20.3.07

Signalling a stop (to harassment)




It was March 8th but it wasn't just about the day. It was about what we have to fight for, through the year: our right to occupy public spaces without being being molested, abused, threatened, humiliated, harassed.

And occupy it, we did. In the most visible way possible, on one of the busiest streets in Delhi, at ITO, volunteers from Jagori and Blank Noise stood in a line right next to two traffic signals, forming 'Y R U LOOKING AT ME?' in English and 'KYA DEKH RAHE HO', in Hindi (using Devnagari script this time). Others simply wore the upwards pointing arrow.

This was one of our more complicated interventions. We'd done a similar exercise near Saket, a few months ago, but that was less strenous space, traffic-wise. Abigail had to go check out the space a few days before and figure out whether we could do this without turning into a traffic hazard. As it turned out, we could.

The idea is to make our statement (KYA DEKH RAHE HO?) by standing across the road when the signal turns red and to move away and stand on a traffic island or road divider, while the signal is green. We face the other way; that enables people on both sides of the traffic signal to see us whenever they have to be stationery.

There are (at least) two purposes served. One, we generate interest simply by being on the road, women in a line facing the traffic. Two, the statement was a sort of reverse challenge. Usually, we are made uncomfortable when people stare at us. Through this action, we dare them to look at us, and ask them to think about this act of looking.

At the same time, volunteers were passing out pamphlets describing the criminality of street sexual harassment, as well as testimonials and helpline booklets.

The traffic signal action ensures that enough interest is generated that people, eager to figure out what this is all about, actively ask for the pamphlets. Some take photos. Many will hang around and watch.

This intervention was especially interesting in terms of the response from the police.

The traffic police had no objections at all, once we told them what we were attempting. They actually helped guide us, so that we knew when the signal was about to change to green and could move away. Even the traffic volunteers were helpful and polite.

The other police, however, (dressed in khaki) were most uncooperative. First, about three of them strolled over and told us to clear off. This was when the signal was red, and we were standing there, blinking into the headlights.

One of our male volunteers spoke to them, explaining that we were not disrupting anything, merely moving as and when the signals permitted.

However, the khaki cops were convinced that we were a hazard; or worse, trouble-makers. One of them kept yelling - 'this is totally unnecessary' - waving his baton and telling us to move.

Some of us attempted to say that it was very necessary, but our voices barely registered.

Next, they threatened us that we would be removed forcibly, if we didn't move right ourselves. They said they were calling for women constables any minute.

Towards the end of the intervention, we saw a little fracas on the sidelines. One of our women volunteers was arguing loudly with a man, who was referring to himself as a citizen, talking about responsibility, and for some strange reason, rolling up his trouser leg. Our lady was arguing back, saying that people like him never intervened whenever women were being assaulted.

After the argument was over, we learnt that the man was a plainclothes cop, a certain DSP Yadav. He had been rolling up his trouser leg to show off his bullet scars, to prove that he has been in encounters with criminals, and therefore, a good guy. And that what we were doing was unnecessary, and irresponsible.

We dispersed, however, only when we thought we'd done enough. After some chatting at the bus stop, we discussed the next possible intervention, our feelings about this one. It was agreed upon that we really must do something about the police and their attitudes to women being out on the streets.

Photographs by Harneet Bhatia

16 comments:

  1. I so love reading your site -- you come up with the best interventions.

    Sadly, I'm not surprised that you had trouble with some police officers. Some go into the police to serve the community, and some go into the police because they want to feel like they have power over others.

    Laurie from the USA

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  2. Anonymous11:09 am

    Have you guys seen this,its like a heroin shot for women's rights.
    The supreme court ruled today that modesty is not only a woman's virtue but an attribute itself. so "outraging a woman's modesty" as a criminal law has become broader than anyone's imagination, constituting everything as a criminal offence from so much as touching to actually "outraging a woman's modesty".

    yay, girl power ownz :-)

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  3. shiva8:13 pm

    go to the villages dear. standing at ITO and putting that arrow isin't goin to help the women who need help. I really wonder what u people are after? i gave a comment before also somehwere in this blog but the mod deleted it as she cud not answer it. Going to PVR (delhi) , brigade road(bnglre) is the most foolish thing ot do when there are women raped some miles away from these big cities where u live. ur very intent is not in sync wth ur actions. i wonder what u r after...publicity??

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  4. First of all. Awesome blog and great work. Sexual harassment needs to be discussed openly in a society.
    To Shiva, you seem to think that all harassment short of rape does not merit concern. Sexual harassment spans the entire spectrum of lewd behavior, from wolf whistles to physical abuse. So, my point is that we need to address all forms of sexual harassment affecting women from all strata in society. Demonstrating in public is an effective way to raise awareness, so do not begrudge the ladies their well deserved publicity.
    -Vinod (Bangalore/New Haven)

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  5. Shiva
    Are you implying that women don’t get harassed/raped in big cities? Seriously, which world do you live in, man??

    The intention is to raise a voice about harassment and to let people know that its not acceptable to behave like this with women.

    As for going to villages - blank noise is making a start somewhere (unlike some people like you who are in denial mode) so I think their intent is in sync with actions.

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  6. erimentha10:58 am

    Great intervention, BNP! And I was wondering if you'd seen the minimally-talked-about new Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace that the WCD Ministry wants comments on by the 31st? It's at wcd.nic.in.

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  7. @ vinod

    There has to be some objectivism and rationale in the actions and the intentions. Ok...Having read all the blogs here and the stalkers 1 to 6 info, it really does not stand up to give any credible stance for these ladies.And i did not say that anything short of rape does not raise concern. What i said was that the choice of places, the issues the ladies have chosen are just not good enuf.I believe that Rape is the worst of all crimes and when women in the rural india are being gang raped, the dolls here are raising an issue when a man looks towards them for a few seconds more. On a serious note, i would like to know when the ladies are asking for equal rights in everything, who are they to take away the right of a man as to where he wishes to look? equality must be equal in distribution.
    @ n aka zephyr
    women get raped in cities. But for 1 in every 100 who get raped in villages/small cities.
    ...unlike some people like you who are in denial mode....
    I am a lawyer but nowadays work for an NGO and also a part time journalist.wonder how quick people jump to conclusions against the other sex.
    @ erimentha
    yeah..i have heard about the draconian law. any living male can be put behind bars with this law. What has the world come to? And i see people here ,who choose to support it rather than oppose it? Wonder these same people rant about Equality?????

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  8. This was an amazing act! I am not in your country so I don't think that I can completely understand the situation there. However, I completely disagree with what shiva has said here. Who is he to decide what issue is "good enough" for you to take up? Unfortunately, there are some people who think that their few good deeds makes them the supreme judge of what others should do with their time and efforts. If he feels that the women in villages are being disproportionately victimized (and I have no doubt that this may be the case) and he TRULY saw something wrong with that, then instead of telling you that your work isn't good enough, he could work to mirror your work in those rural areas where it is so needed. The Blank Noise Project is finite; It can not be all things to everyone. However, it can make a difference in the places where it does exist.

    And where does he get this idea that a man has a right to look wherever he wishes to look? What if we all wanted to look inside of his bank account or inside of his computer? Would he say that we all have the right to look wherever we wish or would he claim that he is entitled to the privacy he needs in order to maintain his own safety and well-being?

    Regarding the Prevention of Sexual Harrassment act, Shiva's claims are simply ridiculous. The law reads

    No woman employee at a work place shall be subjected to sexual harassment including unwelcome sexually determined behavior, physical contact, advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography, sexual demand, request for sexual favours or any other unwelcome conduct of sexual nature whether verbal, textual, physical, graphic or electronic or by any other actions, which may include, -

    (i) implied or overt promise of preferential treatment in employment; or

    (ii) implied or overt threat of detrimental treatment in employment; or

    (iii) implied or overt threat about the present or future employment status;

    (iv) conduct which interferes with work or creates an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment; or

    (iv) humiliating conduct constituting health and safety problems.


    Now, how does this mean that any male can be put behind bars? Is it because the law would dole out penalties for those who participate in vile behavior that creates an unsafe work environment? Well here's an idea: How about simply not engaging in it? No one is forcing men to sexually harrass women. Those that do it have chosen to fall afoul of what is appropriate for work places.

    And what is so draconian about it? Would the law just allow women the carte blanche ability to lock men up in prison based on an unsubstantiated claim? No, the woman's claims of sexual harrassment must be proven first and even if they are proven, there is no guarantee that the male will face jail sentences. Of course, for someone who claims to be so concerned about women, I wonder if he thinks there should be any penalties for those who harrass women? Should men just be allowed to do anything they want to their co-workers? Is this also some right that he thinks they have?

    This law is directly tied to Equality. Women must be protected from those who sexually harrass them, so that they can have equal status at the workplace. Making penalties against those who engage in sexual harrassment is absolutely necessary if we are to create a state of equality for all.

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  9. I completely agree with Bint Alshamsa that Shiva should mirror in villages what Blank Noise is doing in cities than try to indicate that what he feels and does is more important than what Blank Noise is doing.

    But there seems to be some confusion about the law which Shiva is speaking about and what Bint is talking about. They're talking about different laws.

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  10. @ Bint Alshamsa
    don mind dear. but ur logic is skewed.U r fully in ur rights to look in my bank account or my computer if i put that up in public places. The ladies here are ranting about some males who look at them continously when they move in public places.Look, passing lewd comments or physically teasing needs attention and the doer must be punished for that. Becoz its a two way affair between the doer and the taker. But in looking , its completelya 1 way affair. The light rays coming from someone will always fall on anyones eyes. NO one in his or her senses would demand a rule as to where one should look.period.

    Regarding the law. When u jundge a law u look over the ambit of its reach.u have to look for its 2 extreme end points. And in this law even sending an SMS would lead to sexual harassment.Just imagine, SMS are generally sent to ur frens only. Look the line "creates an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment". Who decides what is a hostile work environment? What if a work place is full of real talented but extremely competitive men? then also the lady can put that as sexual envrmt and lock all these men.
    "sexually coloured remarks"...huh To tell you a truth, at our place we often have a mild fight as to who is greater ,men or women? and we keep on telling each other we are better, sort of fun. Now according to ths law ,anything that a man says will come as sexual harassment ...or not??

    "Should men just be allowed to do anything they want to their co-workers? Is this also some right that he thinks they have?"

    What do u think the work places are?Do u think that men there are wielding swords ,torture and have sex with any women they like whenevr they wish ? By ur comment it seems u have this idea only of a work place. And talking about equality..huh..This law has given all the freedom to a lady to fabricate any type of event as a sexual harassment. The lady is at her freedom to use it according to her whims. And u talk about equality?
    @ Blinkdreamz
    Mam, i left a career to help people in the rural India. Mind you its 'people' not specifically 'women'. Both men and women are helped by us.And i am telling you that i will never do that in villages what Blank noise is doing in cities.It takes a lot of thinking and courage to take a U turn in ur life , leave a career, and do what u feel like for the society. My ideals,principles are in deep contrast to the intentions of the blank noise.I cannot see myself giving the sacrifice of a well paid job for doing something which has skewed logic and evil intentions. I will always stand for equality but will NEVER stand to give the weaker one a multi- barrel machine gun to make him equal.

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  11. Shiva,

    I have no idea what kind of work you do, but you seem to think rather highly of yourself and your "sacrifice" as you tell us over and over again the amount of money you sacrificed to help the rural poor people of India.

    BNP is not only about confronting sexual harassment but about reclaiming space--not feeling the need to look at the ground as we walk, to move out of the way to let men pass (because they don't sidestep while walking), to make men feel ashamed when they leer at us. We are not questioning one's right to look, we are questioning the way in which they look at us. I do not object to someone glancing at me on the street, but I sure as hell object to someone staring at my chest, my crotch, and trying to undress me with his eyes, making me an OBJECT for his viewing pleasure. Which for your information happens every day to girls and women at school, bus stops, markets, etc.

    It is about equality--about having an equal right to space, equal dignity with which to walk down the street, to work, etc.

    When you claim to work on equality you should re-examine your own use of language: "dolls" and "dear" are in and of themselves belittling terms which I find very insulting to use with a stranger.

    Lastly, as for your comment about smses as a form of harassment. Perhaps you are unaware of the number of times women receive lewd phone calls and smses from either strangers who happen to get their number or acquaintences whose intentions turn out to be less than honorable.

    Actively involved in BNP I would not choose to use the same ITO intervention in the village, but I would use the idea upon which is was based to develop a new form of protest.

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  12. Hmm. Mr. Shiva,

    I think that you are right, the people you work with, including yourself (if you speak to your female coworkers calling them "doll" and "dear", as you patronizingly do to the women on this site), could rightly be considered to be creating an oppressive workspace. Should oppression in whatever garb not be fought?

    Why does physics make it right for men to stare lasciviously at women? Blank Noise Project is raising awareness as to the effect of such behaviour on women... who are you to discount that? Who are you to say that staring is perfectly acceptable, when there is ample and unambiguous testimony (right here on this site!) to the contrary.

    Thanks,
    Isaac.

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  13. Hey, Love the work u guys do..

    Please take the pains to read thru this ...

    http://spirituallyhellivated.blogspot.com/2007/03/q.html

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  14. quote :- but I sure as hell object to someone staring at my chest, my crotch, and trying to undress me with his eyes, making me an OBJECT for his viewing pleasure.

    thats is where u go extremely subjective. ur chest , ur crotch are a part of ur body. Undressing me with his eyes, how u u know that hes doin it.U just think hes doin it, right. You don have any proof for it, do you. We have just ur statement , that too without any proof.Laws should not be based on such subjective thingsAny action which someone takes just by listening to the fancies and feelings of some women, is grossly wrong.

    u don need to look down while u walk. Its a choice u have made in the first place. be brave and look straight. u don need any movement for that.
    as for ashaming men, take my word that u will fail miserably there.

    as for lewd calls, smses are not sent by people whom u know. office mates do not make these calls. But the law is made for teh work space. Thats whta i feel is hugely wrong.
    u got offended by dolls and dear. well then , see ur own sorority, how they write , what they write and is it rational?how they have stalkers out of a man asking for a cofee. and for heavens sake, don have such fragile egos? it wont take u anywhere.
    lastly, yes i am proud for wht i have done and doin for the society.i did not go to some fancy malls and stood there. i have toiled in the blazing sun wet with sweat roaming in villages.

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  15. I have a feeling it is useless to debate with you. However, I will still respond to some of your comments.

    "Any action which someone takes just by listening to the fancies and feelings of some women, is grossly wrong."

    Women are not the only ones with "feelings" and "fancies". Do not think men are above misinterpretation or over-reaction.

    I do not "think" these men are undressing me, I know many of them are. It is very evident when someone stares uninteruptedly and for minutes at a time at your neckline that he is trying to make out the shape of your breasts.

    "u don need to look down while u walk. Its a choice u have made in the first place. be brave and look straight. u don need any movement for that."

    Many women are taught and told to look down, not to make eye contact, not to smile or laugh when they are on the road because "people will misunderstand" or "you could get into trouble".

    "as for lewd calls, smses are not sent by people whom u know"

    I have gone to the police station to help a friend who was being stalked by someone she knew. It is not only lewd phone calls, any harassment. It may begin with calls but can escalate to following, destruction of property, assault, etc.

    Regarding harassment in the office, harassment is not about sex but power. Superiors will often use their position over others to get what they want. Abuse of power is nothing new.

    "u got offended by dolls and dear. well then , see ur own sorority, how they write"

    I do not belong to any "sorority." Blank Noise is comprised of both male and female volunteers.

    Lastly, you sweat and toil around villages, some of us sweat and toil around urban slums. You should be proud of the work you do. When you tell people about the sacrifices you made over and over, however, it ceases to be pride and verges on bragging.

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  16. Shiva,

    U r fully in ur rights to look in my bank account or my computer if i put that up in public places.

    Why should it matter to me if it's in a public place? If I want to see it, then why should anyone be allowed to try and stop me?

    But in looking , its completelya 1 way affair. The light rays coming from someone will always fall on anyones eyes. NO one in his or her senses would demand a rule as to where one should look.period.

    The looking is just as much a two-way affair as the passing of lewd comments. There is the looker and the one being looked at. Fortunately, no one has appointed you the judge of what one "in his or her senses" does. Adding the word "period" does not make your assertions into facts.

    When u jundge a law u look over the ambit of its reach.u have to look for its 2 extreme end points.

    No, this is what one does if you are just looking for a reason to deny people justice. Every law can be abused but that's no reason to abolish them all.

    Just imagine, SMS are generally sent to ur frens only. Look the line "creates an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment".

    What in heaven's name were you trying to say here? Is it too much to ask for you to speak logically here? How would sending SMS to your friends have anything to do with this law?

    Who decides what is a hostile work environment?

    The lawmakers decide this, of course. They do it with the input of those in the workplace. If you do not agree with the standards they create, then why don't you start your own little protest group and go talk to your local politicians?

    What if a work place is full of real talented but extremely competitive men? then also the lady can put that as sexual envrmt and lock all these men.

    What is sexual about being competitive? Women can be just as competitive as men. This law has nothing to do with people competing with each other. It is about HARASSMENT. And do you think we are really going to believe your silliness about women just locking up all the men at their job? Even if a woman does believe she is being harrassed, she has to prove her case before anything could be done to the harrassers. In fact, this means that the law makes it impossible for women to just lock men up without any proof of wrongdoing.

    huh To tell you a truth, at our place we often have a mild fight as to who is greater ,men or women? and we keep on telling each other we are better, sort of fun.

    Am I supposed to care whether you find something fun or not? If you are telling jokes about who is better and you think it might make you disobey the law, then it's up to you to decide what you will do. However, you will and should pay the consequences for all of your actions. If you're worried about whether these jokes would get you in trouble, then there is nothing preventing you from refraining from engaging in them.

    Now according to ths law ,anything that a man says will come as sexual harassment ...or not??

    Prove it. Prove that anything a man says will be considered sexual harassment.

    By ur comment it seems u have this idea only of a work place

    I guess you can't answer the question. Should men be able to do whatever they want to their co-workers?

    This law has given all the freedom to a lady to fabricate any type of event as a sexual harassment.

    This is only the case in your imagination.

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