- How have you felt every time you ignored a stranger's eyes stripping you naked?
- How often have you been a mute witness or spectator to street sexual violence?
- How often have you whistled, passed remarks, leched, intimidated a female stranger, just for 'fun'?
By sharing testimonials of participating bloggers and members archived at the Blank Noise blog I am not speaking of poor 'victims' and outsiders as a minority. Every woman, girl, young or elderly, from any socio economic background, any skin colour, any body type, 'pretty', 'fair', 'fat', 'ugly', 'slutty', 'modest', 'bitchy', 'smart', 'over-smart', 'shy', 'scared', 'bold' has experienced it. She could be walking alone, in a group, with her parents. It could be 6 am, 7 am, 9 am, 12 noon, 4 pm, 8 pm, 10 pm, and it could happen in your neighbourhood, right outside your house, in the outskirts of town, in the heart of the city. She could be dressed in a salwar kameez, a school uniform, a sari, a pair of jeans and still experience it. Blank Noise clothes campaign " I did not ask for it" has been receiving clothes worn by women at the time of sexual violence. Each sender is taking a stand when she sends in the garment- she says, ' I did not 'ask for it'.
As much as incidents of sexual violence that shock and make news call for an alert alarm, one cannot deny the fact that sexual violation on the streets takes place ever single day by almost every woman in a variety of different forms. It is accepted and normalized because it is 'expected'.
How does the public react to reported incidents of streets sexual violence/ 'eve teasing?' Does this mean more rules for the average Indian male's wife? daughter? sister? Or does this information manifest itself in the financially secure/ independent women incubating themselves in private transport, paying an extra fee per month to block unwanted phone stalkers, carrying pepper spray in bags, mobile phones and being on hyper alert each time they leave home?
Is the public ready to see women as autonomous citizens that can access public space, unapologetically? While I understand and am framed in the cultural construct of being someone's daughter, sister etc I also choose to see myself as a citizen, as a member of public as a non 'victim'. Is society also reinforcing belief systems of men as beings to fear and women as victims that need to be protected?
Protected from whom? Who are the offenders? Violators? Criminals? Perpetrators?
By 2004, 6 months into starting Blank Noise I was able to lift my camera to the 'perpetrator's' face and photograph him. There was a range of encounters. Not only was the camera a defence mechanism/ tool but also the point of dialogue and engagement with the 'offender'.
Since then I have photographed men from different socio economic background for a wide spectrum of 'eve teasing/ molestation' incidents.
At a traffic signal around noon, I see a man making 'sexual gestures' with his tongue towards me from his car window. Shocked, a few seconds later I begin to photograph him. He continues to make gestures, this time suggesting that I am 'mad' and drives off.
While distributing pamphlets in Majestic bus depot one evening, a hand comes to grope. Am already in the 'Blank Noise mode' and the camera is out. I reach out for his collar, pull him, get pushed in return but manage to photograph him. He disappears like most others into the crowd.
Sipping coffee in a café, I can feel someone's eyes on me. I return the look with a glare and ask him if he has a problem. He smiles, nudges his friend and says ' nothing, nothing at all'. This continues for 15- 20 minutes, at the end of which I hand him a Blank Noise pamphlet and photograph him. I spend the rest of the day answering his phone calls. " Sorry. It was only a crush. I liked your eyes. I am not the 'sexual' type of man. It was only a crush." I have to admit, he was not sexually intimidating, he was annoying.
While addressing street sexual harassment it is important to understand the context and the nature of the offence. While interviewing men on the streets of Delhi I got familiar with one kind of 'eve teaser'. He was the hopeless/ helpless wooer. There were a range of responses to the question " how have you approached a woman you are attracted to on the street", many people had responses that would be categorized as ' stalking, and 'unsolicited conversation'. From their point of view they had not committed an offence. A shopkeeper at Sarojini market said I will keep following her and approaching her " kabhi na kabhi toh hasseena maan jayegi". Another young man said he walks upto women and introduces himself, for which he has been slapped on several occasions( his peers added). Likewise one is familiar with love revenge stories behind the acid attacks. Once I met a girl whose throat had been slit for saying NO to a man who desired her. What are the cultural wooing references? With the idea and image of masculinity evolving what are the kind of men and male behaviour our society is creating?
This post has been published at blogbharti for their spotlight series.
YOUR TURN NOW: THOSE RARELY ASKED BURNING QUESTIONS
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