Zero Tolerance Campaign (ZTC) against Sexual Harassment was born in the aftermath of the gruesome murders of Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes in Amboli, Andheri(W), Mumbai in October 2011. These 2 youngsters were killed merely because they stood up to molesters of their female friends on that fateful night.
As public spirited civic activists, we were appalled to find out that the two sections 354 and 509 of the IPC were mere toothless legislations. Section 354 envisaged a situation when an offender commits the offense of assault or forces upon himself on a woman with intent to outrage the modesty of women, the offender could be punished with fine up to Rs. 2,000/- or with simple imprisonment up to two years. The Offense was both cognizable—Bailable—Triable by any Magistrate and is Non-compoundable
Under Section 509 of the IPC, obscene gestures, indecent body language and acidic comments directed at any woman or girl carries a penalty of simple imprisonment for one year or a fine up to Rs. 1200/- or both. The Offense was both cognizable—Bailable—Triable by any Magistrate and was compoundable at the instance of the victim whom it was intended to insult.
As a result, even if a woman brought a perpetrator to the police station, he could go scot free by merely paying an amount up to 2000 INR.
We did further research and found that ‘Dakshata Samitis’ meant as a participatory body had degenerated into a toothless showpiece and parking lot for women relatives of those in public office, thus defeating its purpose of being a liaison between women victims and the local police as well as an accountability mechanism in case there is dereliction of duty at the local police station.
After having validated our research, we launched the ZTC Movement which saw over 1,00,000 signatures in its support and all elected representatives of Mumbai were urged to press the state government to meet our demands
Few of our demands were:
- Fast track court for the case and the state must appeal for exemplary punishment to set a deterrent;
- To strengthen sections 354 and 509 of the IPC by making them both cognizable and non-bailable offenses;
- To make Section 509 as a non-compoundable offense;
- To issue guidelines and directions to the Police Machinery of the State interalia stating the manner in which the complaints can be recorded and the manner in which the complaints and offenses of such nature can be stringently handled with due sensitivity and in the manner appropriately laid down by the law, such that a strong message goes to society in general and lumpen elements in particular so as to set strong precedent and can be set and incidents like these can be prevented in the future;
- Effective Dakshata Samitis be set up at all police stations.
- An appeal to everyone including the media to call cases of molestation as sexual harassment and not the euphemistic eve-teasing
The then Home Minister- RR Patil invited us for a discussion and assured us that the Govt had accepted all our demands. The Govt issued a press note accepting our proposal to make the law more stringent in Maharashtra through an amendment.
The case of Keenan and Ruben resulted in a conviction for the perpetrators with an imprisonment for life.
Our inspiration has been Valerian Santos- Keenan’s valiant father who led the movement from the front.
We then worked closely with the Mumbai Police and arrested over 3000 molesters in the act with the help of plain clothes policemen in the Western Region across 21 Police Stations in Mumbai, which was supported and taken up by Shri Vishwas Nagre Patil. Also, Mr. Alyque Padamsee partnered with the campaign and also participated in the orientation of Police Officials across these 21 Police Stations, which was done by ZTC.
We are happy to also note, that most media publications till date in Mumbai report cases of molestation for what they are- sexual harassment and not eve-teasing.
Presently, we are working on preventing sexual harassment through mass conscientising anti-patriarchy and awareness programmes among the youth and for setting up of the legal framework to implement ‘Dakshata Samitis’ which are functionally empowered and participative in the real sense, across the country starting with Maharashtra.