Bengaluru: Safety pins, chilli powder, whistles and pepper sprays are what, women believe, can keep them safe on the streets.
Ms Jasmeen Patheja, founder of Blank Noise and a crusader against sexual harassment, spoke of her journey of negotiating an environment of fear, warnings, sexual violence and victim blaming. She asserted the right of every woman to live free from fear. “During an activity, I asked my fellow classmates to write down words that strike them in relation to the idea of public space. The words penned down were subjected to largely negative emotions. Keeping this in mind, I wanted to know why we weren’t discussing about it,” she said.
“Why is sexual violence associated with shame? Why are we told to walk fast on streets? Why are we asked to cover ourselves in jackets while walking on streets,” were the questions she pondered over which helped her work towards making it as a social issue.
Action ‘Sheroes’ project
Ms Patheja wanted to unlearn fear and initiated the Action ‘Sheroes’ project, where women and girls collectively learned to walk slowly on streets (as against the social construction of walking fast), make eye contacts (general instruction is to look down and walk), etc. This way, she engaged people to work towards unlearning general instructions, and to shed fear associated with street violence. Over time, girls and women, who are referred to as sheroes by Ms. Patheja and who participated in her project, started getting comfortable while walking down streets.
In the process, Ms Patheja compiled a ‘Step-by-Step Guide to Unapologetic Walking’ – a compilation of important things to remember while walking. “Walk very very slowly.. Walk without your sunglasses…Walk without your eyes fixed to the ground…Walk alone… Walk at 5am, noon, 3 am… Walk smiling… Walk alone…”
She said, “It’s not that we can draw an end to sexual violence. But through these initiatives, we aim to step back from our constant mind space and body space surrounded by fear, and make each woman get an essence of what an ideal public space echoes.”
Through her projects like ‘I Never Ask For It’, ‘Meet to Sleep’, etc., she further deals with emotions like trust where girls and women engaged in conversations with strangers where they are free to speak on anything.
Accordingly, through conversations, she identified a thread of empathy which further helped in removing fear associated with strangers. Similarly, there were marches of women and girls with clothes that they wore when being subjected to street violence, thereby raising the message – ‘I Never Asked for It’....