May 20, 2008
H/l: How a blog sparked a national movement
Intro: Blank Noise, a protest against street sexual harassment moved from the streets to cyberspace and became a national movement
Byline: Vrushali Lad
Slug: Fighting street harassment
Mumbai: Jasmeen Patheja was just 18 when she moved from Kolkata to Bengaluru to finish her art studies in 2003. But a few lecherous men gave her the first taste of street sexual harassment on the roads, prompting the gritty undergraduate, alone in an alien city, to fight back.
But she soon discovered that attitudes towards eveteasing were to blame. “There is an underlying feeling that women ‘ask for it’. Men are either protective or they believe that women provoke a reaction from men. Meanwhile, women model themselves in a way as to not to be targeted. Basically, society says that a woman on her own must accept eveteasing,” the 23-year-old fumes.
Undeterred, she started ‘Blank Noise’ in 2003. “It was a shift from silent grousing to dealing with offenders in public places. We had workshops exploring such issues as ‘feeling victimised’ and being a threat to men. But it was still a small-time project,” she says.
Blank Noise would have remained unknown if Patheja had not moved on to the internet in 2005. “I started the Blank Noise blog, and put up pictures of offenders and the many stories of women who had endured or hit back. Suddenly, there was a lot of interest and questions about the project, and the project became a movement that swept across the country.” A 2006 blogathan on the issue elicited even more response from both men and women.
Cut to 2008. The simplicity of the project – anybody anywhere can join and chart their activities – has helped create Blank Noise core teams and yet more teams within, and so much participation that there is no way to map the numbers. All activities, from getting new members to deciding venues and timings of activities are decided on the blog. “We have a huge presence in all the metros and the smaller cities. Recently, there are requests for a Pune chapter,” Patheja explains.
The philosophy of Blank Noise is to help women understand that nobody has the right to intimidate or insult them. The project has empowered many women and men around the country to fight back and do something when placed in humiliating situations.
“When we initiate a project, we arm all the volunteers with whistles, so if any woman gets into a confrontation, all the volunteers assemble on the spot.” The combat philosophy is to stare in the offender’s eyes in silence till he cracks. “Mostly the men either apologise or shuffle away,” Patheja explains.
At the core of the movement, however, is the idea that a victim must heal and confront the experience by sharing it with others. “It is not okay to be sexually harassed on the street. It is not okay to put up with it,” Patheja signs off.
Want a piece of the action?
Log on to http://www.blogblanknoise.org and get updates on where the next interaction is happening. The blog will also give info on what constitutes eve teasing and be sure to check the stories of others who are part of the network. If you want to start a chapter in your city or town, contact Jasmeen Patheja on firstname.lastname@example.org for details.