In a laid-back southern state of India, a senior IPS officer and Excise Commissioner of Kerala Rishi Raj Singh recently became the butt of many jokes when he asked a gathering of girl students, “Are you aware of the legal protection women have in our country. If a man stares at a woman uncomfortably (meaning indecently or say in sexually suggestive manner) even for 14 seconds, he could be sent to jail. (This is a rough translation of what he spoke in the native language Malayalam.)
Mr. Singh was addressing a crowd at a women’s college in a state where staring at women and even teasing comments were traditionally considered compliments. Being noticed by young and desirable men meant you were attractive, maybe irresistible. No, I do not subscribe to this notion, nor would young girls of this generation.
But our poor cop became a butt of many online jokes following the statement. While men complained, many mockingly, that women would misuse the law and land them in jail if they had some old score to settle. Women too complained, some saying 14 second was too long a time to allow some lecher to check them out, compelling Mr. Singh to respond with a hilarious, “It is not the period of staring but the manner and intention that mattered”.
A trail of mocking trolls later Mr Singh even gave a full comment to a national daily: “The stare need not really linger for a full 14 seconds to make it an offence. It is an offence if it makes a woman uncomfortable even for a few seconds. Womenfolk should come forward to register complaints against such offenders,’’ he told The Hindu.
It all started of well-meaningly with the cop trying to educate girls about the legal protection guaranteed in Section 354 A, B, C and D of Indian Penal Code in the face of eve teasing or molestation in public spaces. Perverts are aplenty in the state, as in many other states in India; the menace of flashers around women’s colleges and ladies’ hostels is no secret.
Mr Singh was only saying that though there was now a strong law to protect women against voyeurism and stalking, no case has so far been booked for such offences. The reason, he said, was women largely being unaware that staring at a woman becomes an offence under IPC Section 354 D when the stare has an obvious sexual implication.
But with everything else in life, this legal protection for women could drive some harmless admirers or absent-minded habitual ‘starers’, not oglers, into tight spots.
Men, moderate your appreciation; women, make sure you are not branding innocent men, sentencing them to lifetime disgrace.