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HOLLA BOMBAY!We know we’ve been uncharacteristically quiet over the past few months. We were setting up to transition over to a new Director of HB Mumbai, as Aisha got ready for graduate school, but unfortunately, a commitment came up for the new Director and she was unable to take HB on. So, we are temporarily closed, but if you are reading this and would like to start Hollaback Mumbai up, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for the support!
I had been living in a small town in India for three weeks as an exchange student before I got out to the big city. I was sitting in a hair salon with my host sister while she was getting her hair done. The male hair stylist asked if I wanted a cut, blow-dry, and hair treatment since my hair was so brittle. I agreed since my hair was in need of help. He took me upstairs to a private, poorly lit room and I immediately felt unsafe.
I sat down, and the hair dresser put the creams in my hair and massaged into my scalp, and moved his way down to my neck, then my shoulder. He quickly made his way under my shirt, touching and massaging my bare shoulder. I was more in shock of this happening at a hair salon out of all places. He kept asking me if I wanted my chest massaged, and touched my pectoral muscles to showed me what he meant. Stunned by his forwardness, I smiled and laughed nervously, which he read as a yes, and continued massaging me.
The worst was about to come. He put a electronic device on his hand that vibrating violently. He started on my scalp and went own my arms and “accidently” went over my right breast.
Then he asked again if I wanted my pecs massaged, but his Enlighs kept getting worse to the point where I just nodded and smiled. Big mistake. His hands slid incredibly far down the front of my shirt. His hands touched the “foothills” of my breasts.
I finally got the couraged to tell him to stop, and he did. I now understand that he seeing how far he could get with the “loose and easy” foreigner.
A few months ago, we were interviewed by the BBC for a radio documentary on street harassment. The documentary aired last month to a few million (!) listeners. SO EXCITING. Check out the link and hear about how harassment plays out in different countries around the world, and what people are doing about it.
Also, check out the Facebook group GotStared. They are doing some awesome work dismantling the stereotypes surrounding harassment. This is one of their supercool posters:
Although we welcome anonymous stories on Hollaback Mumbai, since it is the launch of our ‘Main Hoon Na/I’ve Got Your Back campaign, I’m submitting my story with my name on it.
Like many people, I am harassed every day, often multiple times a day. I do not see it as a ‘compliment.’ I see it as a by-product of a culture that accepts gender-based violence and something that prevents me from enjoying this city that I love so deeply.
This was the incident that got me most riled up about starting a Hollaback site: I was at Andheri train station waiting in the line to punch my coupon. When I got to the front, a guy came over and pushed my hand away and started punching his own coupons. I said ‘hey! I was here first.’ He replied: ‘so?’ Great. I punched my coupons and I left. I was walking up the stairs and someone bumps into me, his hand pressing against my butt. I turn around, and it’s the Coupon-Ass. He says sorry and smiles. I keep going. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him watching me. When I stop to send my friend an SMS and he stops too, watching me from across the bridge, I know he’s following me. I walk towards the train and he follows me. I stop, hoping he will walk past, and he doesn’t. That’s when I started to get really scared. I didn’t say or do anything. I just ran down to the first train I could find, got into the Ladies compartment and hoped that he wouldn’t follow me.
This was pre-Hollaback, pre-learning things to say and do when I was being harassed. The experience sucked – I felt dirty and ashamed and like I had done something wrong. I now know that there is nothing I can do that warrants harassment. But when I read about Hollaback, it was the memory of this experience which pushed me to contact Emily May and start a Hollaback in Mumbai. And I am so grateful for this difficult, inspiring opportunity to be part of something so much bigger than me. The guy was a grade-A asshole, but in a way I am glad that I was propelled to become part of Hollaback because of it.
UPDATE: Four days after the attack, (and far too many blog posts and articles speculating about the victim’s dress, job description and character later) she has spoken out in the Times of India.
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Let’s review. A female bar employee is abducted and gang-raped in Gurgaon, outside Delhi. Despite the fact that Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code specifies that the name of the victim should not be indicated in any legal or media publications, the Noida police release the victim’s name. They later called this a “clerical error.”
Within 24 hours of the attack, the Deputy Commissioner, PC Meena, steps up with a tidy solution: all malls, pubs and commercial establishments cannot allow women employees to work after 8pm. If a woman insists on working after 8pm, she has to request permission to do so from the Labour Department. She is also encouraged not to get “too friendly” with her customers. Mr. Meena has also said that is the responsibility of companies who employ women after 8pm to ensure that they are safely transported from work to home, or home to work. A vehicle logbook must be kept. Drivers’ names and registration numbers must be recorded. CCTVs must be installed at pick up points to ensure that women are not ‘forcibly lifted.’ Bars need to maintain records of every person who enters the premises with photocopies of identity cards which are submitted to the authorities every two weeks. They also need to create an IP address and provide internet access to the police, so that they have a 360 degree view of the premises.
This is what we know about the case, specifically. The victim’s marital status was recorded, her job description was scrutinized, the results of her rape test were publicized. The Noida Superintendent of Police told reporters that the victim “willingly went” with the accused attackers “because she wanted an alcohol party with the boys.” He also claims that she was involved in a physical relationship with more than one of the accused. But what about her attackers? What news of these men who raped and watched as other men raped a woman? All we are told is that there were six men who the victim says know her friend.
These men have not been investigated, presumably because people are wary of tangling with a group of men who committed and condoned gang rape. In failing to investigate, prosecute and remand these men, we imply that all men are Neanderthal-like creatures who walk around compelled to carry out a rudimentary biological imperative. Women, therefore, are powerless creatures who can only make sure to be home, Cinderella-like, by 8pm in order to avoid being attacked. Sexual assault, it is presumed, only happens when you are out late at night and away from your home. (Statistics, of course, prove otherwise.) These stereotypes about men, besides being untrue and insulting to the mental, emotional and intellectual capacities of men, absolve a significant portion of our society of a responsibility towards ending gender-based violence.
It is our collective responsibility to dismantle this culture which condones gender-based violence in our communities. Together. But I think that this initiative needs to be led by competent, efficient, ethical law enforcement agencies. We must remember that it is the professional prerogative of the police to crack down on crime, to arrest those who commit sexual assault, to remand those who make public space less safe. The legislation which prohibits women from working after 8pm and proscribes employers to ensure women’s safe transportation pushes the responsibility for public safety away from the police and onto the public’s shoulders. It lets the police off the hook. Now, it is employers’ responsibility and women’s mantle to make sure we are home by 8pm where it is presumed we will be safe.
It is our responsibility to look out for one another, but law enforcement agencies need to set an example for this. It is the government’s job to ensure the safety of our streets. It is the police’s job to crack down on crime. We pay taxes for services like public healthcare and education, but also for our streets to be safe places. We need to call on our government and law enforcement agencies to do their jobs; to fulfill the promises enshrined in our Constitution. However small an act it is – a Tweet, a Facebook status update, a conversation with a neighbor – it’s one more step towards a safe India.
To get involved, Like Jagori’s ‘Safe Delhi Campaign’ Facebook page.
I work late nights at times and come home by cab. Note here that late is 10:30-11:00 max. I mind my own business and hope others do the same so it was really surprising when one day after alighting from a taxi, this kid outside my building who’d probably just hit puberty called me a prostitute in Hindi. Then his friend said something and he agreed with it saying that he knows me well. I was too stunned to react. I went home and cried, not because some kid had the guts to say shit about me but because of what the people in the area / his influencers must be saying about my character because I work weird timings and dress modernly. Children look up to adults for ways to behave and think and this is shocking behavior. Wish I could holler back that their judgements are just a poor reflection of their backgrounds.