I realized this site is gradually becoming lethargic. And this is something we don’t want it to be. Do we? So, to wake her up, I am posting an old article on eve teasing. Now if you are men, please stop raising your eyebrows and have fun reading of our follies. Of course many of you have might have read it. Initially published in Business Bhutan, this piece was republished in Yeewong, Bhutan’s only women magazine recently. If you had to read it all over once again here, my apologies. The illustration is by our own PaSsu Tshering and I would also like to thank ever mystical Aurora for her inputs.
Every woman who walks the streets
It was a wintry night. My cousin and I were inside a car waiting for no one in particular. Since it was too late to go to our cousins’, we decided to spend New Year’s Eve in his borrowed car along the Norzin Lam streets parking lot. It was nearly half past one in the morning when a group of girls were walking towards the taxi stands, apparently going home. A few could barely keep their bodies erect. A few boys followed them closely and we could hear them making all sorts of remarks to the girls walking ahead of them. And another herd of boys came following the girls.
“Hey you rascals, how dare you do that to our girls?” These boys walked near the girls and continued barking from there. “You thought you could do this?”
One thing led to another. Soon the contending boys were gritting their teeth and folding their sleeves. They started throwing all sorts of moves and punches, and whatever their hands could lay on. Some girls started crying for help, trying to calm fighters, but it only intensified.
A group of policemen were at the scene to lead the brave fighters to the police station. That was the first time I witnessed a real gang fight and realized what eve teasing could really do.
Back in the village, eve teasing is a kind of flirting or wooing women by men, a social exchange whereby a man manages to express his love for a woman and if luck favors such exchanges result in fruitful marriages. In this sense, eve teasing fitted in its rural setting serves an important social purpose. It is the first step of man meeting a woman of his choice or vice-versa, followed by the process of knowing each other. Eve teasing as social exchange is a powerful and creative tool for social communication to take place. It demands one to be creative and imaginative.
For example, tsangmo and lozey are effective media for the social exchange to happen. Through artistic and poetic expressions, social messages are conveyed through metaphors and similes.
You are on that side of the ocean
I am on this side of the ocean
if fate and destiny favors
let’s meet in the middle of the ocean
Of course two people meeting in the middle of water sounds crazy. But the use of water imagery is powerful in a sense that the act of involving in a relationship is both risky and dangerous, like crossing an unknown ocean. Lovers being on the either side of the water also indicate a certain level of uncertainty the boy or girl goes through.
Even if the leaves of radish are lovely,
the size of the roots are difficult to judge
Even if the face of a girl is beautiful
it is difficult to judge if she has a kind heart
The way woman responds will determine if the roots of the radish are as big as their leaves. Then if the boy gets a clear message from the respondent, it means he has received a missed-call (in today’s context) from the girl and the night will take him to the girl’s door. That’s how our parents must have met, tied nuptial knots and brought us to the world. This was in the village. All I am saying is eve teasing involved intellectual exercise and village beauties didn’t mind being teased or remarked as long as the intention was clean.
A scene in a city
“Chi…chi wai bumo,” Dema looks back thinking it must be someone she knows, but as usual a crowd of odd looking men stare at her; some of them burst into heavy laughter. “Hey, you pretty woman,” another man, “you have a shapely body…”
“Yea, even shapelier bottom,” is another remark, followed by another round of laughter. “Can I give you a ride in my car?”
Some more laughter ensues. It is difficult to make out who is passing which remarks for there are many in the group. And they are really getting into her nerves.
It is a compliment people say and that women should be proud of the sort of recognition they are getting. Like most educated women, Dema finds the whole act uncivilized, insulting and irritating. However, for the past several years, she has learnt to tolerate such remarks. Sometimes she manages with an angry look in their direction to walk away. Response would only rejuvenate men’s energy.
She is happy that she has not come across men who go to extremes. She had heard her friends tell her of incidents of having encountered youths in the streets passing filthy and offensive remarks at women. Some youths are said to be both verbally and physically abusive.
Bhutanese women in urban areas complain of nuisance and irritation having to experience eve teasers every day walking from home and office. But until now no woman is said to have lodged a written complaint although authorities claim eve teasing is a punishable crime.
Wikipedia.org defines eve teasing as “a euphemism used in India and sometimes in Pakistan and Bangladesh for public harassment, street harassment or molestation of women by men, with Eve being a reference to the biblical Eve.” It is a “common incident, be it in buses, shopping arcades, cinema halls, shopping malls, pubs, restaurants, auto/bus-terminals, railway booking counters and every other conceivable place; but the one place where it happens with alarming frequency is on the road. Girls are never spared in the streets (Prakruthi N. Banwasi, Eve Teasing Evils). In India, the government deploys female police officers wearing plain clothes while Bangladesh declared starting 2010, June 13 as the Eve Teasing Protection Day.
How has the trend changed?
How has eve teasing changed over the years in Bhutan? Some of my male friends contend eve teasing is nothing serious and that it is aimed purely for fun. My female friends disagree and say that men have no right to have fun at the expense of women’s embarrassment and insult. They say it only shows how men consider women nothing more than sex symbols.
“I think some women like being teased, it means they are being noticed… if they don’t catch the eye of the passerby, they won’t be teased,” my friend Kuenza chooses to differ. “When you are teased, it means you are dressed provocatively. Of course you notice women who provoke feelings in men.”
How has our dressing evolved over the years? Chimi, a good friend of mine says, “We are going backward in time. Initially humans tried to cover their body parts with tree leaves and barks. Gradually human beings started to clothe more and more. But now, you see, the trend is opposite – we want to cover our bodies less and less.”
Men claim that women provoke them by the ‘exposing’ dresses they have started wearing over the years.
“This is so not true,” declares Aurora, a woman who has experienced her share of eve teasing. “See the dresses have changed because times have changed and likewise people’s attitude. So, when a woman wears a short dress, she doesn’t come with a tag, which says ‘you can tease me’.
“I wear baggy jeans, round neck tees and a slip on and I walk around some places, men tease me. What do you say to that? They are just looking for reasons,” Aurora thinks men do that only because women are complacent.
She believes if women raise their voice, then perhaps men will stop to tease them. “Because every woman, who walks the streets, is not a prostitute … even prostitutes deserve their due respect for being a human being.”
No doubt times have changed. If our ancestors come back we would give them their afterlife shocks to see what has become of our dresses. And then the today’s popular culture promotes cover-less-and-expose-more kind of lifestyle. The more you expose, the more you let others peek at your exposed body and by that much you gain attention in the crowd. Having to watch a host of beautiful models half-naked on televisions with our old and conservative parents is nothing far from embarrassment. Imitation flows freely in our genes and that’s why what we see on televisions today will be the state of things the next day. That applies to our dress codes. All of us claim gho and kira are instrumental in shaping our unique identity, but again western outfits dominate our cupboards. But we have a claim to make – claim that we live in a modern era.
Today in towns and cities, even monks are not spared from the allegations that they form a part of growing number of eve teasers. Some monks are disturbed. They say it is only a few who stoop down to that level. A cousin of mine, who is also a monk in Nepal, has this to say, “Buddha has taught us that we should avoid immoral activities. In eve teasing (whatever that means) I find immorality. Buddhism in the first place is to discipline us from immorality.”
Concisely, Lord Buddha advised us never to carry out even the slightest bit of immoral act, but cultivate good virtues in abundance and tame our minds to control ourselves completely. This is the essence of Gautama’s teaching.
“And if anyone goes against this slogan, they are deceiving themselves. No, I won’t say disrespecting or quitting Dharma, but it only means we are cheating ourselves … like Tibetans say it is buying our own suffering,” wraps my cousin.
A wind of change
But all that will change now. We have laws. We now have women coming out to play archery and khuru and there are already a few women taxi drivers. All these suggest an end to the unwanted, ‘immoral’ behaviors by men, hopefully. And added to that is the fact that now there is a growing national sense of gender equality and women groups are taking women issues forward.
Another prickly pear is removed with RBP’s effort in dissolving gang culture. Most people think youth form the major chunk of eve teasers in towns and cities. However, late night parties and growing number of drayangs/night clubs are the cause of social concerns.
Time has changed and such old practices should go away and provide room for more civilized practices. There are other ways of complimenting a woman’s beauty and praising her. This is how a gentleman would treat a woman. The concept of gentleman (if there was one) is fast fading. This is a corruption of moral values that results from the lack of respect by men towards womenfolk and in essence a corruption of respect for our mother figures.
We are funny at times. We find pleasure in eve teasing women in the streets, but if someone does that to our mother or sister or aunt or nieces or grandmother, our anger would be enough to raze an entire mountain. We would even go to the extent of thrashing the perpetrators because it is an insult to us. But hardly do we know that the same stranger is a mother or sister or niece or grandmother to someone else out there.
Today we live in a modern society where information flows freely. Media create public awareness of international norms and practices. Our people are increasingly becoming aware of unwanted social practices and raise their voices. And in fact some Bhutanese women are of the opinion that an act of eve teasing is the first step towards larger crime – rape.
I consider it a crowd mentality of some sort. It happens in a group setting. A man walking alone through the streets will never have enough guts to eve tease a group of beautiful women walking in the opposite direction.
Today, we live in a democratic country and have a written constitution that enshrines our rights to freedom and privacy. And we can exercise that right as long as we do not invade and trespass into others right and freedom. Our penal code identifies eve teasing as a punishable offense. All these are good signs.
Now as our remote villages are connected with the rest of the world through cellular network, social exchange is expected to take a new form.