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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2963

Sexual Abuse on the Public Transport – Catching a Glimpse of Groper’s Paradise

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…..

It has been reported that our sensitive women are subjected to sexual harassment that borders on mild molestation, while travelling on the public transport, especially in the urban areas.

The suburbs of Colombo and Kandy have been identified as the places where the problem is endemic in Sri Lanka. This may not be pleasant reading for our men, who love to be seen as respectable folks holding the concept of equal rights for women close to their chest, when a tiny section of them indulges in naughty acts in broad daylight, while bringing the good name of the whole tribe into disrepute. The report makes mockery of the complacency that men in general take for granted in this regard.

The statistics published in support of the report are startling, if not frightening: 40% of working women have complained about harassment on the public transport, i.e. buses and trains; 2% of women, on the other hand, have admitted that they somewhat enjoyed having the attention of red-blooded males; then, there were people who thought women themselves were to blame for inviting the attention of these ‘hot’ men by their provocative dress sense; adding irony to bewilderment, some men have complained that an increasing number of women also turned tables on them - by pressing their handbags against the jealously-guarded private parts of males on purpose - while congratulating themselves in silence for the daredevil acts. Women who struggle to keep a straight face for no apparent reason in the middle of a crowded train or bus stand out accused of this act; women of this league hit back at men in general with no discrimination - avenging the misdemeanours of some.

Unfortunately, the report has not identified the age group of the culprits – at least clearly; the general belief is that the middle-aged men are at the forefront, followed by adventurous teenagers, mere risk-takers - for the sake of it - and the spontaneous opportunists - taking their place along the chain of hyperactivity.

The report, however, does not leave any room for manoeuvre for a determined feminist to hijack it for political purposes - to ostracize our men. Nor does it provide a behavioural psychologist with an opportunity to come up with a rational explanation for the enviable conduct of the guilty parties, while making the poverty factor stand out above all the others. The victimization of women on the public transport is very common in Japan as well – a very rich nation on the planet. So, poverty has nothing to do with it.

The tendency of middle-aged men - after producing their offspring in the ripe age - to embrace this passion is not easy to be accounted for.

We hardly see this phenomenon on the public transport in Europe or America. Europeans or folks of European origin are not engaged in this vile practice - for a fact. We may hear about stalkers from time to time or even paedophiles, but they are mostly after celebrities and just odd balls – in that order. We can only hope that Asia will not export this predatory practice in the material form to Europe or America to compensate for the loss of traditional exports due to the Credit Crunch.

In fact, it is fair to conclude that the sexual harassment on the public transport is predominantly an Asian Phenomenon; only the intensity of the harassment changes from a capitol to capitol.

For instance, according to the passive observers of this phenomenon on the public transport in Sri Lanka, the men exercise caution before embarking on the risky mission. Equipped only by a questionable instinct and an amazing aura to absorb embarrassment, these men choose their victim at their own leisure, to lean on them or rub against them, while banking on the over-crowding as an overwhelming excuse.

The reaction of the women varies depending on the background they come from and up-brining: those who hail from very decent families just put up with the nuisance with utmost disgust; women who come from pluckier families stare at the attackers to freeze him in the act; those who come from really rough background hit back by shouting at the culprit with a high-pitched note, forcing him to make a hasty retreat in public. A few daring women love to take the shoes into their own hands, but the lack of space for the movement of arms and the fear of collateral damage – hitting the innocent men in the vicinity - stop them from hurling the shoes at the culprits.

The situation in New Delhi may be even worse. Taking the submissive nature of women for granted, Indian men extend the abusing skills openly as far as performing daring acts of groping in public. Over-crowding again offers the attackers with the prefect platform to act with impunity. The hot-blooded Indian males make little distinction between a local and a foreigner, while committing the acts of indecency; they are of the view that women, especially of European origin, are there for fun-for-free.

As poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and class-divide contribute some way for this ghastly phenomenon in the Sub Continent, its emergence in what we call, the developed world, has become an unexplained mystery.

In Japan the sexual abusers on the public transport are known as ‘chikans’. Every year, around 4000 men are arrested for committing the offence – a staggeringly embarrassing statistic for a developed democratic nation. But the problem is real and all the measures taken so far to keep it at bay have not yielded much success.

A few years back, a mass advertising campaign was launched in Japan, to make women aware of the measures they can take by themselves in the event of a pair of predatory hands at work on their anatomy - against their will. For instance, a woman victim can throw the offending hands in the air with the shout ‘chikan’ to attract the attention of plain-clothed police officers or decent fellow passengers.

Unfortunately, the strategy has been an opportunity for some ruthless women to indulge in money-grabbing manoeuvres: when the hand of a decent man is raised branding him as a ‘chikan’, for the simple reason of standing next to her, he tends to do the most pragmatic thing before being shamed in public next to a hysterical female soul – get off the train with the woman, only to be led to the nearest hole-in-the-wall, the cash machine, to reward the tormentor with plenty of Yen.

With obvious drawbacks taking on board, women-only train were introduced during the rush hour in major cities in Japan. Ambitions men are politely turned away from them while attempts are made do otherwise. Women who could not board these train for some reason, were branded as those who were willing to be mauled by testosterone-fuelled men, when they happen to be on mixed-sex trains - much to their dismay.

To make things from bad to worse, the serial gropers or ‘chikans’ have used new technology to organize themselves into groups in refining their acts and even innovating. The spread of ‘chikan clubs’ across Japan is an alarming case in point.

Against all odds, relatively docile Asian women tend to take the law into their own hands – and as a last resort, of course. They may take, for instance, safety pins and scissors to punish the attackers in the act. An ever increasing number of women take these steps to keep the perverts at bay on the public transport in the capitol cities that include Colombo, New Delhi and Tokyo. The number of school girls who use these devices to prick the attackers at the first available opportunity is something born out of necessity, rather than mischief. Of course, there may be young lasses who deliberately pick on a hapless male or lure one into a trap, to prick, only to boast about it next day among the friends at school. These are inevitable side-effects of a formidable defensive strategy against determined carnal predators.

The perverts who disturb and harass our women have one thing in common, regardless of the geography; they are immune to embarrassment. Even if they are slapped in the face, they may indulge in similar activities at a different axis of space and time, a fact that take us towards a genetical mishap during the creation of these weird creatures: the gene responsible for embarrassment may be missing in these individuals, while the gene responsible for taking humiliating risks taking its place.

It is well-worth exploring the circumstances behind the gene mutation. It certainly is not the high-pitched shout of ‘pervert’ that did the trick, when the culprit was in embryo. Let’s leave the challenge of cracking the puzzle to the ambitious genetics – for the sake of our women.

- Asian Tribune -

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