A feminist revolution is sweeping through India, and women from all walks of life are standing up to be counted as equals to men. In this article, we look at the volunteer-led initiative called Blank Noise, which is attacking the widespread problem of street harassment of women in the country.
In India we have a term that is used almost exclusively in that country: eve teasing. Eve teasing refers to the phenomenon where a woman is teased or harassed in a public place by means of cat calls and whistles and so on. Strangely enough, this is not called harassment, which is what it is, but is referred to in less direct, softer terms as eve teasing.
This is a sign of a society in denial, thinks Jasmeen Patheja, the founder of the Blank Noise movement in India. Until Blank Noise came on the scene, the term ‘street harassment’ did not exist in modern lexicon. Now, slowly, more and more people are calling harassment what it is, and the phrase ‘eve teasing’ is going out of favour.
Here are a few other ways in which the Blank Noise movement is helping fight sexual harassment in India.
1. It gives women a platform to reach out to
Until the arrival of Blank Noise on the scene in the year 2003, there was no way for a woman in India who was frustrated with harassment to raise her voice. Women generally felt shameful and guilty about raising these issues, because theirs seemed like the lone voice in the silence out there. However, at Blank Noise, they have the concept of the collective, the members of which identify themselves as Action Heroes, who form a welcoming community to women who are subject to harassment or violence.
2. Talking to strangers
Much of Blank Noise’s efforts are to define and fight street harassment of women. To this end, they have launched a campaign called ‘Talk to Me’, which gives women practice in talking to strangers about everything but sexual violence or abuse. This not only encouraged empathy but also made women less scared about strangers in their vicinity. The practice also helped women understand what intimidated them about strangers and why.
3. I Never Ask For It
Another campaign they’ve launched is called the I Never Ask For It campaign, which tackles the problem of victim shaming and blaming that occurs in Indian society, where even victims of harassment rationalise and judge themselves to be responsible for what happened. As part of this campaign, Blank Noise looked at various ways in which blame manifests itself in different spaces. Whether it is an abusive relationship, a sex worker who is told that she ‘deserved it’ or a woman is said to have been ‘asking for it’ because she wore certain kind of clothes.
4. Walk Alone
In June of this year, Blank Noise came up with a ‘Walk Alone’ campaign, which encouraged women to face up to their fears and walk alone in streets that they usually avoid out of fear. The main messages given to the women are that they have nothing to fear, that they must show in their body language that they’re not afraid, and they’re free to carry weapons to defend themselves if they’re attacked. This is an initiative designed to face the facts and give women the freedom to deal with situations themselves rather than assuming that they need to be protected by another person.
India is going through a period of great feminine revolution where women demand to be treated equally to men. Through initiatives such as Blank Noise, and the 2013 initiative launched by Save the Children India called Abused Goddesses that fought sex trafficking and domestic violence, a lot of penetration has been achieved in the English-speaking parts of India. But much more needs to be done to carry the message into the hinterlands, to the villages and small towns.
The government has also stepped in and has taken a number of initiatives to protect women, especially tourists, who have traditionally had less-than-ideal experiences while travelling in India. So if you’re looking to visit the country, rest assured that everything is being done to make your stay a pleasant one.