In the last two months, sexual harassment has been a mandatory topic of discussion, thanks to one particularly enraging short film. But, a new viral video out of India exposes a far less typical scenario. Last Friday, two teenaged girls were caught on camera, fighting back against men harassing them on a bus in the Rohtak district. The sisters, Aarti and Pooja, were sitting together when three men began first verbally harassing the girls, making lewd comments and throwing bits of paper with their phone numbers at them. Pooja told BBC Hindi that when she and her sister protested, "the men started to abuse me and touch me. I told them 'if you touch me again, you'll get beaten up.'"
The situation escalated from there, as the men became angry and aggressive. One called a friend on his cell phone, saying, "come over because we have to beat up some girls." Then, another reached out and began groping and shoving Aarti. That's when Pooja took out her belt and began beating the men back. Eventually, the men pushed the girls out of the bus and chased them. Aarti and Pooja threw a brick at them, and they eventually retreated. Two days later, thanks to the video, the men were located and arrested.
"Eve-teasing" is a common form of public harassment and molestation in India and other South Asian cultures. Many have argued that the term itself plays a role in perpetuating the issue. Derived from the story of Adam and Eve, "Eve-teasing" is meant to imply that the female target is the temptress, putting no responsibility on the male perpetrator. It's a sloppy way of saying "she was asking for it."
"Women in India are taught early on in life to develop a thick skin while walking on the streets or using public transport," says BBC analyst Geeta Pandey. "But, since the 2012 gang rape and murder on a Delhi bus, gender issues have been more in focus and there is a stronger feeling among women today that they won't remain quiet when harassed."
Traditionally, girls have been taught to ignore the kind of catcalls and groping to which Aarti and Pooja were subjected. But, clearly, that silence and passivity has done nothing but create a culture of permissiveness around sexual harassment and assault.
"If only the other passengers had helped us, we would not have needed to retaliate in this way," said Pooja. "But, we were not surprised. No one here protests. People here only tell women 'don't do this, or don't do that.' No one tells men anything."