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India's Women Take on Fear and Sexual Violence in “Action Hero”

Blank Noise, a volunteer-run community project that seeks to confront public sexual harassment, or eve teasing as it is known in India, has launched a reality game called the Action Hero meant to tackle the fear that many Indian women have toward their cities.

According to the project blog, anyone and any number of people can participate in the game, which is played simultaneously across cities, countries, towns and time zones. The player will have to be equipped with a Twitter account and a basic mobile phone that allows him or her to receive text messages with instructions and tasks, and also has to start from a location that is unfamiliar to him or her.

The website explains why this game is necessary:

At Blank Noise we have largely used the web space to build dialogue on the issue of sexual violence. We announce events, build participation, work towards growing a community of men and women who take ownership and responsibility of sexual violence. We intervene across spaces with multiple forms of media (live street actions/ t shirts/ posters/ sound installations/ interviews) but rely largely on the web to build testimonials of sexual violence. There are spaces and communities this blog space hasn't accessed. That's also where we count on you.

Imge courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Founder of Blank Noise Jasmeen Patheja explained the game further to the Indian Express:

The Action Hero Game is designed to deal with fear and to make the ‘action hero’ player acutely aware of his or her presence in his or her city. Through the ‘tasks and challenges', it enables new behaviour, thus building new associations and memories with a public space.

She further explained to the Deccan Chronicles:

Jasmeen Patheja, the originator of Blank Noise explains that being defensive and hyper alert does not lead to “feeling safe” and that was when she conceptualised the idea. She says, “We keep ourselves safe by building defense rather than making it familiar.” The project hopes that each individual has the ability and power to influence change in one’s society.

On October 5, 2013, the game was played in these cities of India:


View Action Hero Game #1 in a larger map

Anjali Manakkad from Bangalore described what tasks were she given and how she responded. Her fourth task was to sit and stare at the clouds:

I went to one of the benches down the road and I left my camera pack on the side and I stretched myself and bent my head backwards. This was actually very peaceful and no one seemed to be curious or mocking by my actions. I don't know if anyone really noticed me as I was looking up most of the times. But I knew for sure that no one was sniggering or talking about me as I heard a few footsteps pass me by with no reaction.

Laura Valencia, a participant, said in an article in The Alternative:

The first few instructions were straightforward. I walked with my arms swinging, sat in a place and got comfortable, and made small talk with strangers. As time went on, I found myself less obsessed with checking to see if a new instruction had come as I sank into playing the game. I found my temporary happy place about two hours in while standing on a street corner and giggling.

Action Hero Game 1. Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Action Hero Game 1. Image courtesy Blank Noise. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

In the Blank Noise Action heroes blog, participants shared their reactions:

Action Hero Ash thought:

The funny thing about all this is our general attitude to it. It is something that we women expect to experience. We ‘modern’ women may have stopped taking it lying down, and take action when we can. Nevertheless, it’s a sad fact of life that eve-teasing is a normal part of life. We Bombayites even considered ourselves luckier, because at least we weren’t like our sisters in Delhi – who’d travel in busses with their arms crossed at their chest, pointed needles poking out of their fists at either side!

The next game is scheduled for October 19, 2013. To register for free, email blurtblanknoise@gmail.com.

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