Handle with care
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It is encouraging that incursions on a women's sexual autonomy and privacy are now being treated with the seriousness they deserve, and that strict penalties will be attached to them. The Justice Verma committee is finalising its suggestions, the sexual assault bill is set to become more expansive, and the home ministry is reportedly contemplating amending the criminal law bill to include stalking and street sexual harassment — issues it dropped from an earlier draft because they were deemed to be difficult to prove in court. So far, they have been bailable offences, lightly punished under sections 354 and 509, framed in terms of "insult to the modesty" of a woman.
India is not alone in this laidback approach. Many jurisdictions are only now squaring with themselves about the extent of the problem, the fear that such predation causes and how it stops women from leading fuller lives. Stalking and intimidation are often brushed away as minor problems, making women feel unsure about reporting them. The police are also unlikely to see the crime for what it is, and tend to trivialise the problem as one of unreciprocated romantic feeling. "Eve teasing" or street sexual harassment, is an experience that women undergo routinely, but they are encouraged to let it be. This indulgent attitude towards harassers creates a situation where they are let off with a small penalty, entrenching the idea that such behaviour has no consequences.
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