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.
Happy Holi to you all! We love this fantastic poster by Hollaback Chandigarh. This is a time of celebration and magic, but for many people we’ve spoken to recently, harassment is rampant during this festival. At Hollaback! we have noticed that the only thing that correlates with increased street harassment is increased population density – ie. the more people there are, the more likely harassment can be, so it’s no surprise that a festival for which the city takes to the streets to revel and throw colour and party is a time of increased harassment. So, as the poster says, colour with consent, and look out for your family and friends during this time. Does anyone have any Holi-specific harassment stories? As always, we are the safe space you have been waiting for – write to us at [email protected] or post your story to the site.
We loved this Tehelka article about Mamta Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women’s comment that women who are called ‘sexy’ by men should not see this in a negative sense. While she was probably well-intentioned (somehow,) the comment, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down well. Perhaps she was trying to encourage us to reclaim the word ‘sexy?’ I’m not sure. But the point is that blanket statements telling (all) women what we should think, feel and do are necessarily problematic. Check out the article and as always, comment below.
In other news, an awesome new organization called ‘We The People Foundation’ has done a survey of 1000 Mumbai women speaking about harassment. The results are simultaneously shocking and unsurprising; 80% of women experienced harassment every day, 10% lodge police complaints and verbal harassment is seen as an ‘unfortunate drawback’ of being a woman rather than actual harassment. Urgh. But at the same time, solid surveys like this are a necessary resource that we can all use as we talk to our friends, neighbours and family members about the prevalence of harassment. Check it out!
In Johannesburg, hundreds of South Africans marched in protest of the harassment faced by two women who were physically attacked when standing at a taxi stand, apparently because wearing a miniskirt warrants harassment (it does not!) The harassers taunted them, groped them and took photos of them with their mobile phone cameras. Unfortunately, the harassers have not been arrested. In response to the incident, the African National Congress Women’s League called the march to emphasize that women had the right wear whatever they wanted without fear of victimization. Hundreds of women and men marched in protest, some people wore miniskirts and held placards which read ‘we love our minis’ and ‘I will wear my miniskirt anywhere!’ It really is a global revolution. HOLLA FOR JO’BURG!
We’re speaking at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences tonight on street harassment in India! Come along if you can! We’re talking about myths surrounding harassment, bystander intervention, do’s and don’ts when/if you choose to respond to a harasser. Check out the Facebook event for more information.
Here’s a great article on language and rape culture in post-colonial Asia by Gender Across Borders.
And because we know that all this talk of sexual violence can be depressing, here is a HollaYAY! Nancy Rojas Pastelín, a woman in Mexico, told her story of harassment on a YouTube video when the local police refused to confront her harasser. The video went viral; Pastelín was contacted by women’s organizations, TV, news and radio networks within and outside of Mexico. The video has been blocked for safety reasons as the legal case against her harasser unfolds, but at last count, the video was watched by 320,000 people. An inspiring story of how technology can be used to demand more from one’s society. You can read more about the case here.
We wanted to let you know about an amazing event that is happening this evening. Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan, authors of ‘Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets‘ along with Annie Zaidi, author of ‘The Bad Boys Guide to the Good Indian Girl’ and Amana Fontanella Khan, author of ‘The Pink Sari Revolution‘ will be gathering to “banter about women, writing, and the myriad, occasionally muddled connections between the two.” Author and journalist Namita Devidayal will moderate. They are meeting TODAY at the David Sassoon Gardens in Kala Ghoda from 6-7pm. Go forth! It’s going to be awesome. We did an interview with the writers of ‘Why Loiter’ when the book was published and are sure that this event will be nothing short of incredible.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, BOMBAY!
Change.org has just sent out a targeted email to its India listserv encouraging people to sign the petition that Hollaback!Mumbai has started in conjunction with Keenan and Reuben’s families. The petition demands justice for the brutal murders of two bright, brave young men and calls for recognition of the prevalence of street harassment in Mumbai and across India. The case hearing has been scheduled for the end of the month and the prosecutor will be Ujjwal Nikam. We are petitioning the Director General of Police as well as the Chief Minister, Home Minister and Governor of Maharashtra. For every signature, an email will be sent directly to their inboxes telling them that they need to ensure that justice is served. If you haven’t signed it yet, please click here to do so, and pass it on to your friends and family as well. In case you need a visual, here is a tribute video to Keenan and Reuben created by their friend, Avinash.
And press! This article publicizes the amazing work that Hollaback!Chennai is doing and talks about the work that HB Mumbai is doing on the Keenan/Reuben case as well as sexual harassment in India and across the world.