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Indian Bloggers Confront Street Harassment

Conversations for a Better World This post is part of a series developed by Global Voices for the UNFPA blog Conversations for a Better World · All Posts

493599_2ceb3d4d5e_mEve-teasing” is a term that is used in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for sexual harassment or molestation in the street. The Blank Noise Project, which was started by an art student six years ago, aims to confront street harassment and change public perceptions of it.

What does “Blank Noise” mean? The project's blog explains:

Blank: no form, no meaning.
Noise: heightens, builds, breaks form.
Blank Noise put together are two words that contradict themselves.
We experience eve teasing daily. It is a sexual violation but we ignore it. At the same time, we structure our lives to avoid the occurrence of it – by ‘dressing decently', ‘coming back home on time', etc, thereby making unwanted rules for ourselves and not recognizing ourselves as citizens.
This daily silent experience of street sexual harassment is what comes closest to the term blank noise.

Blank Noise started as a final year student project by art student Jasmeen Patheja in 2003, and was a personal response to street sexual harassment, which many Indians, male and female, accept as normal or try to ignore. The project initially focused on small workshops, but has since developed into a network of groups around India, who use street interventions, public art and blogging to explore the issue of harassment.

WHAT IS EVE TEASING?

Thumbprints indicate what people consider eve-teasing in these polls

Thumbprints indicate what people consider eve-teasing in these polls

Blank Noise groups around the country have used opinion polls to highlight the issue of harassment:

There have been innumerable debates on the blog in the past over what exactly constitutes ‘street sexual violence’ [...]There are questions about what constitutes a lecherous look- and the ones who experience it will argue saying ‘it's obvious. we just know!’ This is precisely the kind of discussion we want to further on the streets itself. More than for facts figures and statistics we attempt to use the form of an opinion poll to start discussions. The opinion poll also becomes a ‘safe’ way for people to testify and admit what they have seen or experienced.

2007: Namita Sharma's Tea Stall (Gariahat, Kolkata) welcomed Blank Noise poll

2007: Namita Sharma's Tea Stall (Gariahat, Kolkata) welcomed Blank Noise poll

blank noiseI NEVER ASK FOR IT

In 2008, on March 8 (International Women’s Day) Blank Noise held a series of street interventions around India under the banner I Never Ask For It:

Action Hero: n. a woman who has dealt with street sexual harassment by confronting it. Her final response might have been to choose to ignore the harassment, but she will have chosen to do so, not failed to notice it. [...] The Blank Noise street action challenges you to be an Action Hero. Participants are requested to come wearing a garment they wore when they were sexually harassed. By doing so, they are actively taking a stand that reads ‘I never ask for it'.

This action was followed up by another, in which women were invited to send an item of clothing:

Do you really think you ‘asked for it’ when you experienced street sexual harassment? How often have you found yourself blaming the pair of jeans, the salwar kameez, the skirt, the t-shirt? Do you really think it is your fault when you are violated? Do you really think you deserve to be humiliated? Do you really think that it is only certain kind of clothes that result in women experiencing street sexual harassment?

We say NO. We say there is no such thing as ‘asking for it’ and we need you to prove that for us/ yourself.

How? Send in one garment you wore when you experienced ‘eve teasing'. Your garment is your truth, your witness, your evidence, your memory. [...] What next? We propose to install these clothes on the streets of your city and collectively challenge the notion that women ask to be sexually violated.

TO HIT BACK OR NOT TO HIT BACK

Blank Noise recently initiated a discussion about self-defence:

chilly powder. bamboo stick. baygon spray. toy gun. body spray. big bag. eyes. elbow. steel scale. nails. confidence. rings. pens. pepper spray. paper cutter. pencil. angry look. mouth. hand. fists. feet. elbows. sharp pencils. teeth. handbag. comb. body spray. stilettos. fat psychology book. cell phone. cerebrum. swagger. attitude. mobile phone. books. files. bag. crossed arms. conversation. pens. pins. sewing pins. breath spray. bunch of keys. hair pin. blank noise pamphlet on section 354. dupatta. crossed arms. staring at the ground. scowling. talking on cell phone. not making eye contact.

These are just some of the “weapons” used by women to make themselves feel safer in public spaces. Most of the objects listed above are not weapons in the conventional sense. However these are used by a number of women all over the world to give them some sense of security. […] Violent self defense should definitely not be the primary response to the problem of sexual harassment, but should it be a response at all?

BLANK NOISE GUY

Earlier this year Blank Noise set up a blog for men called Blank Noise Guy:

Blank Noise is terribly interested in men!
The Blank Noise Guy blog is in its first phase, asking men/boys to respond to street sexual harassment. send us your thoughts on street sexual harassment. write to us if you've seen it and are feeling thoughtful about how you responded, or even if you engaged with it or caused it (knowingly or unknowingly).

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  • http://www.adityakumarnayak.com Aditya

    Brilliant idea guys!

  • http://N/A RUMY

    Eve-Teasing is a common phenemonon amongst young generation not only in Asia but in Western Countries too.This is a lesser of the three kinds of harrassment done to girls;other two being stalking the victim and serial killing.All three types are out of lust or sexual frustration.
    Films both western and Indian,adult and or cheap producers for making quick money produces pornographic movies and or erotic story books.
    To counter those all young children specially girls should be given a good briefing on social etiquette and gradually to understand physical difference and subsequently restrictions on free mixing.
    Girls specially must be taught lessons on judo and karate and courses could be made according to age either in school or private clubs/gyms.
    The main lesson on identification on strangers is a must but also girls must be warned to be sloppy with the desires of known persons too.

  • Shail Raghuvanshi

    This is indeed impressive. Thanks. We need to do more.
    Do read this link on molesting and rape.
    http://indianblogworld.com/2009/09/molesting-a-woman%e2%80%99s-self-respect/

  • http://N/A RUMY

    The article “Molesting a Woman” posted in the Indianblogworld.com is overimagined by the writer- is my feeling. In modern world of today Women specially girls have become much wiser due to internet services where they learn more about details of social life,plus Indian pictures and serial dramas throughly educates women/girls on social evils.Even the poor of the society that manage an old Tv within their poor community are getting wiser.
    However the fact of life much be accpted that in all societies there will members of the opposite sex with bad intention and bad eyes(applicable to to both men and women-there are over smart sexy women too in society)
    The main idea definitely is to provide good moral teaching,stress on importance of choice of friends and partners(specially those who are dating) and never to get emotional.
    Molesting or sexual harrassment is faced by the poor of the society more than the richer; these poor girls/woman need to continue with their jobs and often in male dominated societies some but rare men are involved that corrupt the system and girld become unwilling victims – these groups are essentially required to be protected by Human Rights groups together with Law enforcing Authorities and such incidents covering the image or without the image of the victim should be publicised in print and electronic media. A radical approach specially in edcuational institutions like friendly discussion with female students with Teachers and Peers could go a long way.
    Moral education as to what is acceptable by respective religion and society and taking precautions in getting their ward married would diminish the percentage of Victims; But whatever the system a rare case can arise and emphasis should be on psychological treatment.
    The west has a near perfect system having Watch/Vigilance team in every neighbourhood; their system of being able to sue people even friends or their marriage partners on account of breach of any conduct is another tool that prevents from being victimised- yet occasionally a serial murder case is on news and such will be- What we need to do is to play our part correctly and hope for the best.

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