BLANK NOISE BANGALORE. MARCH 8. I NEVER ASK FOR IT.
Ratna and I met at 4:15 p.m. outside Java City on Church Street. We had with us the opinion poll and thumb print pads in red and blue and a bunch of pamphlets. We wanted
to put up the poll at a local paan stall but at the first one we went to, the guy was reluctant, claiming a lack of space. He sent us to another shop owned by his brother but this was a juice shop with not much clientèle. We left some pamphlets there and took the rest to another paan stall at the Premier Book store end of Church Street where the young boy was persuaded to leave them on his counter for people to pick up.
Now the opinion poll. We took it to Temptations, a sort of open liquor store, flanked by a paan stall. The owner was initially reluctant but there was a group of men sitting outside (all middle aged) and they got curious about the chart and began discussing 'eve teasing' and coming forward to leave their thumb prints. This sort of decided that the poll would be left there. After about twenty minutes of discussion with them, and inviting thumb prints, we moved on to Java City. (The opinion poll was later moved to outside Java City half-way through the intervention.)
The rest of the group joined us in bits, stickers were handed out and letters folded and divided up. There were a lot of boys, and Kunal explained to them what kind of documentation we needed.
The place for intervention was Church Street. Our brief was to occupy the space in a manner in which we would indicate that we belonged there and were at home there. We were not to talk to anyone. We could hand out the letters to whomever we felt like. Some of us had whistles which we would blow if anything untoward happened.
We started at 6:30. I think because Church Street doesn't really get very crowded before about 8, the energy was a bit dissipated. There were not as many people as we would have liked using the street. Perhaps if we, as performers, were standing closer together, we would have felt more group energy. We had a fair amount of space between us: we were stretched at reasonable intervals all the way to the first crossroad on Church Street. At a little before 6, Ratna, Kunal and I decided we would do better to move a little way down the street so that we were closer to the eating joints and right at the heart of Church Street. I walked along the street and on the way decided impulsively to go all the way to Brigade Road and occupy the railings.
Personally, I thought this worked better. It was crowded, people stopped to look, pamphlets were distributed and there was a sense of being able to feel the vibe from the rest of the group.
Here is the gist of people's reactions (these notes were taken at at a conversation witht he group after the intervention and then emailed to the group; some have added details to my notes. If you have been quoted here and want to add/subtract, then just email me the details or add to the google document that was circulated amongst the group on email):
Amrutha - My stare gave away everything that I wanted to say, and It seems like i am slowly mastering my body language in public places.
Hemangini - I thought the energy on Church Street was low, and felt a lot better once we shifted to Brigade Road. This time I think what I enjoyed most was just dawdling on the road - staring at things, watching construction workers, noticing people... even just listening. I heard someone drop a coin on Brigade Road and realised how rare it was to actually make out individual sounds in a crowded space where your main concern is your own safety and not just taking in the different ways in which the space can affect your senses. That was special.
Some other things: we needed more pamphlets and our original opinion poll - but these were logistical things which are normally better taken care of, so I'm not too worried about them. I think our support team - of men - need to meet on their own so that they can work independently of us with their own "agenda" so to speak. I hear Delhi dispersed "spies" into the audience just to record what passers-by were saying randomly and I would have loved for us to do that too. We could next time leave two boys just to handle the opinion poll and encourage people to use it.
Lalitha – Experience of meeting people's eyes and people watching. Could feel the gaze of people as they watched. I was actively courting their gaze. It was legitimate for men to look at me. I am always wondering about how anger morphs with age. I seem to be less angry as the years go by.
Swati – I wonder sometimes if I have become immune to street harassment. What is a good response to it? I am so used to looking down and walking; I might mumble and look away, but today I continued looking and smiling.
Varun – I feel we could have had more impact if we were even just joining hands and marching down the road and stating that we were against eve-teasing.
Alka- I usually look down and have never had the guts to have my chin up. I wonder why we weren't allowed to talk to women though; many women came up and wanted to discuss the letters I was handing out, but I couldn't talk to them. I think it would be better if we could interact with them.
Payal Dhar – In Delhi, if you are in a salwar, people think you are “submissive”.
Deepashree – In a group if there are women and men, the women refuse to take the pamphlet that our volunteers were handing out.
Weiting – I am wondering why today is any different. Shouldn't you always be like this? Maybe the presence of so many women is acting as a sort of safety net. Why aren't we always comfortable with our bodies?
Ratna – I don't feel as violated now as I used to before. I think maybe I have internalised the spirit of an intervention into my everyday life. There are also lots of differences in the way women are looking at you and judging you.
Joseph – When I was handing out pamphlets, the women were always reluctant to take it. It seems like women lose a lot of their spontaneity through their defensiveness. Older women seemed less defensive.
Surabhi – Sometimes it is just pleasurable to have solidarity in a group; there is something good in that feeling. These moments are precious also.