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Wednesday, April 26, 2006
What can we do about the gropers?

Everyone knows what happens to women of all ages - even little girls - in India if they end up in crowded places such as buses, or trains. It happens to them in alleyways, on crowded streets, in bazaars and bus stops. They get groped, rubbed against, grabbed, fondled.

I knew this. Everyone knows this. Maybe not all know the extent of the problem, maybe some of us guys have always hung around in nice circles and had decent, polite boys as friends. I am grateful to Blank Noise Project for the massive blog-a-thon they organised to create awareness of the incessant harassment of women in India in public places. As a guy, this is not stuff you always think about - except when you are worried about the women close to you. Someone had to make a noise about it, and Blank Noise did that. Thank you, girls. I write this piece because tonight is one night when thinking about it has really ruined my sleep, and I have got up from bed to tap this out.

And, Blank Noise, you have been the source of deep frustration too for me. Because, considering everything, I think you guys are taking a path well-trodden. Similar projects across the Web do similar things. They haven't been succesful abroad, and its unlikely the same methods will be succesful in the rougher metros of India.

I know, I feel quilty that I haven't managed to drag myself for an appearance at any of your meetings in Bombay. That was a bit laziness, but more the feeling that nothing of any significance is going to come of it. And it was your blog itself that made me feel so.

For, the blog-a-thon was a big success in creating awareness. The next step was to sustain it. I am sure that during your most active week, your blog was visited by hundreds (perhaps thousands) of readers every day. And both men and women. Both active feminists and people who have nothing to do with it. Both lefties who blame it all on the ills of capitalism, and righties who blame it all on the Muslim invasion in India. But the blog became practically a slowcoach after those intial days of heady activism. Updates would come once in a few days, and details of actitivies planned were secrets meant only for those who turned up at the meetings. Perhaps you have your reasons, but keeping the activism alive on the blog - and not just using it as a pamphlet once distributed and looked at occasionally - is probably not the right way to do something online. Perhaps you don't think an online campaign has much more to do. Perhaps you know better, perhaps you don't. The blog as the fulcrum of your movement is dead if information is not updated daily, and if possible, hourly. Maybe that was never your intention anyway. In the end what can a few bloggers do?

What worries me even more is - where do you go from here? For those of you who don't know about what Blank Noise does apart from the blog, they have meetings, discussions and street interventions. By the last, what they mean is that they try and attempt to change the character of a place or street by some kind of demonstration. An example was what happened in Bombay recently, when a few women and some men took to the streets, each wearing a flourescent letter of the alphabet, and standing side by side, they formed the words - Y R U LOOKING AT ME. They also stood around, individually, wearing 'clothes they would normally wear', on the footpaths and street corners, were leered at by men, got into minor verbal confrontations, and posted on the blog about it.

I am sorry to say this, but if I know anything about men and potential harassers, you have failed miserably.

The character of a place or street wouldn't change with an artistic protest such as that. The would-be harassers would look at you, look away as if they had nothing to do with it, and do what they felt like the next day. My top-of-the-mind suggestion on what could change the character of a place will never work - a 10 story tall, illuminated illustration of a man groping a struggling woman in a train, in full public view for a year. It could work in theory - the Balbir pasha Aids campaign did. But I would probably go to jail for offending public sensibilities if I tried anything of the sort.

So your artistic protests will be ignored, and my shock-and-awe won't even get off the ground. So where do we go?

My frsutration arises out of two things: One, street harassment is alive and well across the world, in spite of large variations in race, economics, culture and geography. The Indian man who is sexually repressed feels he can grope anyone; the men in permissive societies grope less, but make up for it with crude sexual remarks. So is it ever going to end? If someone could point out a place where it barely exists, I have some hope. Maybe, then perhaps we can learn a few lessons from them. Two, it is possible to sensitivise kids to it at an early age so they don't grow up to be gropers in the future. But in a country like India with its innumerable layers of classes and priorities, such a thing would take half a century to bring it down to the level of verbal street harassment.

Let us not say - such things take time. Things which take decades to work on don't happen. Everyone gives up on it a few years down the line. It is embarassing and outrageous that something that affects fifty per cent of the population of our metros is not on television or newspapers on a daily basis. So any ideas, anyone, on some carpet bombing on street harassment?
posted by a correspondent @ 2:56 PM   16 comments  




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