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Make some noise

Especially some Blank Noise. Priya Chaphekar catches up with the organisation that has dedicated itself to not letting eve-teasing and worse go unnoticed

Since our childhood we are taught not to go out on the streets after sunset, during teenage years girls have never-ending fights with mothers about what to wear, as adults we are constantly warned about covering up. Then there are days when you wear your favourite denim skirt and from the bus-stop to the chaiwalla outside your college, every man is staring, whistling at your legs.

A combination of all this sets into our minds at a very young age. So much so that at some point, you wonder why everyone is staring at you when nobody is even bothered!

Why does this happen? What can we do in these situations?
Bothered by these questions, the students of the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology (batch 2003) worked on them as part of their Community Arts project. “Every woman in this country is eve-teased at some point or the other. I’m from Kolkata and I was studying in Bangalore at that point. It was depressing because I didn’t have a home to run back to,” said Jasmeen, one of the founders of Blank Noise. “What is all the more surprising is that people don’t want to talk about it. Even if they do, they have the chalta hai attitude, which was the biggest challenge in the endeavour to come up with this organisation. There were nine students, including me, who took the initiative and today we have fairly established ourselves,” she added.

Blank Noise is a community-public art project that seeks to confront street harassment. The project works with the victims, perpetrators and spectators of street sexual harassment and hopes to bring a change in the public perception of eve teasing, which is still largely considered a minor problem. The main objective of Blank Noise is to erase the negative connotations associated with public places.

The first year of BN went into a lot of research, understanding the definition of sexual harassment and simple things like why women feel safer walking with a lot of things, why adolescent girls hunch their backs when they walk on the street and why many of us fear to get into a crowded bus during peak hours. “This means that the street is not making them comfortable,” concluded Jasmeen. They discovered the disturbing answer that Indian women are conditioned to believe a lot of things that
are wrong.

Since then, the blog blanknoise.org has worked wonders for many Indian women as it helped start a public conversation on the hitherto hidden subject. Hundreds of bloggers came forward to share their experiences, which encompassed eve-teasing and some offences that were more serious than that. “It was a mass catharsis. The press supported us too. People from different cities were writing in and that in turn helped us propagate our thoughts and ideas,” said Jasmeen.

Talking about volunteering for BN, she said, “Anyone can join BN. The core team is formed with sustained effort. You have to get the essence. Since, every situation, person and encounter is unique, every person has a chance to contribute towards BN. People join in, leave because they have exams, some get married so there are no restrictions as such. It is an open-ended organisation. I have five volunteers in every city who I can easily get in touch with.”

What is amazing is that BN calls the victims “survivors” or “Action Heros”. There is a sense of sympathy attached to the word “victim”. When you say “Action Hero”, you feel empowered and, hence, don’t feel any kind of apprehension in writing about what you have experienced. “People e-mail us and we write back to them. When you read testimonials on our blog, you know you aren’t alone. We want women to overcome their phobia to access the street because if they don’t, it will grow worse. We encourage ways that are empowering,” said Jasmeen, while narrating various experiences that she had heard of.

Blank Noise organises a lot of events in different cities. Apart from the narration of experiences, there are opinion polls, photographs, discussions that happen on the blog. One good thing is that 50% of the BN volunteers are men. When asked about how people can stop eve-teasing, Jasmeen said, “First and foremost, I think we need to get the men involved and also get a more clear view of what women in the country think eve-teasing is. We need to start questioning. One has to get into one’s mind that one has the right to be in public without an apology. Girls have got to start walking with their shoulders thrown back. It’s high time we shift this fear-based relationship into an empowering experience.”

Blank Noise is in the process of establishing itself as a full-fledged organisation with a team of employees. They are registering themselves this year so they can help people with legal help like filing FIRs etc. For all you young readers, who have kept your experiences to yourselves for the fear of what the world will say, get them out and do your bit towards curbing this morbid
social disease.

Log on to www.blanknoise.org right away!

-Priya Chaphekar

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