This may sound strange but if you are a woman ask yourself these questions: Do you worry that men in public places will masturbate looking at you, even if you subtly and/or obviously try to avoid it? And whether the desire to avoid being masturbated to is a constant thrum of thought? Did you say yes? God, me too.
But isn’t it strange that while we complain about the strokers, the pokers and the feeler-uppers (sometimes even the flashers), one act of public masturbation is enough for most of us to avoid talking or even thinking about it?
Here we are, in our cramped and nosy households trying to find a quiet spot to do (what my punster middle school friends used to call) khud-khushi and while these men very desperately air their desires.
Is it that much more pleasurable to do it in public? Like eating sandwiches at a picnic as opposed to at home? But we also know that public masturbators needlessly involve us in their picnic so it can’t be pleasure alone.
FYI, cases of public masturbation can be filed under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with “assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty”, Section 509 which deals with “gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman”, and/or Section 268, which handles cases of public nuisance.
But nowhere in the IPC or Indian law for that matter, ‘public masturbation’ is listed as a crime. Rashi Vidyasagar, a Mumbai-based criminologist said, that like all sexual crimes, targeting women to masturbate at is also about power, not sex.
Vidyasagar said the picking on strangers to masturbate at makes it easier for these men, unlike say a Harvey Weinstein who found it easier to do it at actors in business meetings.
“There might be an aspect of depersonalization on part of the man since he might not know the woman.” This gives public masturbators a peculiar pleasure. For example, voyeuristic masturbation might make them look at the woman less like a victim until they get caught.
Take the 19 October case of an Uber driver in Hyderabad who allegedly masturbated in the cab while the passenger, Uma Sharma travelled with him to the airport. He kept looking at her through the rearview mirror and masturbated while driving, while she went about talking on the phone or reading texts throughout the journey.
Sharma noticed him masturbating and confronted him. But he nonchalantly asked her “what was wrong?” as though nothing had happened. Sharma screamed, asked him to stop the vehicle and found another one to take her to the airport.
Or the other recent story by a woman about a man masturbating while staring at her niece on a train from Dehradun to Delhi on 1 October. She said, “The niece’s friend filmed the entire incident and informed the woman about what was happening. The man appeared unfazed in spite of knowing that he was being filmed for his crime.”
The woman and her niece must have been astonished before the horror set in when they first realized why exactly he was moving his hand up and down under his blanket, while watching the niece talk to her aunt.
What are men getting out of this? Vidyasagar believes that there is some amount of voyeurism working here. That for the men, not knowing these women and still getting a peek into their lives and imagining them sexually makes it is easier. Easier to not think of these women as victims, or themselves as criminals, until (surprise!) they get caught.