27.6.07

Hostility, or My name is not Neha.

Delhi, June 17th.
7pm - 11pm

Connought Place is a funny place. Broad spaces outside shops all around two concentric rings. Crowded, but rarely overcrowded. And yet, and yet, not free of harassment, or eve-teasing.
That's why, on June 17th, we chose to do a night intervention there.

About seven of us met at M block. The plan was to do some stencilling (using spray paint, on the floor/road/pavement). It turned out to be a very busy night, for we got down to the business of spray cans and stencils, starting with the bus stops leading from M block to Regal cinema.

Responding to a last-minute idea, we'd also decided to do some chalking. With coloured chalk, we would either write testimonials on the walls, or simply 'IPC 509'. That is, remind people about the existence of section 509 of the Indian Penal Code.

In the afternoon, earlier, we had been chatting about IPC sections 509 and 354, the laws applicable to street sexual harassment and how there's so little discussion about the criminal aspect. In fact, even the volunteers tend to forget which sections of the law apply.

[Of the two, section 509 seemed the more obvious choice, because it is "broader in its purview. It includes words, gestures, sounds or exhibition of objects with a view to insult the modesty of a woman. It also includes the words “intrudes upon the privacy of a woman”. Section 354 requires "that there be assault or criminal force used intending to outrage the modesty of a woman or knowing that it will outrage her modesty." This deals with attempted rape or actual physical assault, but may not cover all aspects of sexual harassment.]

On shutters, wooden boards, corners. We chalked 'IPC 509' everywhere we could, in the hope that it will force people to think what it is and why it is there. Maybe even the cops would notice and remember its existence.

The stenciling this time was an interesting experience. We'd always been met with interest, and curiosity, until now. This time, we saw hostility. Our plan had been to tackle the space around movie theatres in CP. These are the busiest spots and on a weekend, we'd have the most people reading those testimonials.

Near Rivoli cinema, I'd barely finished stenciling one testimonial (which reads like 'Neha, age ..., time.... pm. Some men made rude comments and when I protested, the public laughed. My dupatta was snatched away'.]

One man stood right next to me and his foot shifted the stencil. Abhishek, one of our volunteers, asked him to step back a little, and he wouldn't. I had to step back and when the stencil was removed, this man aggressively started asking - 'What is this?'

We told him to read it himself. That's what it was there for.

He read it and started yelling. He told us, we were doing something wrong, that it was not done, that he would call the cops.

He asked me if I was Neha. He demanded to know who Neha was, and if she wasn't here, why were we writing those words down?

We sensed it was time to move, and tried to, but a crowd had gathered and by the time we managed to break away, a cop was on the scene. The man was still yelling.

By then, it was fairly apparent that the man was drunk, and the cop let us move on, without further ado. The evening proceeded smoothly there on. We did most of our stencilling just outside or inside subways, which were likely to have a lot of visibility. When paint and energy ran out, we split and went home.

However the hostility was interesting. In retrospect, I believe that we needed to witness it. That man, drunk as he may have been, was openly critical. What is even more interesting was that the crowd around us seemed hostile too, taking his cue from him.

He (and many others) responded with a testimonial of a girl being harassed with anger. Not empathy, not defensiveness, but anger. Also, he felt we were victimizing the girl - the mythical 'Neha'. He felt, we were insulting her. In his view, the insult does not lie in the act, but in the acknowledgment and public declaration of it happening.

This is something we've been struggling with for a while. Many women, when they do talk of sexual harassment, speak of it in a hushed way. Maybe they're not ashamed, but there is a lingering sense of shame - as if to be viewed as a sexual object/being is wrong.

I think it is worth thinking about: that we get harassed everyday, within this cultural context. In a context where being sexual - and how can you not be? - is 'wrong', the very fact that you're out there, dressed in anything ranging from a mini to a burqa, the fact that you are who you are - and you are inescapably a sexual being too - will be perceived as 'wrong'.

17 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. i dont even know if i liked it.. but i do like philosophy at times..
    I am not gonna rant about your prejudices or anythin.. but you do write well.. but still... things r not always as they seem!

    PS nice blog though

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  3. Hello,

    I must admit, this comment has got nothing to do with this particular post. With this blog being positioned as an open forum - self help, if I may say so, I thought I should express some personal views on the same.

    I think the concept as such is fantastic. I absolutely love the idea of the 'Taking legal action' section. But there are certain things that I really cannot get my head around. One of which happens to sit right on the top banner of your blog. Among the 'No' list is 'looking'. Now, I am not sure what exactly you mean by looking, but if it is more of the perverse kinds, I am quite confident 'looking' isn't the exact word for it.

    And if the forum did intend to use the word 'looking' for what it meant - "the act of directing the eyes toward something and perceiving it visually". I cannot help but feel that it is a step taken too far.

    I can understand most of the others, though admittedly some more than the others. An example being 'staring' - These are words that need a context to justify it being up there on a banner. No staring, on its face, is not something I find justifiable. However, one may argue, the context should be obvious, self explanatory - especially with 'Eve Teasing' being mentioned on the banner.

    Not that I am being a pedant, but a cursory glance on the content of the banner of this blog does give me wrong notions about the ulterior motive behind a blog dedicated to a worthy cause.

    Perhaps a classic case of never judge a book by its cover?

    Cheers,
    P

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  4. dear p . the idea of 'looking' has been brought up several times. Many a Blank Noise meetings have questioned why the word 'looking' must be included.

    It's simply because it is not in the verb, but in the adjective. it could be in even how one is glancing. how are you looking at me? or glancing? or touching? or brushing?

    the way someone looks at you can strip your dignity. We all know that staring is rude/ bad manners etc- but think of staring that dismembers the body, objectifies it withuot the consent of another stranger.

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  5. Hello,

    I do understand the latter half of your reply, the strip your dignity bit. But I am at loss with the adjective explanation. Surely, me looking at the girl standing across the street because she had a mask and a bandana on does not fall into the confines of eve teasing or anything even remotely to do with it. I may even look (visibly more petrified though) at a guy wearing pink trousers and a polka dotted shirt. Looking can be framed to be an adjective in both the above cases.

    Which brings me back to my original point, isn't context the most relevant thing here? However, I do realise this is too trivial a point to pick on.

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  6. 1. it is not trivial. it is not trivial because every single day we are almost stripped naked with eyes. eyes that just look. glance. stare. assert power.

    we dont say all form of looking leads to violation- but the intention is communicated to the receiver. This is an extremely private act that is know n and understood by the doer and the receiver.

    we by NO means are saying- stop looking- but we are saying we know who's looking at me and how.

    its important to acknowledge the power structures between strangers that can become visible through just 'looking'- no it is not trivial.

    It isnt as black and white either. The street isnt sexless. We are continously looking at each other but when does the look cause discomfort? When and how are boundaries crossed/ everyday?

    post coming up -

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  7. Hello,

    I am sorry, but perhaps I didn't frame the last sentence of my previous post correctly. When I wrote trivial, I was implying, me picking on 'no looking' in a pedantic fashion. It was not for a moment to suggest such actions, when justified to be of the nature you specified are trivial by any stretch of imagination.

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  9. Jasmeen - You must look before you leap no? The poor man, P, never meant trivial in the sense you took it.
    And Akula - You are a bad Telugu boy and your Hindi is good enough for you to be slipping vernacular puns, eh? :)

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  10. Also... Akula is right about your stenciling activity being illegal.
    It was the dominant thought I had as I read your post..
    Please do address that.

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  11. To all who have a problem with the word "looking",
    Here is what i feel- strongly.

    Go ask any woman you know, if she would like men "looking" at her. The first thing she will say is "in what way" or "depends". Looking is not as innocent as you people are making it sound. And when we say not to look we know what we mean.

    et Jasmeen, i am glad you bother to reply. But honestly some people ask questions simply because they have to. In such cases, i feel it is best to help them find answers rather then providing explanations.

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  13. Maybe they're not ashamed, but there is a lingering sense of shame - as if to be viewed as a sexual object/being is wrong.

    I don't think we can attribute SHAME as the single reason for why people don't talk about it. It could simply be that they don't want to talk about unpleasant things. I wonder with how many people would you go on with your break-up stories.. you wouldn't, because it is unpleasant.

    No one wants to relive an unpleasant memory. Hence, not speaking openly is not a result of SHAME in all instances.

    Now, think of this. You say Street sexual harassment is so common, that every girl has gone through it many times. In this context, if a girl were to feel ashamed everytime for being "objectified", then, with every occurrence of SSH, her shame should build exponentially, leading to guilt, depression, and probably suicide. Me asks this question - are there so many depressed people, and so many suicides, solely due to being victims of SSH?

    No, right? Which probably means, shame is not the dominant reason why people don't talk about it openly.

    I think it is worth thinking about: that we get harassed everyday, within this cultural context. In a context where being sexual - and how can you not be? - is 'wrong', the very fact that you're out there, dressed in anything ranging from a mini to a burqa, the fact that you are who you are - and you are inescapably a sexual being too - will be perceived as 'wrong'.

    Since you think its worth thinking about, lets do precisely that.

    I would at the very outset, say it is ALL IN YOUR MIND. If you think the public space is sexual, reminds you of sexuality, then it is the way it is, because, that's how it is in YOUR MIND. If you think the opposite of it, you are still right, because, that's how it is in YOUR MIND. There is nothing inherently sexual/asexual in the world outside. You project sexuality into it, and then view everything as such.

    I don't think of sex most of the time on the street, unless I see a bomb, or someone who is daring enough to bare more than others. Otherwise, I don't even think of me being a male! I am sure, that's the case with most people. The idea of sex is injected into their minds, time and again, by a lot of external objects and situations. That's when he/she views the world "sexually". Otherwise, the world is just the world.

    Saying that "by the very fact of being there, I am being sexual", is perhaps right, but that doesn't imply I am being viewed sexually. They are not logically correlated.

    As a human being, sexuality is a part of me, whether I am at home or outside. But, this sexuality is not important at all times, at all places. No doubt, they play their parts in a subtle way through our subconscious mind. But, not so much to PROJECT sexuality to be a part of our lives 24X7.

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  14. Maybe the guy was drunk..(We tend to call everyone, smelling of Alcohol, drunk )

    Maybe he was an eve-teeaser who got offended by ur actions..
    or.. Maybe NOT..

    The Point being: what u were doing was illegal (defacing of public property) and unacceptable(that is what protesters and rioters do.)

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  15. Anonymous7:42 pm

    Oh noes! Thousands of women are sexually harassed every single day in every single country on the planet, but obviously the most important thing right now is to convict some women who stenciled on public property!

    You men are so frightened of losing your privilege. Hundreds of women tell you of their experiences and you just dismiss them out of hand. It can't possibly be how they say. It's all in their heads. It's THEIR FAULT for having such weirdly sexual thoughts! Men have absolutely nothing to do with us being groped and leered at!

    If you have not seen this happen in pubic, you are not paying attention. You are saying that women are so beneath you that seeing a woman harassed is beneath your notice. It is clear what you think of women.

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  17. In the midst of all these posts, what is to be said if the same should happen to men? What Code of the Penal System to protect the modesty of men?
    Of course, you say, men never get harassed, who has ever even heard of such travesty?
    Think... if a man did get harassed by a woman, wouldn't he feel society would cast him as a joke?
    Now, before this gets turned around EVEN more...(whatz wrong if a girl harasses a boy?.... if guys can do it..girls can do it better..).. it is a comment on asking... shouldn't rape/harassement/protection-to-modesty apply to look after men as well. Equality should be just that.

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