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‘How Many Streets Will We Avoid?’

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By Veda Nadendla:

I don’t feel safe walking by myself on the streets even in broad daylight. Sometimes it’s catcalling and sometimes groping – street harassment is an everyday intruder in my life and in the lives of millions of women in India. It’s the same story everywhere. Walking home from work, a group of young boys approaches, calling out perverse names and whistling. All we do is turn our gaze to the ground, bow our heads and continue to walk. We tell ourselves, ‘I’m going to avoid that street from now’.

street harrasment

How many streets will we avoid? When we are unable to acknowledge, much less speak up about being harassed, how can we expect change?

Just when I was getting restless to open up about my daily devils, but losing hope in ever finding support from the people around me, a golden opportunity presented itself. A workshop conducted by Chennai based organization Schools of Equality in partnership with Stop Street Harassment from Virginia, USA which calls out to people to share their experiences and raise their voice against street harassment. I was excited, for I would finally have the opportunity to talk about my bitter experiences on the streets of Chennai and Delhi. About how no one ever came to help, or even turned around when I raised my voice in rage. I was looking forward to meeting like-minded people who had the desire for change.

Eager and excited, I walked into the workshop, only to find myself alone with the organizers. For half an hour we waited, and wondered, just the three of us – where were the other like-minded individuals? Baffled at the sheer lack of interest in the everyday disrespect for personal space that puts all of us at risk when we set foot outside home; we decided, if it’s people we need then people we will find.

With posters in hand and determined to conquer, we went out onto the streets of Chennai asking people to join us in our quest to stop street harassment. As soon as we set foot outside our venue, irony met us in the form of two men in a jeep, ogling and making lewd gestures. When we asked them to join the workshop, they made an excuse and hastily drove away. All we had to do was raise our voices in unison and the oppression could be stopped; this we realized is the power of conversations for change. Now even more pumped, we recruited four youngsters on their way somewhere, to join us instead. With eight of us joined by two facilitators, the workshop was the best I have attended this past year.

Schools of Equality is a Chennai-based organization that works to inculcate human rights and gender sensitivity in school children through their curriculum and helps enable open discussions in the classroom on such issues. “Infringement on human rights starts so early, education about it should start young as well.” Says Gulika Reddy, Human Rights lawyer and Founder of Schools of Equality. With classrooms spanning multiple age groups, it was observed over seven months of classes that the younger and older children have developed a sense of mutual respect and understanding, allowing more participation and expression. They are compelling children to think for themselves and for humanity.

During the workshop, I myself was able to put myself in the shoes of the harassed and the harasser, in the position of my parents, worried sick for my safety in a world where even taking a cab is not safe anymore. I asked myself, every time someone has touched me or made lewd gestures at me, why didn’t I do anything? I realized that I suffered silently because I assumed no one would stand up for me. Then, I asked myself, would I stand up for someone?
We all blame society for being a bystander, failing to recognize that we too have been a part of that society.

Harassment on the streets will not stop, whether I am wearing a kurta or a tanktop, whether I am on a bike or in a car. But I choose to be a voice for change, not a silent spectator. If there is a visible and pervasive culture of harassment and disrespect towards women, you can create your own visible and pervasive culture of respect. Just speak up.

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  1. Babar

    Street harassment is wrong. There is no excuse or justification for it. At the same time, please tell me what message women are sending, albeit inadvertently, by wearing skimpy clothes? Also, many women deliberately choose to wear revealing attire for attention, and are sexually aggressive, calculating, and predatory.

    Furthermore, what you wear defines you. If a woman walks in a maternity dress, people will think she is pregnant. If a woman roams around in a police uniform, people will assume she is a police officer. If a woman wears skimpy clothing, people will think she is a ….

    Concerning the message in the picture, I agree that people should not stare, but today it has become a fashion for girls to show cleavage and thighs, and with half of a girl’s breasts hanging out of her top, if men look it will not fall under the category of street harassment.

    Also, why does no one talk about girls staring at boys. I get stared at all the time by girls, from weddings and functions to streets and market places. Is girls staring at boys okay but unacceptable the other way around? The truth is, girls stare at boys just the same but on one talks about it.

    1. Veda Nadendla

      Their body, their choice. Individual choice and personal space, my friend.

    2. Babar

      Negative choices come with consequences.

    3. Mohbat Tharani

      Our mind learns things as images so what we see ultimately leaves effect on our thinking and action….

    4. Harkirat Singh

      Mr. Babar…. You have been commenting upon a lot of issues…. Mostly I disagree with you… And to your amusement.. I’ll disagree with you yet again.
      Sir, I understand where you are coming from. But please remember what a girl can wear or should wear will always be her right, not yours. And as far as eve teasing is concerned, girls are called names even in schools, where all of them dress in the same way. It is never about how a girl is dressed, but about what is cooking in the filthy mind of the man. If a man is taught to behave properly with a girl, he would never tease her. I would presume you won’t, no matter how the girl is dressed. And Sir, a sincere request, please do not commit such faux pas, as your support might just give a wrong message.
      Hope my request won’t fall on deaf ears.

    5. Moonwing

      This guy is unbelievable. In India I was groped almost every day in streets and crowded buses whether I was in long skirts, or salwars, or sarees, or jeans or guess what, even in my School Uniform. I cannot believe people still carry this idea that eve teasing happens only when girls wear “revealing” clothes. Over the past years we’ve seen children raped, animals raped. You think it was because the freaking cow wasn’t wearing a Saree??? For you the definition of ‘revealing’ clothes are shorts and low cut tops, for the Taliban even displaying ‘hands’ are too revealing, for nudists even a completely nude person is nothing but ‘normal’ and the natural way to be. It is all a matter of perspective. There is one and ONLY one person to blame in case of any kind of sexual harassment or eve teasing, and that is the filth in the mind of the perpetrator.

    6. Annamraju Jyothi

      sir , but think boys have no problem with girls staring at him.He may think as if he is looking like a hero or just end up with thinking “I think they like me.”But i am sorry to say its not the case with every girl.

  2. Mohbat Tharani

    I agree with Babar to some extent that “today it has become a fashion for girls to show cleavage and thighs, and with half of a girl’s breasts hanging out of her top….” but there exist street harassment regardless of dressing.
    Dress and makeup to look like a girl and walk across streets, you will feel it!!.

    Yes proper dress can reduce the rate of harassment. However, movies play very important role in this regard. Most of movie present GIRL as sex toy and promote girls to show them sexy (show their body) declaring it as modernization rather than introducing girls (heroine) role as a respectable personalty. If our movies depict pre-marital sex, boys catching on girls, and kidnapping and raping girls then you think people (some criminal minded for any reason) would always do right??
    Yes! this is social disease. how do we solve it ??

    1. Soumya Raj

      Think about your mom. She has the same thighs, breasts, and body as all of us women. Do you think a woman should be preyed upon because she is not dressed “properly”? Who are you to teach us women how to dress? Who are you to show us the proper way to carry our bodies? You know what, the next time there is a knife around, and so are you, I will slice off your jugular vein. You know why? Because proper handling of the knives could’ve avoided it. Best of luck with your outdated thinking, honestly.

    2. Babar

      Your interpretation of his comment is bizarre, and your reply, appalling. Neither are victims being blamed, nor is anyone in favour of street harassment, which seems to be what you have deduced with the statement, “Do you think a woman ‘should’ be preyed upon because….” Of course, women should not be preyed upon – regardless of what they are wearing. However, while it is true that not all women are harassed due to their clothing, it remains a fact that many women are. As for your question, “who are you to teach us women how to dress?” I would like to ask, why are feminists so unhesitant in asking us men to help them, run their campaigns, fight their battles, thrash eve-teasers for them, and even have agendas like HeforShe, asking men to support them? And your analogy about slicing his jugular vein only shows the degrading mentality of feminists.

    3. priy_ankD

      @ Soumya Raj:

      Get off your high horse. Get your feet to the ground, deflate your ego. Real world does not work your in your way, law and logic exist, so avoid any adventure with knives.

      Mothers have breasts and thighs, but they are not manipulative this way, to seduce attractive men, to feel that high when a handsome man responds and cry foul if same tactics also draw eyes of an unattractive man, which is pure hypocrisy.

      If a handsome guy notices you and responds with a smile he is charming but when an unattractive man does the same he is creepy and offensive?

      Who the hell are YOU to dictate where to look and where not to? His eyes his choice. A man’s freedom should not be oppressed.

    4. Soumya Raj

      Hi Babar, do look up a dictionary for what feminism actually stands for. We don’t need men to do our work, so stop howling with self-importance. No woman does. The men who help us however do so because they understand the importance of the movement and gender equality.

      Regarding my comment. What exactly is wrong with it? Honestly, what? No woman however she is dressed should be harrassed. So please don’t give the explanation that some women who are dressed scantily also get preyed upon. I also read your long comment above which describes how our fashion dictates what we are. No, not at all. If I walk naked around in the road I am not asking for it. And don’t you ever talk about feminism in that tone if don’t get it, your whole speech reeks of half baked knowledge. Rest, peace.

    5. Babar

      I think I have stated, more than clearly, on two separate occasions, that street harassment is wrong and no woman should be harassed, regardless of what she is wearing. The whole point is that clothes send a message and call for unwanted attention. This can be avoided if girls dress decently. Once again, I am not saying that a girl can be harassed due to what she is wearing, but that in this day and age it is a safer option.

      When you run a grand campaign titled HeforShe, you are asking men to help you, support you, and fight your battles for you. As for feminism, it is not about equal rights, otherwise you would call yourself a humanist, not a feminist. Feminism is about the superiority of women over men, and the subjugation and subservience of men. Furthermore, most Indian households run under the matriarchy, where mothers are dominating and control their husbands, kids, and daughters-in-law.

      The movement called feminism runs on lies, and is full of double standards. That is why even women have taken a stance against feminism – Women Against Feminism

    6. Soumya Raj

      Feminism equals to gender equality, when the foundation of your concepts is wrong itself, how can you approach the problem in a helpful manner? I can walk on the road in a suit and get raped, I can wear shorts and get raped, how does wearing anything and not wearing anything guarantee me safety? And regarding HeForShe, feminism doesn’t create gender bias. Please gets your facts right. Please. We need men to get involved because unlike patriarchy, feminism doesn’t feel leaving out a particular gender behind is an option for a progressive and egalitarian society. We need men to understand that along with the constructs and diktats that govern women and inhibit them, also come similar constructs and diktats that govern men as well. If men and women don’t help each other, who will? Do you think helping women out will belittle you, Babar? Do you know women who get ogled at on the streets? Don’t you think men should be educated about such unhealthy and uncalled advances towards women? Don’t you think that the root cause of the problem should be corrected first, which happens to be, men like you, who think that dressing well will avoid rapes to a certain degree, and conversely also, if they don’t dress up well, they asked for it?We don’t ask for it. Trust me, we don’t ask for it. So for God’s sake open up your minds and try and understand the issue, rather than create your own myths about what feminism is.

      And who are you call people ugly or beautiful? That is so abstract and subjective. Getting hit on by sleazebags regardless of their looks infringes on my private space and human rights, and mind you, if anyone does that, I am not going to be okay with it, whether it is the most good looking man (according to you) or the most ugly one, (according to you again.)

      And I hope that you do know all mothers have had sex, that’s how they became mothers in the first place. So stop glorifying motherhood, first of all. What I meant was that all women, mothers, sisters, daughters, whoever they are, have the same body and they get raped, and rape is never about the body.

      It is mostly done by people like you who think it is okay to dictate a particular sect of people and have them live according to you. So may I request you, to get off your high horse, and wake up and smell the coffee. Jaisi main hoon, waisi aap hain, aur yeh kisi ke saath bhi ho sakta hai. I hope you support the cause now, that I’ve made myself clear, I hope.

    7. Babar

      It is mostly done by people like you…

      All I said was that women would be safer if they covered themselves well, and you reveal the amount of hatred and poison inside you, probably a side effect of feminism, or maybe you are so self-righteous that you can call anyone a rapist at the blink of an eye. You must be a great follower of Marilyn French who said “all men are rapists, and that is all they are.” By the way, half of your comment is a reply to priy_ankD, so I don’t know why it is addressed to me. Although your appalling comment closes room for all discussion, you can still choose to indulge in more slander. Whatever makes you feel better. Thank you.

    8. priy_ankD

      @ Soumya Raj:

      Hold on for a second and listen to yourself, woman. Channel your anger somewhere else, not here.

      “And who are you call people ugly or beautiful?”

      1) Exactly. Not me, but a self proclaimed feminist found it creepy when an unattractive man (according to her) gave her a smile, but a handsome man (according to her) was charming when he smiled. Both strangers to her. Both at the same concert. (Smells of hypocrisy, and not the promised coffee). An observation found commonly.
      You probably were too angry to get the tone of my reply. But it is more likely you chose to derail the argument as you do not seem to have any counter reason.

      2) In many cultures people smile out of politeness. If you term it “sleazy”, “getting hit on” and “infringement of human rights” then there is something wrong with you and you pose a threat, a danger to the society. (Who knows, a poor, happy go lucky chap might just get beaten up someday for smiling, upon being misconstrued as a “sleazy advance” by some hyper-antagonistic, foaming-at-the-mouth feminist)

      3)

      “and rape is never about the body”

      Women who are mothers get raped too. But not because they are mothers. Then it should be clear that some women choose to defy reason and mistreat their body, thus enduring avoidable consequences such as rapes in certain cases. Some not all

      Honestly woman, if in your rage you start knifing every one around you, you might just kill a well meaning person instead.

      And yeah, a word of (unsolicited) advice, please be clear in who you are referring to: me or Babbar.

  3. Ann

    Those who don’t want to change cannot be changed no matter what you write and tell them. some people just don’t accept mistakes and instead of taking responsibilities will always blame it on the victim trying to find a way out. no matter what argument u give they will always have a counter argument ready for you. and whatever is happening girls and only girls are responsible for it according to them. talking to them is like hitting your own head against a wall and sadly they comprise a large portion of our society 🙁

  4. Rahul Mehra

    For any problem , if we want to get that problem resolved then we have to take into account every aspect of that problem.

    Likewise for street harassment dressing of girls ( nowadays flaunting of body parts to the maximum extent they can ) aslo contribute to the problem to some extent. So dear we should consider that also.

    But unfortunately some people can’t digest this fact.

  5. Rahul mehra

    The way u have replied , i think you need some rest.

  6. sahil

    I think the biggest problem in India isn’t the way the women dress, but its the fact that you address the very wrong crowd. By writing articles that appeal to only educated men most of whom don’t really bother about how women dress. But what about the rickshaw drivers and the hooligans. They don’t know feminism and they don’t give two hoots about women rights. Now most rape cases have men like these as suspects. The sad truth is that these people can’t be educated in a rational way. And the government in India isn’t going to do vigilante style protection, I really don’t know how much of a detterrant the current eve teasing or rape laws can be. I am not sure if castration or death will also help. Many of these men aren’t afraid to go to jail they are already felons, they don’t think about going to jail as a reason why a company wouldn’t hire me or I won’t get a visa to go to the US. Frankly how do you solve this I don’t know. I think women should be free to wear what they want and do what they like but the challenge is that when we live in a country that has so much of economic and educational diversity, its really hard to drive home this point. And its not so much about clothes alone but these people loathe free independant women as it makes them feel inferior and hurts their patriarchy. Setting them straight is what needs to be done.

    1. Babar

      Mr. Sahil, how do you plan on educating women, who have made it a habit to accuse men wrongly in false cases of rape, dowry, and domestic violence. Do you know that 75% of rape cases are false?

    2. sahil

      75% seems a bit too much. The high court in Mumbai has quashed a recent case by an ex girlfriend and the courts can make the needed call when its too close to call. But in cases like the Uber driver and Nirbhaya case which is clear cut you can award death or castration. The law can be flexible so they can determine easily. Gang rape isn’t ever going to be fake or consensual so you can have deviants in the law. Its not that hard. If the lawmakers want to make something about it.

    3. Babar

      75% is an underreported figure, because it does not take into account the tens of thousands of innocent Indian men rotting in jail for a crime they did not commit.

  7. Gaurav

    hindus should read the book – decolonising the hindu mind by koenraad elst. this is a brilliant book

  8. Rana_pervEZ

    My breasts are normal not for staring

    NO breasts are abnormal. Such an attention seeker that girl is.
    Breasts are not some objects, not someone’s property, no.

    Anyways, if this is how she looks, then she need not worry, no one is ever going to give her a second look, let alone stare! Ewww! (May give a second look out of disgust)

    1. Fem

      What a beautiful, thoughtful, sensible man-child you are. Are you 13? You do sound like one.

    2. ranapervez

      @fem I don’t understand. I believe a fair discussion is warranted.

      What does she mean by My breasts are normal not for staring? Whose breasts are abnormal then? Old, sagging breasts? Mothers’? Grandmothers’?
      She is young so she is better? Whose breasts are meant for staring? No ones. Not even old ladies’.
      That smug look of hers? Such an elitist attitude. What is she implying? Is she above other, less fortunate women?
      “my breasts” seems like an egoistic person, such an attention seeker, an ugly person.

    3. Fem

      Then it means you are getting her message wrong.

      This is as much a personal message as much as it stands for the community. She is sending a message to the world which (in short) says that she is not a sexual object and she stands for every woman here as much as she stands for herself.

    4. Fem

      Normal is not in terms of physical property. Normal means ‘a normal part of female anatomy’. Breasts are as normal as any body part of any gender and therefore should not be stared at as if its a choice piece of meat.

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