I am over rape.

I am over rape culture, rape mentality, rape pages on Facebook.

I am over the thousands of people who signed those pages with their real names without shame.

I am over people demanding their right to rape pages, and calling it freedom of speech or justifying it as a joke.

I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don't have a sense of humor, and women don't have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are really fucking funny. We just don't think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot.

I am over how long it seems to take anyone to ever respond to rape.

I am over Facebook taking weeks to take down rape pages.

I am over the hundreds of thousands of women in Congo still waiting for the rapes to end and the rapists to be held accountable.

I am over the thousands of women in Bosnia, Burma, Pakistan, South Africa, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Afghanistan, Libya, you name a place, still waiting for justice.

I am over rape happening in broad daylight.

I am over the 207 clinics in Ecuador supported by the government that are capturing, raping, and torturing lesbians to make them straight.

I am over one in three women in the U.S military (Happy Veterans Day!) getting raped by their so-called "comrades."

I am over the forces that deny women who have been raped the right to have an abortion.

I am over the fact that after four women came forward with allegations that Herman Cain groped them and grabbed them and humiliated them, he is still running for the President of the United States.

And I'm over CNBC debate host Maria Bartiromo getting booed when she asked him about it. She was booed, not Herman Cain.

Which reminds me, I am so over the students at Penn State who protested the justice system instead of the alleged rapist pedophile of at least 8 boys, or his boss Joe Paterno, who did nothing to protect those children after knowing what was happening to them.

I am over rape victims becoming re-raped when they go public.

I am over starving Somalian women being raped at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, and I am over women getting raped at Occupy Wall Street and being quiet about it because they were protecting a movement which is fighting to end the pillaging and raping of the economy and the earth, as if the rape of their bodies was something separate.

I am over women still being silent about rape, because they are made to believe it's their fault or they did something to make it happen.

I am over violence against women not being a #1 international priority when one out of three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime -- the destruction and muting and undermining of women is the destruction of life itself.

No women, no future, duh.

I am over this rape culture where the privileged with political and physical and economic might, take what and who they want, when they want it, as much as they want, any time they want it.

I am over the endless resurrection of the careers of rapists and sexual exploiters -- film directors, world leaders, corporate executives, movie stars, athletes -- while the lives of the women they violated are permanently destroyed, often forcing them to live in social and emotional exile.

I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you?

You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren't you standing with us? Why aren't you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation of us?

I am over years and years of being over rape.

And thinking about rape every day of my life since I was 5-years-old.

And getting sick from rape, and depressed from rape, and enraged by rape.

And reading my insanely crowded inbox of rape horror stories every hour of every single day.

I am over being polite about rape. It's been too long now, we have been too understanding.

We need to OCCUPYRAPE in every school, park, radio, TV station, household, office, factory, refugee camp, military base, back room, night club, alleyway, courtroom, UN office. We need people to truly try and imagine -- once and for all -- what it feels like to have your body invaded, your mind splintered, your soul shattered. We need to let our rage and our compassion connect us so we can change the paradigm of global rape.

There are approximately one billion women on the planet who have been violated.


The time is now. Prepare for the escalation.

Today it begins, moving toward February 14, 2013, when one billion women will rise to end rape.

Because we are over it.

huffington post link



Violence Against Women Awareness Month 2011 Team invited us for a live twitter chat about street sexual violence. To follow up and continue the conversations look out for #VAWAM on twitter.




The Liril soap adverts have changed in the most subtle of ways over the decades.
The first Liril soap advert on indian television in late 1970s early 80s until 2000.
What caused the minor shifts? morality? censorship?

Liril advert early 80s

Liril advert late 80s

Liril advert early 90s

Liril advert late 90s

Liril advert early 2000


Action Hero Playlist:

Is there a song that puts you in the Action Hero mood? Let's build an action hero playlist > May 25- June 10 It could be a song that uplifts you....inspires...builds courage...reinforces a belief...calms you...angers you....lights a spark... Your Action Hero song

(could be about cities. walking. about saying 'I never ask for it'. about strangers. who knows! send it and we'll add it. could be one song or more)

If it's on youtube-send us the link.We'll add your name to the list here and link you to your song. If your action hero song isn't online, do write down the lyrics OR better still sing it yourself/upload it and email the link. Any language of course (but do send in the English translation please) Don't forget to ask those around you (mum.grandma.friends.relatives.domestic-help.neighbourhood-vendors?)

blurtblanknoise@gmail.com subject title Action Hero Song

Send it! Let's SING! Action Heroes building playlist:

  1. Jennifer Hughes Jail Weddings Tough Love
  2. Prineet Kaur Sohal - Nina Simone Funkier than a Mosquito's Tweeter
  3. Shohini Sen - Nancy Sinatra These Boots Are Made For Walking
  4. Satoko Yamaguchi -Yoko Ono Woman Power
  5. Monica Mody - ost DOR Yeh Hausla
  6. Rhea Daniel - Fiona Apple A Mistake
  7. Pooja Ghosh - theme song Power Puff Girls
  8. Nainy Sahni- ost Lakshya Kandho se hain milte kandhe
  9. Annie Zaidi- ost Ek Thi Ladki (There was a girl) Lara Lappa
  10. Must Bol - Frou Frou Holding Out For a Hero
  11. Amruta Mehta - LES Artistes Santo Gold
  12. Jasmeen Patheja - Petula Clark Downtown
  13. Satya - Raat
  14. Inderjit Kaur
  15. Rebecca Winslow - Helen Reddy I am woman
  16. Micropixie
  17. Aurina Chatterji - Fiona Apple Extraordinary Machine
  18. Mandy Van Deven - Le Tigre's On Guard
  19. Trishima Mitra Kahn - Ani Di Franco 32 Flavors
  20. Deepshika Arora - Shubha Mudgal Mann Kee Manjeere
  21. Cole Walks - Mutya Buena Real Girl + Chantal Kreviazuk Weight of The World
  22. Maesy Angelina - Eartha Kitt  I Want To Be Evil
  23. Bedatri D Choudhury - Nancy Sinatra These Shoes Are Made For Walking


Email from Anon-

Hi Blank Noise,
Have you addressed the issue of unsolicited mobile phone and internet harassment? It's quite a rampant form of harassment, the cons of advancements in technology. Just three weeks ago my friend had an unpleasant encounter with such a prankster. I have been at the receiving end too, for the past two weeks now I have had someone following me on Facebook, my email & my cell phone, info that I am generally careful about giving out. All my personal info is set to be private to be shared with people who I add as friends alone.
The options to counteract such incidents seem limited and ineffective.
An FIR against this offender with his mobile phone number as his only
info guarantees no action against him. The most the police will do is
maybe call & warn him, which is futile. It actually happened to this
friend of mine three weeks ago. This stalker has gathered a lot of
details on me, I have no assurances for my safety if this person also
happens to know where I live.

I thought you may have some suggestions/ideas on how to tackle such
offences & offenders & bring them to book.



Thank you!

Have you experienced harassment on the web?
Have you b
n harassed by phone calls and text messages from unknown people?
How do you define web based harassment/ intimidation or phone based harassment? list- stalking, sexting (sending unwanted sexual messages on mobile
phone) How did you respond to it? (did you find yourself changing your mobile phone number . email id etc or did you confront it?)How was this experience different from the threat of being sexually assaulted / harassed on the street?
Send in your thoughts. suggestions. strategies aka Action Hero stunts to blurtblanknoise@gmail dot com
Your responses will be shared on the Action Heroes blog by May 21

Delhi teenager skips school to avoid stalker (Jan 2011 report)

New Delhi: Six months back, 15-year-old Maya's (name changed) life was full of fun and frolic just like any other school-going girl. Then one day, while on the way to school, she was stalked by a group of guys who started hurling comments and abuses at her.

As this harassment continued for several days, Maya's scared parents stopped her from going to school and did not even allow her to venture out of her home. Today, she is virtually under 'house arrest' for no fault of hers.

Her parents are a worried lot as repeated complaints to the police have not yielded any result so far. As such Maya, who was a student of class 8 of Rajakiya Sarvodaya Vidyalay in Khanpur area, was forced to drop out from the school.

"The problem started in August 2010 when a local goon Sripal started following my daughter. He often passed vulgar comments at my daughter while she used to be on her way to school. Fearing that any harm might come to her, we stopped her from attending the school. We lodged a complaint with the police but they didn't take any action. The situation worsened and the stalkers continued to harass her even after she dropped out from the school. Whenever she used to go out of the house, they troubled her repeatedly," said Ram Kumar (name changed) father of the victim.

Kumar again lodged a complaint against his daughter's stalkers in October but police still remained inactive. "The inaction of cops has encouraged the stalkers further. Right from the day my father lodged a complaint against them, they became more abusive towards me. Whenever they see me out of the house, they start chasing me and pass vulgar comments. At times they even tried to molest me. The whole colony watched their act but nobody came to my rescue," said the victim.

Besides Kumar's complaint, there is another complaint lodged against these accused for eve-teasing and use of vulgar language. Still the police seem to prefer inaction on the issue. When contacted by MiD DAY, the police officials said that they will be able to comment after they investigate the case.

Residents of the area say the accused operate as a gang and often indulge in such unlawful activities in the Lal Kuan area of Pul Prahladpur area.


1. do you know someone who missed school for avoiding 'eve-teasing'?
alternatively- do you plan your daily route/ activities to avoid sexual harassment on the streets?
2. have you ever filed a police complaint? if yes- what followed?
if no- why not
3. do you experience sexual harassment from the same person everyday- if yes what are your strategies? how do you respond to it (neighbourhood/ bus/ college/ workplace)
4. Have you been a 'spectator who changed the scene'- i.e instead of watching the 'tamasha'- you got involved and supported the survivor of violence?
5. Are there any follow ups of this report?


This is the last week of the CSA Awareness Month:

If you would like to add to the discussion or know somebody else who would, please note that entries (personal accounts, resources, feedback etc) can be

a. mailed to csa.awareness.april@gmail.com OR
b. posted as FB notes and linked to the FB page OR
c. posted on your own blog with the badge and "CSAAM April 2011" in the heading and linked to the main blog OR
d. linked or posted on Twitter tagged twitter.com/CSAAwareness OR
e. sent via some/all of the above methods

Some topics are suggested here.

You can also show your support by displaying our logo on your website. Here is the code:

Please do remember to send in a mail with all necessary links (or just your input) to csa.awareness.april@gmail.com .

(Thanks, Blank Noise, for the support -- from the CSA team.)



Action Heroes contribute:

Maesy Angelina, Indri , Trishima Mitra Kahn, Hemangini Gupta , Annie Zaidi, Bedatri Chowdhury, Farya Lokhandwala , Katheeja Talha, Parmeet Soni, Ghisak, Eddie Avila, Mohnish Moorjani, Sharmila Joshi,Dianne Sharma Winter,Vivek Rao, Noopur Raval, Nilofar Ansh, Megha Sharma Bhagat ,Amit Kendurkar, Tamanna Sharma, Anubhav Pradhan, Sidharth Verma, Satoko Yamaguchi ,Rustam Mody,Ampat Varghese Varghese, Kuber Sharma, Jaipal Hellmich, Rani Kamal, Trisham Dey, Nilofar Ansher, Keyser Sozie( Sepia Verse), Desdemona14, Jose Carlos Teixeira, Irmasanthi Danadharta,Pushpa Moorjani, Aman Zaidi, Anwesha Dutta, Anjali Rawat, Sharmila Joshi, Aruna Shekhar, Sowmiya Manickam, Orlaith Delaney, Ashish Asgekar, Soumya Chandrashekhar, Naksha Erappa, Simrin Mehra Agarwal, Bhooma Padmanabhan

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=120542711356175&index=1


Beyond the Digital-Reflecting from the Beyond

First posted here

By Maesy Angelina in the Digital Natives

After going ‘beyond the digital’ with Blank Noise through the last nine posts, the final post in the series reflects on the understanding gained so far about youth digital activism and questions one needs to carry in moving forward on researching, working with, and understanding digital natives.

News Image

What signals are we sending when we are talking about youth's digital activism?

Throughout the series, I have argued the following points. Firstly, the 21st century society is changing into a network society and that youth movements are changing accordingly. I have outlined the gaps in the current perspectives used in understanding the current form and proposed to approach the topic by going beyond the digital: from a youth standpoint, exploring all the elements of social movement, and based on a case study in the Global South – the uber cool Blank Noise community who have embraced the research with open arms. The methodology has allowed me to identify the newness in youth’s approach to social change and ways of organizing. Although I do not mean to generalize, there are some points where the case study resonates with the broader youth movement of today. In this concluding post, I will reflect on how the research journey has led me to rethink several points about youth, social change, and activism.

While social movements are commonly imagined to aim for concrete structural change, many youth movements today aim for social and cultural change at the intangible attitudinal level. Consequently, they articulate the issue with an intangible opponent (the mindset) and less-measurable goals. Their objective is to raise public awareness, but their approach to social change is through creating personal change at the individual level through engagement with the movement. Hence, ‘success’ is materialized in having as many people as possible involved in the movement. This is enabled by several factors.

The first is the Internet and new media/social technologies, which is used as a site for community building, support group, campaigns, and a basis to allow people spread all over the globe to remain involved in the collective in the absence of a physical office. However, the cyber is not just a tool; it is also a public space that is equally important with the physical space. Despite acknowledging the diversity of the public engaged in these spaces, youth today do not completely regard them as two separate spheres. Engaging in virtual community has a real impact on everyday lives; the virtual is a part of real life for many youth (Shirky, 2010). However, it is not a smooth ‘space of flows’ (Castells, 2009) either. Youth actors in the Global South do recognize that their ease in navigating both spheres is the ability of the elite in their societies, where the digital divide is paramount. The disconnect stems from their acknowledgementthat social change must be multi-class and an expression of their reflexivity in facing the challenge.

The second enabling factor is its highly individualized approach. The movement enables people to personalize their involvement, both in terms of frequency and ways of engagement as well as in meaning-making. It is an echo of the age of individualism that youth are growing up in, shaped by the liberal economic and political ideologies in the 1990s India and elsewhere (France, 2007). Individualism has become a new social structure, in which personal decisions and meaning-making is deemed as the key to solve structural issues in late modernity (Ibid).

In this era, young people’s lives consist of a combination of a range of activities rather than being focused only in one particular activity (Ibid). This is also the case in their social and political engagement. Very few young people worldwide are full-time activists or completely apathetic, the mainstream are actually involved in ‘everyday activism’ (Bang, 2004; Harris et al, 2010). These are young people who are personalizing politics by adopting causes in their daily behaviour and lifestyle, for instance by purchasing only Fair Trade goods, or being very involved in a short term concrete project but then stopping and moving on to other activities. The emergence of these everyday activists are explained by the dwindling authority of the state in the emergence of major corporations as political powers (Castells, 2009) and youth’s decreased faith in formal political structures which also resulted in decreased interest in collectivist, hierarchical social movements in favour of a more individualized form of activism made easier with Web 2.0 (Harris et al, 2010).

A collective of everyday activists means that there are many forms of participation that one can fluidly navigate in, but it requires a committed leadership core recognized through presence and engagement. As Clay Shirky (2010: 90) said, the main cultural and ethical norm in these groups is to ‘give credit where credit is due’. Since these youth are used to producing and sharing content rather than only consuming, the aforementioned success of the movement lies on the leaders’ ability to facilitate this process. The power to direct the movement is not centralized in the leaders; it is dispersed to members who want to use the opportunity.

This form of movement defies the way social movements have been theorized before, where individuals commit to a tangible goal and the group engagement directed under a defined leadership. The contemporary youth movement could only exist by staying with the intangible articulation and goal to accommodate the variety of personalized meaning-making and allow both personal satisfaction and still create a wider impact; it will be severely challenged by a concrete goal like advocating for a specific regulation. Not all youth there are ‘activist’ in the common full-time sense, for most everyday activists their engagement might not be a form of activism at all but a productive and pleasurable way to use their free time - or, in Clay Shirky’s term, cognitive surplus (2010).

Revisiting my initial intent to put the term activism under scrutiny, I acknowledge this as a call for scholars to re-examine the concepts of activism and social movements through a process of de-framing and re-framing to deal with how youth today are shaping the form of movements. Although the limitations of this paper do not allow me to directly address the challenge, I offer my own learning from this process for the quest of future researchers.

The way young people today are reimagining social change and movements reiterate that political and social engagement should be conceived in the plural. Instead of “Activism” there should be “activisms” in various forms; there is not a new form replacing the older, but all co-existing and having the potential to complement each other. Allowing people to cope with street sexual harassment and create a buzz around the issue should complement, not replace, efforts made by established movements to propose a legislation or service provision from the state. This is also a response I offer to the proponents of the aforementioned “doubt” narrative.

I share the more optimistic viewpoint about how these new forms are presenting more avenues to engage the usually apathetic youth into taking action for a social cause. However, I also acknowledge that the tools that have facilitated the emergence of this new form of movement have existed for less than a decade; thus, we still have to see how it evolves through the years.

Hence, I also find the following questions to be relevant for proponents of the “hope” narrative. Social change needs to cater to the most marginalized in the society, but as elaborated before, the methods of engagement both on the physical and virtual spaces are still contextual to the middle class. Therefore, how can the emerging youth movements evolve to reach other groups in the society? Since most of these movements are divorced from existing movements, how can they synergize with existing movements to propel concrete change? These are open questions that perhaps will be answered with time, but my experience with Blank Noise has shown that these actors have the reflexivity required to start exploring solutions to the challenges.

The research started from a long-term personal interest and curiosity. In this journey, I have found some answers but ended up with more questions that will also stay with me in the long term. As a parting note before, I would like to share a quote that will accompany my ongoing reflection on these questions.

My advice to other young activists of the world: study and respect history... but ultimately break the mould. There have never been social media tools like this before. We are the first generation to test them out: to make the mistakes but also the breakthrough.

(Tammy Tibbetts, 2010)

This is the tenth and final post in the Beyond the Digital series, a research project that aims to explore new insights to understand youth digital activism conducted by Maesy Angelina with Blank Noise under the Hivos-CIS Digital Natives Knowledge Programme.


Beyond the Digital-Unraveling the Term

first posted here

By Maesy Angelina in the Digital Natives

After discussing Blank Noise’s politics and ways of organizing, the current post explores whether activism is still a relevant concept to capture the involvement of people within the collective. I explore the questions from the vantage point of the youth actors, through conversations about how they relate with the very term of activism.

News Image

Youth's Popular Imagination of Activism

As a start, I need to clarify that ‘activism’ is not a concept that the participants are generally concerned with. For a majority of them, the conversation we had was the first time they thought of what the term means and reflect whether their engagement with Blank Noise is activism. Regardless of whether one identifies Blank Noise as a form of activism or not, all participants share a popular idea of what activism is.

Generally speaking, at an abstract level all participants saw activism as passionately caring about an injustice and taking action to create social change. At a more tangible level, all participants mentioned three elements as popular ideas about doing activism. The first is the existence of a concrete demands as a solution to the identified problem, such as asking for service provision or state regulations. Since these demands are structural, activism is also seen dealing with formal authority figures in the traditional sense of politics, the state. The second is the intensity and commitment required to be an activist, for many participants being an activist means having prolonged engagement, taking risks, and making the struggle a priority in one’s life. In other words, being an activist means “... being neck-deep, spending most if not all of your time, energy, and resources for the cause” (Dev Sukumar, male, 34). The third element relates to the methods, called by some as ‘old school’: shouting slogans, holding placards, and doing marches on the streets – all enacted in the physical public space. This popular imagination of activism becomes the orientation for participants in deciding whether Blank Noise is a form of activism and whether they are activists for being involved in it.

Activism as the Intention and Action

“I have an idea of what activism is but not what it exactly looks like.”

(Apurva Mathad, male, 28).

For those who think that Blank Noise is a form of activism, there was a differentiation between the idea at the abstract level and how it is manifested at a more tangible level. The definition of activism is the abstract one, while the popular ideas of doing activism do not define the concept but present the most common out many possible courses of actions. Blank Noise is fulfils all the elements in the abstract definition: a passion about an injustice, having an aim for social change, and acting to achieve the aim. Hence, Blank Noise is activism, but the way it manifests itself does not adhere to the popular imagination of doing activism. The distinction between Blank Noise’s methods with popular ones was emphasized, along with the difference in articulating goals.

Interestingly, not all participants who share this line of thinking called themselves as activists for being involved in an activism. Again, it must be reiterated that no participants ever really thought of giving a name to their engagement prior to the interview. Instead of saying ‘I am an activist’, they said ‘I guess I could be called an activist’ for the fact that they are sharing the passion and being actively involved in a form of activism, albeit in an unconventional manner.

Those who would categorize Blank Noise as activism but not call themselves activists related with a particular element on the popular idea of doing activism, which is getting “neck-deep”. They were helpers, volunteers, idea spreaders, but not an activist because their lives are not dedicated for the cause or their involvements were based on availability. On the other hand, these participants all said that Jasmeen is an activist for being completely dedicated to Blank Noise from its inception until today.

Activism as Particular Ways of Doing and Being

“What are the repercussions if activism is so fluidly defined? It can mean not questioning

privilege... not seeing the class divisions and still call yourself activist.”

(Hemangini Gupta, female, 29).

Most participants did not consider Blank Noise as an activism. Generally, this can be explained by the discrepancies between Blank Noise and the popular imagination on the tangible ways of doing activism. Blank Noise does not propose a concrete solution or make concrete demands to an established formal structure nor did it march on the streets and make slogans. However, the underlying attitude to this point of view is not of a younger generation finding the ‘old’ ways of doing activism obsolete. Rather, there was an acknowledgement that the issue itself causes the different ways of reading an issue and taking actions to address it.

Furthermore, there is an appreciation to the achievements and dedication of activists that deterred them from calling themselves activists. These people referred to their occasional participation and the fact that Blank Noise is not the main priority in their lives as a student or young professional despite being a cause they are passionate about. As reflected in the opening quote, being an activist for some participants also means deeply reflecting on their self position in terms of class, acknowledging their privileges, and putting themselves in a position that will enable them to imagine the experience of people who are also affected by the issue but has a different position in the society. In other words, being an activist is not just about doing but also about critically reflecting on one’s position in relation to the issue and how it influences the way an issue is being pushed forward. Thinking that they are not up to these standards, these youth choose to call themselves ‘volunteers’, ‘helpers’, or ‘supporters’.

Youth: The Activist, the Apathetic, and the Everyday

“Blank Noise is a public and community street arts collective that is volunteer-led and attempts to create public dialogue on the issue of street sexual violence and eve teasing.”

(Jasmeen Patheja)

“... a group of people against street sexual harassment and eve teasing.”

(Kunal Ashok, men, 29)

“... an idea that really works.”

(Neha Bhat, 19)

As clarified before, the participants did not use the words ‘movement’ and very few used ‘activism’ during our conversations. Instead, the terms they used to describe Blank Noise are represented in the quotes above: collective, community, group, project, and even as an idea. These phrases do not carry the same political baggage that ‘movement’ or ‘activism’ would; they also do not conjure a particular imagination that the other two terms would. These phrases are de-politicized and informal; they imply fluidity, lack of hierarchy, and room for manoeuvre.

The implied meanings in the terms reflect the debates on the average youth and political engagement. For the past decade, various youth scholars criticized the dichotomy of youth as either activists or apathetic in explaining the global trend of decreased youth participation in formal politics. The activists are either politically active Digital Natives engaged in new forms of social movements influenced heavily by new media or sub-cultural resistances, which only account for a fraction of the youth population that are mostly completely apathetic. This dichotomy ignored the ‘broad “mainstream” young people who are neither deeply apathetic about politics on unconventionally engaged’ (Harris et al, 2010).

These mainstream young people actually are socially and politically engaged in ‘everyday activism’ (Bang, 2004; Harris et al, 2010). These are young people who are personalizing politics by adopting causes in their daily behaviour and lifestyle, for instance by purchasing only Fair Trade goods, or being very involved in a short term concrete project but then stopping and moving on to other activities. The emergence of these everyday activists are explained by the dwindling authority of the state in the emergence of major corporations as political powers (Castells, 2009) and youth’s decreased faith in formal political structures which also resulted in decreased interest in collectivist, hierarchical social movements in favour of a more individualized form of activism (Harris et al, 2010). Internet and new media technologies are credited as an enabling factor, being a space and a medium for young people to express their everyday activism.

All of the research participants, perhaps with the exception of Jasmeen as the only one who has constantly been the driver Blank Noise its entire seven years, are these everyday makers, people who were involved with the Blank Noise either on a daily basis as a commentator, one-time project initiator and leader, or people who were active when they are available but remain dormant at other times. Blank Noise is a space where these individual forms of engagement could be exercised while remaining as a collective. The facilitation is not only by the flexibility of coming and going, but also the lack of rigid group rules and the approach of allowing Blank Noise to be interpreted differently by individuals. Considering that the mainstream urban youth are everyday makers who would not find ‘old’ or ‘new’ social movements appealing, this can be the reason why Blank Noise became so popular among youth; however, I would also argue that the fact that Blank Noise is the first to systematically address eve teasing is a determining cause.

The implications of this finding, together with other concluding thoughts, will be shared in the next and final post in the Beyond the Digital series.

This is the ninth post in the Beyond the Digital series, a research project that aims to explore new insights to understand youth digital activism conducted by Maesy Angelina with Blank Noise Project under the Hivos-CIS Digital Natives Knowledge Programme.


Beyond the Digital-The Many Faces Within

first posted here
By Maesy Angelina in Digital Natives

Blank Noise, as many other digital native collectives, may seem to be complete horizontal at first glance. But, a closer look reveals the many different possibilities for involvement and a unique way the collective organize itself.

News Image

One day, during an afternoon stroll to the M.C. Escher museum in The Hague, I stumbled upon a painting called ‘Fish and Scales’. On the first glance, I saw two big black-and-white fishes and some smaller ones, but on a closer look I found hundreds of fishes, heading to different directions and merging seamlessly into the bigger fishes as their scales. Upon this discovery, I exclaimed out loud, “This is just like Blank Noise!”

No, I do not mean to imply in any way that the Blank Noise Project is like a fish, although it is definitely as fascinating as the painting. Rather, I found that this painting from the master of optical illusion is a great analogy to the structures of Blank Noise.

In the words of Kunal Ashok, one of the male volunteers, the collective consists not only of “people who volunteer or come to meetings, but anyone that have contributed in any way they can and identified with the issue.” In this sense, Blank Noise today consists of over 2,000 people who signed up to their e-group as volunteers.

How does a collective with that many people work? Firstly, although these people are called ‘volunteers’ for registering in the e-group, I would argue that a majority of them are actually what I call casual participants – those who comment on Blank Noise interventions, re-Tweet their call for action, promote Blank Noise to their friends through word of mouth, or simply lurk and follow their activities online. In the offline sense, they are the passers-by who participate in their street interventions or become intrigued to think about the issue afterwards. These people, including those who do the same activities without formally signing up as volunteers, are acknowledged to be a part of Blank Noise as much as those who really do volunteer.

Blank Noise is open to all who shares its concern and values, but its volunteers must go beyond articulating an opinion and commit to collective action. However, Blank Noise applies very little requirement for people to identify themselves with the collective. The main bond that unites them is their shared concern with street sexual harassment. Blank Noise’s analysis of the issue is sharp, but it also accommodates diverse perspectives by exploring the fine lines of street sexual harassment and not prescribing any concrete solution, while the latter is rarely found in existing social movements. The absence of indoctrination or concrete agenda reiterated through the public dialogue approach gives room for people to share different opinions and still respect others in the collective.

Other than these requirements, they are able to decide exactly how and when they want to be involved. They can join existing activities or initiate new ones; they can continuously participate or have on-and-off periods. This is reflected in the variety of volunteers’ motivations, activities, and the meaning they give to their involvement. For some people, helping Blank Noise’s street interventions is exciting because they like street art and engaging with other young people. Many are involved in online campaigns because they are not physically based in any of the cities where Blank Noise is present. Some others prefer to do one-off volunteering by proposing a project to a coordinator and then implementing it. There are people who started volunteering by initiating Blank Noise chapters in other cities and the gradually have a more prominent role. Some stay for the long term, some are active only for several times before going back to become supporters that spread Blank Noise through words of mouth. The ability to personalize volunteerism is also what makes Blank Noise appealing, compared to the stricter templates for volunteering in other social movements.

Any kind of movement requires a committed group of individuals among the many members to manage it. The same applies to Blank Noise, who relies on a group of people who dedicate time and resources to facilitate volunteers and think of the collective’s future: the Core Team. Members of the Core Team, about ten people, are credited in Blank Noise’s Frequently Asked Question page and are part of a separate e-group than the volunteers. In its seven years, the Core Team only went for a retreat once and mostly connected through the e-group. In this space, they raise questions, ideas, and debates around Blank Noise’s interventions, posters, and blog posts. Consequently, for them the issue is not only street sexual harassment but also related to masculinities, citizenship, class, stereotyping, gender, and public space. However, there are also layers in the intensity of the Team members’ engagement.

The most intense is Jasmeen, the founder and the only one who has been with Blank Noise since its inception until today. Jasmeen is an artist and considers Blank Noise to be a part of her practice; she has received funds to work for Blank Noise as an artist. Thus, she is the only one who dedicates herself to BN full time and becomes the most visible among the volunteers and the public eye. According to Jasmeen, she is not alone in managing the whole process within Blank Noise. Since Hemangini Gupta came on board in 2006, she has slowly become the other main facilitator. “It is a fact that every discussion goes through her. I may be the face of it, but I see Hemangini and me working together. We rely on each other for Blank Noise work,Jasmeen said.

Hemangini, a former journalist who is now pursuing a PhD in the U.S., explains her lack of visibility. “Blank Noise could never be my number one priority because it doesn’t pay my bills, so I can only do it when I have free time and my other work is done.” The same is true for others in the Core Team: students, journalists, writers, artists. Unlike Hemangini who still managed to be intensively involved, they have dormant and active periods like the volunteers.

The Core Team’s functions as coordinators that facilitate the volunteers’ involvement in Blank Noise and ensure that the interventions stay with the values Blank Noise upholds: confronting the issue but not aggravating the people, creating public dialogue instead of one-way preaching. This role emerged in 2006 when the volunteer applications mounted as the result of the aforementioned blogathon. They have also initiated or made Blank Noise chapters in other cities grew. Although some of them have also moved to another city due to work, they remain active touch through online means. Together, the Core Team forms the de-facto leadership in Blank Noise.

I am tempted to describe Blank Noise as having a de-facto hierarchy in its internal organization. The form would be a pyramid, with Jasmeen on top, followed by the coordinators, long-term project-based volunteers, one-off-project-initiator volunteers, and then the casual participants. After all, it was clear from my conversations with the many types of volunteers within Blank Noise that they acknowledge that some people are involved more intensely and carry more responsibilities than others in the collective, that there is an implicit leadership roles. This is also shown by the reluctance of many volunteers to call themselves as an ‘activist’, claiming that the title is only suitable for people within those leadership roles and preferring to call themselves ‘supporters’, ‘part of the group’, or ‘volunteers’ instead.

However, doing this will be a mistake in interpreting the internal dynamics within Blank Noise. Firstly, the line between the types of participation is not as clear-cut as it appears to be. With the exception of Jasmeen, everyone from the coordinators to the one-off volunteers has active and dormant periods depending on what happens in their personal lives; they can shift roles quite easily. Some of Blank Noise coordinators, for instance, are now pursuing higher education abroad and could only be very active when the return to India during the holidays or when the school schedule is not as demanding. During momentary dormant periods, they turn into casual participants because those are the only roles they are able to take. Secondly, a hierarchy implies that casual participants are not important for the collective, whereas they turn out to be the main “target group” and the reason why Blank Noise has grown internally and in the public eye.

This is again a reason why I was so taken by Escher’s painting. There are definitely “big fish” leadership figures, but their scales are actually smaller fishes in different forms, symbolizing how the roles of a person in the collective could shift from “big” to “small” and vice versa depending on your perspective. The many fishes are not depicted horizontally, but also not in a clear hierarchy. Instead, they are interconnected with each other. The type of connection is not very clear and the fishes seem to be swimming in different directions, but they make a cohesive unity. This is the beauty of both Escher’s creation and Blank Noise.

This is the eighth post in the Beyond the Digital series, a research project that aims to explore new insights to understand youth digital activism conducted by Maesy Angelina with The Blank Noise Project under the Hivos-CIS Digital Natives Knowledge Programme.

The photo of M.C. Escher’s painting ‘Fish and Scales’ is borrowed from: