Saturday, March 11, 2006

Some More Blank Noise

A lot has been said in the blog world in the past couple of weeks on the matter of sexual harassment in the name of the Blank Noise Project. I have already written one post on the same. However, there are a few more points that I would like to make on the matter, and hence this second post. Many people may disagree with what I have to say here, and the comments section is for exactly such feelings.

The first point that I’d like to make is regarding what exactly constitutes ‘sexual harassment’. Surely, pinching someone’s breast without their consent, or grabbing their ass, or even brushing yourself against them are all forms of sexual harassment. So too would be acts like rape, child abuse, etc. There isn’t much scope for debate here. But what about something like vulgar and foul speech? What about staring? Are such acts also sexual offences? Are they punishable?

According to the Indian Penal Code, they are. Here is one of the relevant sections:

“509. Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman

Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”


I am not sure I agree with that. I am a libertarian. I believe in the right to free speech. I believe in an individual’s right to say what he or she so pleases. If the listener does not like it, they can choose to close their ears, ignore it, walk away or even retort back, depending on the situation and the persons involved. I believe in an individual’s right to make whatever gestures he or she wants. If the viewer does not like them, they can turn away, shut their eyes, ignore the gestures or even gesture back. How is my speaking or gesturing in public “intruding the privacy” of anyone?

“Sticks and stones,” as they say, “may break my bones; but words will never hurt me.”

What about staring? Is this an offence? Isn’t anything that is out in public view ‘open season’? Once again, my libertarian principles are ruffled when someone starts to cry murder over someone else staring at them. What harm exactly is someone staring at you doing?

Sure, neither of the above two acts are very nice or speak of the perpetrators in the best possible light, but I don’t see how they are punishable offences. They are merely forms of social etiquette that one expects everyone else to follow, but you cannot slap anyone on the wrist for the breaking these social rules.

My second bone of contention is that women often seek to be treated more than just equal with men. I think this statement needs a little clarification. When I am sitting in a bus, I believe that the manner in which I sit on my seat should not in any way be affected by whether the person sitting next to me is male or female. In other words, what is considered an appropriate ‘distance’ between me and another guy should also be appropriate between me and another girl. I do not wish to go rubbing myself against some guy sitting next to me and neither do I wish to do so against a girl, but I refuse to cow into my corner of the seat just because my co-passenger is some prudish, ‘feminist’ female who thinks all men are perverts! Similarly, if I’m walking down the street and a man is walking toward me, I will look at him. Often quite carefully. However, my looking at a girl in a similar fashion is immediately construed as being crass and vulgar. And to this I object.

I know that all of this may seem a bit unfair toward women, but it stands in the name of equality. Anyone crying for equal rights must be willing to take them with a pinch of salt.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

okay i agree that staring cant be punishable...you cant command what i see and tell me not to look at it...but when someone says something or whistles at a girl....that is not tolerable. Whistling or something like that should not be tolerted at all...saying well i guess that depends on what they say. That is a tough choice on what can be said and what cannot be said...but i dont think anything goes with that one. For example just saying "i will murder the prime minister/president" is a punishable offence whether you mean it or not. I think what you say, can, and within limits, should be chargeable because then when you make an allegation against someone, you have to prove it. Otherwise anyone will say anything about anyone. So if you accuse someone's mom of being "a budhwar peth whore" you should be able to prove it.

FateGlimpse said...

Almost everyday a woman deals with this sort of 'softer' sexual harassment.sure, you don't need to protect yourself and you haven't been touched. but a woman still feels violated. period.
Agreed we can express our freedom of expression just the way we want. and a little staring/checking the opposite sex out is normal, even healthy. but there's a very thin, fuzzy line between normal looking and looking at a person in an obscene way. men need to be aware of that. what seems obscene to a woman may not to a man and i don't know how men would ever understand this. maybe dialogue with peers, females on such issues could lead to better understanding. basically it all boils down to being sensitive to women, empathising with their feelings. It's not criminal to stare at someone, its not even practical to make it a criminal offence. But if men would just change the way they look at a woman, in a way that does not leave her feeling violated, then she's definitely going to feel a lot better. atleast that much is expected from the educated classes. otherwise all this brouhaha about equal rights is mere rhetoric. this battle for equal rights requires cooperation and understanding.

Arnold said...

fateglimpse - I'm not sure that I was clear enough in what I wanted to state... sure, staring and making obscene comments that hurt the female is moralistically wrong... i wudnt do them myself or advise someone else to do them... i am in total conviction of this... but i refuse to agree with the penal code stating them as "punishable" offences!

Kunal said...

>>"I am a libertarian."

Gasp! Is that a political conviction? On this blog?

Totally agree with you there though.

Arnold said...

kunal - don't lose your mushtache, buddy! sometimes i do stick my nose out and make a political conviction or two... :)

nina said...

ok...i have nothin against starin...look all u want...but dont touch...nothin give someone the right to touch another without invitation...n dont say the person's clothin invited me!!!

nina said...

PS-we dont want to b treated as more than equals...just equals...but that also not happening!!!

Anna said...

you know my opinion on this..
i agree with nina..

Arnold said...

nina - that's wht i'm saying too... i'm totally against touching! and clothing's got nuthing to do with it...

and i'm fighting for equality too..

anna - well, :)

nina said...

the sad part is there are too few ppl like u n me..n too many sickos out there!!!

Arnold said...

nina - all good causes start off with a few people.. it's up to these few to keep the fight going!

Neha said...

Interesting, but i don't agree with u on some things.
What you're doign is shifing the onus totally on the other person, saying hey if u don't like what i'm doing, close ur eyes and walk, stay behind closed doors.. cause i'm not gonna change.. i'll do what i want to. even freedom of speech and expression has certain restrictions imposed on it. noone can just say anything and everything.. and no right can ever be absolute u see.
I think you're interpreting the section in a wrong manner.. 8I'll give u an example.. someone takes pictures of a woman in a compromising manner. and then says, hey if u don't wanna see the pics, don't! just close ur eyes to it.. that wudnt work wud it?and that is not how it shud b.. for sure..

about ur second point.. well u see i think it's not abt being prudish.. but when u hv 9 out of 10 men pushing against u when ur sitting in a bus, u wud tend to think tht the tenth one wud do the same wudnt u?

Arnold said...

neha - two good points you make here... here's wht i have to say...

firstly, when i was talking about freedom of speech and gaze, i didnt include photography in it... this in bcoz, as amit varma once wrote in an excellent post (i'll try to see if i can find it in the archives), privacy rights when it comes to photography are slightly more complicated... it's hard to decide wht exactly is acceptable as per a "libertarian" standard...

secondly, even though the first 9 might try to push against her (and i think that figure is extraordinarily high), being the idealist that i am, i do not like the fact that she would judge the 10th when he hasnt done anything...