Lavanya Menon & Kiranmai Tutika find counselling eve-teasers is perhaps more difficult than catching them. Despite being caught on cam in full public view, most refuse to admit their crime. They are simply a nuisance...
“One has cleared the constable selection test and another is on his way to becoming an SI. Aren’t you doing background checks on recruits? How can there be eve-teasers among cops!” a member of the Vasavya Mahila Mandali asks a senior police officer, quizzically raising her eyebrows. Before he could reply, his phone rings distracting his attention. As he walks away attending to the call, his colleague takes the seat beside the counsellor. “It’s just a petty crime, ma’am. We don’t want to spoil their career. The counselling session should be able to reform them. That’s what we need,” he reasons, leaving her puzzled.
Late in the afternoon, a similar unease was in the air at the Silver Jubilee Hall of the VMM. The counselling team had come fully prepared and gradually, the police too arrived after sorting out the paper work — lists of several accused, most of them eve-teasers. The last to step in were these offenders”, some aged below 20, a few above 40 and the rest between 20 and 30. The youngest a startling 15. Shame-faced, they filled their contact details in a yellow book placed on a table beside the door leading to the hall where they would shortly be hauled in.
“How many have you caught?” “Ten, I think” “Really!” That’s a good number”. The casual banter among the cops, the normal conversation at every counselling session, had an unintended effect. As if on cue, the eve-teasers too broke the ice among themselves, perhaps to settle their frayed nerves.
“What have you done to come here?” “Nothing! Caught for no reason....”
Down the middle of the hall was a narrow aisle separating the cops and the eve-teasers facing the dais, where the VMM members, who don the role of counsellors, would be seated. At quarter past four, four elderly women walked into the room and the silence crept back in. The first to speak was Chennupati Vidya, the 82-year-old ex-Parliamentarian and founder of VMM. The others were Suhasini, a retired Project Director for Women’s Welfare, Dr Satyavati, a former headmistress who holds a doctorate in Telugu language and M Premalatha, also a former headmistress. The mike was then passed on to the accused who had to introduce themselves and give an account of their crime.
Of the 21 who turned up for counselling, 17 had been caught for eve-teasing, and four for breaking traffic rules. But oral submissions alone wouldn’t do. They had to fill up forms, explaining the how, why and what led them to this hour. The counselling had just begun. Did it have an impact? The one-to-one session that followed offered a few clues.
Vasanta Kumar, the 46-year-old who was caught only the day before, admitted to having “looked at a woman inappropriately” and claimed it was the first time he had done something wrong. “I guide people at the mechanic shop where I work. I have no idea why I behaved the way I did. It is so unlike e. I felt guilty that my wife had to go to the police station because of me. I have committed a sin. I promise never to do such a thing again,” he almost pleaded with an innocent face.
His penance was done. No sooner had he gotten up from his chair than his expression changed. Hands in pockets, Kumar slinked out of the hall. The interaction with the erring students was somewhat different. “I was waving to my friend when a girl suddenly appeared before me and the cops misunderstood that I was eve-teasing her. Me? I’d never do such a thing! It’s all just a very unfortunate misunderstanding...” an SSC student at a local school recounted. The counsellors, by now used to such poorly concocted stories, nodded more in exasperation than in agreement. Glancing through the forms filled by the offenders, they threw up their hands in despair.
“Everything from their phone numbers to their occupations is incorrect. We know. The only way to get the details right is for the cops to fill the forms when the offenders are taken to the station immediately after they are caught,” suggested Suhasini.
The counselling brings to light not just the task the counsellors face or the mindset of the eve-teasers. It
highlights the problems law enforcement officials face in curbing eve-teasing. The eve-teasers are booked under IPC Section 290 (public nuisance). Those slapped with the section may be fined up to `400 and remanded in judicial custody for three days. Twenty of the 21 eve-teasers at the session claimed innocence. If catching them in the act is one thing, keeping track, preparing the paper work and coordinating with the counsellors is another thing. But far more important is the moral dilemma. Is it really a crime or just a nuisance? And, what should be the punishment?
Just a few kms from the VMM is the Counselling Psychologists’ Association. A few of its members have recently conducted a counselling session for prisoners at the Labbipet jail. Association member D Koteswararao, who has years of experience in counselling prisoners, believes a one-day session would ever work.
“We can’t change the psychology of a criminal with a few moral science classes. Every criminal has to be given professional counselling sessions to bring in a cognitive change in him. It doesn’t happen in a day or a session.
Continuous study is required and we need to keep track of the person and his behaviour,” he points out. Most criminals need 15-20 sessions. Eve-teasers may require a minimum of 10. What happened at VMM won’t bear fruit,” he predicts emphatically underlining that eve-teasing is a crime. What about the parents? “Parents tend to take the issue as a matter of prestige and never bring their children for counselling even if they are accused of ragging or eve-teasing. I never got such a case!” Rao reveals.
Police Commissioner Gautam Sawang, the man behind the Mahila Rakshak teams and the counselling sessions, believes it is a step in the right direction. To his credit, his brainchild has had an impact. There is a growing awareness that eve-teasing is a problem. “This is just a small step, but a good start nonetheless.
With this, we hope to usher in change,” he says confidently, adding that there is nothing hard and fast about the structure of the teams or the counselling sessions. “We’ll make changes as we go along to what we feel works best and who knows? Maybe, we’ll be able to accommodate volunteers in the teams as the scope of the venture widens,” he explains.