy you provided, between shooting people and doing nothing. That was a real kicker, that one.

  24. says

    Sally, I totally love it when people explain to me the points that I actually made myself several times over the course of the conversation. Keep on… tell me about my own military experience next, and then explain to me how my wife needs a .357 revolver as though I didn’t type it myself.

  25. SallyStrange (Bigger on the Inside), Spawn of Cthulhu says

    Whatever Joe. It was a dumb, not-helpful suggestion, full stop. You even know WHY it was not a helpful suggestion, yet you made it anyway. Why? Apparently you have more confidence in your ability to shoot things and teach other people how to shoot things than you do in your ability to combat cultural sexism. I find it particularly amazing that you’ve gotten that exact same response before, yet that didn’t stop you from making it again. Keep chugging up the steep part of that learning curve.

  26. says

    You’re right Sally… it WAS sort of silly of you to “correct” me by telling me things I’ve already said multiple time, clearly and in plain English. Just as silly as you pretending that I’m taking stances that I’m not taking, and acting as though women defending themselves with firearms is an impossibility and is ridiculous to even suggest.

    I won’t hold it against you, I swear. Internet grudges are silly, especially since I’m in the right. 🙂

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