When the Haryana sisters were harassed by men on a crowded bus, they fought back.
When men began harassing two women on a crowded bus in Northern India, the sisters, named Arati and Pooja Haryana, began fighting back. One of the women wielded a belt and another threw punches at the men, who began pushing them away. Nearby, a camera phone captured the whole ordeal and soon the video was being broadcast on Indian television stations. They called them the “Fightback Sisters”.
“One of the boys started touching my sister and making kissing gestures,” Arati Haryana told reporters. “I told him to go away or I would teach him a lesson. Then he called another boy saying that we have to beat up two girls. And then the other boy got on the bus.”
The women were the victims of “eve-teasing”, a phrase commonly used in India to describe street harassment of women. Women all around the world report experiencing street harassment on a daily basis – it’s a problem that makes public spaces unwelcome for them. In a 2009 poll by the Centre for Equity and Inclusion that surveyed more than 600 Indian women, 96% of respondents reported feeling unsafe in public spaces. A large majority of respondents, about 82%, also said that public buses were the most dangerous places for women.
What makes the Haryana sisters’ video so compelling is that it bears witness to a brave retaliation. Because street harassment is so commonplace, it often goes unchallenged by onlookers. But the Haryana sisters didn’t wait for anyone to defend them. They defended themselves.
“There is something about how quickly people are thrilled by the idea of on-the-spot justice," said women's rights campaigner Kavita Krishnan to the BBC. "I think these girls showed great courage. Most of us have experiences of having reacted on the spot. I think it's all too common - and it is not just India."
The Haryana sisters’ act of courage has even caught the attention of local politicians. Om Prakash Dhankar, a cabinet minister of the local ruling party, released a statement commending the women.
"Every girl should show bravery done by the two girls. I respect their bravery. Both the girls will be awarded rupees 31,000 (nearly $498) each. The government will probe into the case," said Dhankar.