Ninety-three schoolgirls traveling on a train in the Eastern Indian state of Bihar were allegedly sexually harassed for more than four hours on Sunday, The Hindustan Times reported.
“It was a nightmare. I never want to travel in trains again,” a ninth-grader told the newspaper.
How can a group of nearly 100 girls on a public train be harassed for hours without being noticed? Here lies one of the biggest facilitators of sexual harassment – the passive witness.
The girls said that not a single passenger or train staff member came to their aid. It was only when they reached their final destination in Dhanbad, did they have a chance to voice their trauma and report the sexual harassment.
Accompanied by three teachers, the girls were returning to their hometown of Dhanbad from a two-day environmental camp in Patna.
According to their account, a large group of men had occupied their reserved seats when they were leaving Patna late on Saturday. After being advised by railway police that the men would vacate the seats once the train left the station, the school group remained on board.
To their horror, the men did not go anywhere but proceeded to sexually molest the girls for several hours. The teachers were assaulted and slapped when they tried to intervene.
For the past year, news of sexual violence in India has been a troubling subject. This incident is one of many reports making it to the surface after the highly publicized gang rape back in December that left the victim in indescribable shape. She eventually died and the country was sent into a state of shock.
The public outrage that followed was unprecedented and so was the government’s reaction. Under intense internal and international pressure, the justice system responded immediately with a ‘speedy’ trial that still awaits a verdict, as well as an improved anti-rape bill (March).
Despite all the changes and the media attention, India still has a long way to go before effectively solving the problem of sexual violence. Along with the justice system, the mindset of the people needs to change.
It is not just the lower-income communities that are plagued by incidences of sexual harassment. Just last week, a highly respected editor of an Indian news magazine – Tarun Tejpal- had sexually assaulted his employee, who also happened to be a close friend of his daughter.
What is even more worrisome about the incident in Patna is that the teachers (and presumably the parents) opted to wait a day to file a police report. In a country where sexual harassment cases are notoriously overlooked and perpetrators are rarely taken to task, their hesitation was a bad move. Those men would be long gone by the time the report is filed.
“The students are very tired and traumatized, and need rest. So, we have decided to lodge a police complaint tomorrow,” said Sonali Singh, a teacher at Carmel School, Dhanbad.
Some might argue that it was irresponsible of the teachers to stay on the train once they discovered a group of men in their designated train compartment. However, this is the kind of mindset that lets perpetrators off the hook. It’s the victims fault. What were those girls doing there to begin with?
In this case, if blame is to be shared with the actual molesters, it should be with the passengers and train staff that stood by idly and let 93 school girls get sexually harassed right under their noses.