Blank Noise Project is doing some amazing work. It has turned street sexual harassment into a subject of street performance, which can be quite a compelling method for influencing public attitudes.
I have my stories of harassment. There is this that happened two years ago (please try to be trigger-happy in the Jasmeen way, not mine!) - remembered more by being recorded on the blog. But what about that durga puja long ago, when I was shoved by one man, slapped across the butt by another, trying to make my way to another pandal with mum and brother and maid through thousands of people all out on the streets of Ranchi? Why does that memory stay somewhere at the top of all of my childhood memories?
Fortunately, today I've come quite far from the shame so many women are taught to carry around our bodies. I can choose to ignore innocuous looks and stares. If there's a stare I don't want, I can stare it down, or if that does not work - heckle it. There is a sense of power, of being able to do something, which means I can brush off these incidents from my mind more easily.
One of the first times I felt empowered this way was while walking down a crowded Brigade Road with my parents in 2003. A man pinched me and started walking away. Totally unrehearsed, I turned and grabbed his collar. Just a few minutes later - yes, fair Bangalore has its fair share of roadside romeos who all seem to be on this road - there came along another guy. I communicated some pretty unflattering things to him too. But what I remember most is being drunk on the knowledge, for hours after, that I had done something. The exhilaration heightened since this had happened in front of my parents, who had possibly never before seen - whom I had possibly never before allowed to see - me as a sexual being - being harassed, giving it back.
Yes, I celebrate my outrage. Let me say this again - I am fortunate in this. Still fear, shame, guilt, trauma remain a reality for so many women - across classes, regions, ages, education levels. Sexual harassment remains normal for so many men - ditto. Which is why the BNP initiative is so important.
Yet, I wish some things were different:
1. That we did not use Section 354 in the flyer, with its conservative moral tone and language.
2. Or the equally archaic term, "eve teasing". Even though, it is true, this is the term most laypersons recognise immediately.
3. That we did not list "leching" at someone as harassment. After all, we all lech. I lech. What is good leching? What is bad leching? What if someone wants to be leched? Can't you, when someone looks, "lech" back or (in many spaces) publicly object and get a public reaction/sympathy?
Some of BNP's strategies are fun. Can you imagine a row of women standing at a street corner, lolling or nervously purposeful, and a "stranger" tries to harass? Can you imagine the full force of a score or more eyes turning to him, boring into him, probing him? Wow. Kudos for imagining this and performing this, all of you at BNP.