Sexual harassment: When cops turn criminals

Last Updated: Mon, Jun 16, 2014 10:08 hrs

Over the last couple of days, a horrifying account of sexual harassment has gone viral in social media. The piece is a first-person narrative by a victim and survivor, Ajay Gabriel Sathyan.

Ajay writes of an incident that occurred on June 6, and his account was posted a week later. He was sexually, physically, psychologically and mentally harassed by the police. In the week between the incident and the story being posted online, he had attempted to kill himself ? not for the first time in his life.

One should read his account of what exactly happened, but this is the gist? he was returning from a job interview which went on for longer than expected. He had a long journey home, and was twenty minutes away from his house, when he was accosted by a group of policewomen and policemen. They called him ?ombothu? and ?pottai?, offensive terms in Tamil for transgender people and effeminate men respectively. He was targeted for the clothes he was wearing, and was manhandled as well as sexually harassed by the cops.

The molestation is shocking in its own right. But to think that it was perpetrated by a group of people who are supposed to protect the public makes it even worse.

There are several other issues tied up in this.

First, there is the idea of sexual harassment as gendered crime.

Second, there is the fact that Ajay was singled out for wearing leggings, which he says one of the policewomen referred to as ?the things women wear?.

Third, the crime was committed by cops, which makes it impossible for the victim to complain, especially after he and his family have been threatened with retribution.

Fourth, the cops involved threatened to use the re-criminalisation of Section 377 in order to exploit him.

Scariest of all, the police said they had the support of the regional and national ruling parties, and so any action on the victim?s part would not only be futile, but would have unpleasant ramifications.

Most of the discourse around sexual harassment has been focused on women. We need to understand that women can be perpetrators and men can be victims, as was the case in this instance. It does not, and should not, make the crime any less brutal.

The issue of what someone was wearing when that person was sexually harassed is the most imbecile question of all. Yet, there are many people who make this their focus. When I shared the link to Ajay?s story on Facebook, one of my acquaintances shared the link from my page.

I was enraged by some of the responses to her sharing the link. Someone said, ?I feel sad for this guy. However, knowing Indian culture and Chennai conservatism and sometimes real nuisance of hijras, he should have used his common sense. He could have gone out in normal attire. If he behaves as if he is in a western country, then police behaves as if they are in some oppressive state. India is not yet ready to accept this change and lifestyle. Prudence dictates that he is aware of this and act accordingly to do what he likes. My 5 c worth? [sic].

A response to that comment is even more troublesome than the comment: ?To look, to tease is fine...even normal people go through this here. To harass is something. If he was just beaten up by rowdy elements that s understandable. But people who hit him were the ones who should be protecting him. That is really really sad. This again compares to asking a rape victim what she was wearing to provoke such an attack on her.? [sic]

How does one define ?normal? and ?abnormal?? Even more ridiculously, how is it ?fine? for someone to ?look? or ?tease?? How is it ?understandable? that ?rowdy elements? should beat him up?

The nincompoop who said the victim should have worn ?normal attire? instead of leggings came up with this gem: ?A slightly abnormal person (as per current standards), is expecting normal me that is a bit abnormal....Police [high-handedness]...happens fact more to poor one writes that..he is a group behind him..then becomes a big topic...? [sic]

He then went on with this excuse for a disclaimer: ?Don't get me wrong..I have few friends who are gay and have recruited people who are gay under me...?

And these are the so-called ?sympathisers?.

This conversation illustrates just what is wrong with our society, with our perception of sexuality and choice.

The problem is that we define and accept norms which should neither be defined nor accepted. One?s choice of attire does not signal that one is ?asking? for anything. The fact that the police are corrupt or cruel to various groups of people does not make their crime against one group any less unpardonable. And the fact that a victim of molestation ? let?s please not call it ?teasing? ? has support does not mean that he is all right.

More importantly, we need to ensure that a violation of human rights and constitutional rights does not become an ?LGBT issue? simply because the victim happens to be gay, or a ?women?s rights issue? because the victim happens to be a woman.

And this is why it is so important for all of us to rise against the re-criminalisation of Section 377. It does not matter what your gender is, or what your sexual orientation is. If you understand the meaning of a democracy, if you understand that every citizen of a democratic country is entitled to equal rights, you cannot in good faith be in favour of a section of the population being punished for consensual sex.

The most moronic of all arguments is that homosexuality or transitioning gender goes ?against Indian culture?. The Indian Penal Code was imposed by our colonial rulers. Our epics contain instances of people transitioning gender, and even having intercourse in their new bodies. The Manusmriti contains references to homosexuality.

By subscribing to the idea that one must ?conform? to the norms set by fools, we are enabling those fools to perpetrate crimes. Worse, we are enabling them to perpetuate certain criteria for acceptability.

This cannot be a battle for the LGBT community alone. It must be a battle for all of us who believe in the law, who believe in a human being?s right to life and liberty.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on