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For Indian Women, Teasing Is No Laughing Matter

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Morning Edition commentator Sandip Roy is back home in India after spending years in the U.S. He finds some Indians are standing up to a very old problem they call "eve-teasing".

I lost touch with that peculiar Indian euphemism "eve teasing" in the years I was away from India.

It sounds coy, like a Bollywood hero romancing the pretty girl as she walks down the street, and it can mean that. But it can also mean what happened to a teenager a few weeks ago in the northeastern city of Guwahati.

She came out of a pub and got into an argument with some men. Soon a mob was molesting her in full view of a television crew. Now the TV reporter is accused of instigating the mob for a juicy story.

Last year a Calcutta call center employee took the train to her suburb, Barasat. A group of drunken men started making lewd comments. Her 16-year-old brother, bringing her home on his bicycle, pedaled as fast as he could. But the men allegedly caught them, poured alcohol over her and stabbed him to death.

This year in the city of Gurgaon, home to glitzy multinationals, a young woman was abducted after her night shift at a pub and raped. Seven young men are accused of the crime.

This is not just a story about rape. It's about gang rape. It's about ordinary men who turn into monsters as a group, and a woman who is damned because she works late. She dresses wrong. She has a drink. But most of all, she walks alone.

For all these women, the harassment does not end with the "eve teasing." The state's home secretary said the call center employee from Barasat was divorced. The head of a TV channel tweeted that many girls who go to pubs are prostitutes. In Gurgaon city officials said women just shouldn't work after 8 o'clock.

When I was a child growing up in India, few of my friends' mothers worked. Now I know few young women who don't work. The tension over working women, traveling by themselves on crowded buses, flares up over and over again, as if they are daring men by encroaching on the open street.

There have been protests all over India and as far away as London. The government has set up anti-Roadside Romeo squads and anti-eve teasing programs in its police stations. More working women are applying for gun licenses in Delhi, afraid that carrying red chili powder won't be enough.

But the real protest is a quieter one. I don't know a single woman who has stopped going to work. My mother's cook, a young woman, lives in the same town of Barasat where the hoodlums accosted that call center worker. She, too, takes the local train back and forth. This year my sister, a college professor, just got her new posting — in Barasat.

They cross paths every day on their trains — one coming to the city, one leaving it — women on the move, going to work, resolutely claiming their space in what used to be a man's world, eve teasing be damned.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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