Friday, March 24, 2006

NOISE - blank no more !

It is an unfortunate fact about our society and legal system that issues are brought to the notice of the authorities only when the junta publicly declares its anguish. The power of the fourth estate is evident in our system and it is deplorable that is needs to come to that.

Noise effects action. And in the case of the Blank Noise Project, action that is long overdue.

A lot has been said about the Blank Noise Project for over a year now and I would just like to to state that though I am slightly skeptical of the approach, I greatly respect the creation of this forum. I am aware that a very small percentage of the women who are sexually harrassed, actually frequent the blogsphere. But I feel that it is definitely a good place to start and it is indeed heartening to see that the effort has been extended beyond just the blogging community. Once again, on a different note, though I share the same reservations on militant feminism as GreatBong and Vulturo, I am glad that noise is being made.

During the past few months I have been reading a lot of posts by tormented women from all over the world and I guess, as a guy, one has a very different reaction. Most guys from the cities are to a large extent oblivious if not about the harrassment itself, atleast about its shockingly banal nature. I grew up in a fairly protected middle class home in Mumbai. I was the only child and so this issue was never raised in my house. I first started using the public transport system when I was 13, thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the first seat on top in double decker busses or standing next to the exits on the local trains. I loved my city to death.

I was 14 years old. It was a Sunday and I was attending IIT classes. It was the break between two marathon lecture sessions. She was my best friend and was sitting next to me. We were generally talking and I told her how I didn't understand why she had performed so dismally in the half yearly examinations, conducted a few months earlier. In response, she narrated to me her harrowing experience, one that had traumatized her for several months and for the first time I realized my beloved city had a dark side. I was a young, naive, 14 year old.

In the local trains, while travelling to IIT classes, for several reasons, often the girls would travel with us in the general compartments. As guys, we did everything we could to "protect" them. But still when the train pulled up to the platform and began slowing down, as the deluge of bodies disembarking clashed physically with the masses getting on and after we disentangled ourselves from the melee, one of the girls would invariably be livid and would mouth obscenities at no one person (it would be impossible to point out one person in that crowd) but at the situation in general.

At first, I felt very sad that my friends had to experience such harrasment. The more I learnt about it, the more anguished I grew. I couldn't wait to catch someone red-handed and give him a thrashing and a piece of my mind. I felt disgusted at my inability to discern these individuals. I walked with, stood with, perhaps talked to or even smiled at them and I had no idea.

Since then, over the next few years, until I left Mumbai, every single one of my female friends had narrated a story, which in many ways was similar to the one I had first heard, perhaps with a different settings. BEST buses, local trains, dark deserted alleys, crowded bustling streets...everywhere. It wasn't long before the ugly truth dawned upon me that this wasn't an isolated incident, this wasn't even something that most women faced but something that every single girl or woman faces continually. I am deeply saddened to say that I am still searching for that one exception.

This is most definitely a problem. A huge one. But simply making noise isn't enough. Lots of people have asked for and suggested more focussed solutions and I would like to offer one as well.

Every single story I heard from my friends and read from the posts had a common theme. Shock, disbelief, embarrassment and silence. Most had their first experience when they were fairly young, often in pre-teenage years and most couldn't approach their parents and talk about it. They chose instead to shut down and tried to hide it beneath what soon become layers of insecurities. They all felt that this was an isolated case, that perhaps it was their fault.

I feel it's of paramount importance to address this. A forum like Blank Noise helps individuals realize that there are others out there. That they are not alone. That they can reach out and talk to or share with others, their experiences. But again, if limited to just the blog world, its impact will still be a small dent at best. The best way to stop this is to empower women, to give them the courage to immediately express outrage and dismay. To speak out, instead of cowering away. I know, the first reaction to this, is that it is easier said than done. I completely agree, but it's also true, in most cases when confronted, the assailant got frightened and backed down.

Besides, by stopping someone from groping or pinching you today, who knows, perhaps you might stop then from committing a far more serious sexual crime tomorrow. And if I am permitted one cliche - Nip the problem in the bud. By acting against certain forms of eve-teasing, perhaps we are preventing far more serious offenses, if only to a much smaller extent.

Now, please don't misinterpret my words. I don't use the term "empower" condescendingly at all. Anyway, the only way to provide women with that confidence is increased awareness at an early age. Agreed, that most girls around 9 or 10 years of age will not truly comprehend the gravity of the issue, but its definitely where one needs to start.

I know it is hard for parents to often talk about these issues and even when confronted, rarely act as pillars of support and thus I strongly feel that this issue needs to be raised in every single school, indisputably, a child's second home. While most is at home, I feel a lot of what we learn, about life, morality and Indian values is learnt at school, either in the classrooms or on the playgrounds. We need to exploit this as a huge resource and attempt to target all students between, say, the 5th and 10th standards. I used to have a waste of a class, in school, called "Value Education". This could be one of the topics raised there. If not teachers themselves, then more qualified individuals, adherents of the Blank Noise Project or NGO's should visit schools annually and talk about harrassment and increase awareness. Girls need to learn that they will at sometime in the future be exposed to this, and this is how they need to react. It is most certainly not their fault that they were harrassed, but if they choose to stay quiet, it will definitely be partly their fault when others get harrassed. They need to be taught that such reprehensible incidents are commonplace and that they need to speak out - LOUDLY !

Perhaps if they expect it, they can react to it better.

I don't know. Maybe this is just an unfeasible idea from a 20 year old. Perhaps I still am as naive as I was when I heard my first story, 6 years ago. But this is how I feel a difference can be made. This is my solution, which is obviously only a start, but one that I feel is in the right direction.





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