Intervention in the Streets

A group of Blank Noise activists take over a bus in 2003. Image: flickr

In America, when a man directs unwanted attention towards a woman or initiates sexual advances, it's called sexual harassment. But in Northern India, the term is "eve teasing," and it's getting a strong backlash thanks to a coalition of female artists called Blank Noise. Last month, several women from various cities joined forces to share their experiences and walk the streets together. Calling themselves "Action Heroes," the women became both activists and performance artists.

Blank Noise began in Bangalore, as a student art project, in 2003. Mimicking the "Take Back The Night" movements in the United States, the group unites large groups of women and encourages them to walk the streets at night as a collective, making a statement to the men who could otherwise harass them individually. Participants "Reclaim the Streets" in other ways as well: from spray painting the testimonies of sexual harassment victims in public places, to wearing clothing bearing anti-harassment messages.

Prior to the 2003 movement, a similar walk was held in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1978, to protest the gang rape of a pregnant woman in public. Unfortunately the 1978 Reclaim the Streets movement was never repeated. That is, not until recently, when internet resources like facebook and twitter became readily available to the disenfranchised women of Northern India and an "intervention," in Blank Noise's words, was made possible.

Reading about these growing movements is inspiring, but also makes me wonder how many women (and men in some cases), walk alone at night, face unwanted stares and verbal abuse, without support or even the confidence in knowing that they have done nothing wrong. But the message of Blank Noise is loud and clear: you never ask for it.

Do you experience harassment or abuse in your community? Do you know someone who does? In the U.S., the Take Back The Night coalition offers a great online resource center (click here for a list of American support groups). If you live in India and would like to join Blank Noise, click here.

Also, check out Holla Back NYC, where women who are harassed in public share their experiences and often take photographs of the perpetrator. It's a great, cathartic site and oftentimes very funny.