Sunday, 17 December 2017

Meet to sleep: Women reclaiming public spaces

“We need to unlearn everything that we have learned till today being women. It’s important to support and respect one another, so when next time a woman asks for support, do help her and in case she backs out as in your case, don’t get angry it’s important to understand that it’s very difficult to break the conditioning and raise voice against your own people in terms of injustice”, shares one of the participant during the campaign “Meet to Sleep” organized in solidarity of 16 December, the day when Jyoti Singh, 22 years old physiotherapist was brutally raped in New Delhi 5 years ago.

I clearly remember when I first heard about the brutal rape, I was in the Newsroom (back then I had a different profession), I froze to death! With each passing day, details of brutality, inhumane things were coming out in mainstream media as well as social media. Every detail of the case was spreading like fire, which ignited and infuriated people’s mind, young and old, men and women were all gathering and protesting in different parts of the country including New Delhi. Lot of reactions were pouring from everywhere Politicians, to famous Bollywood celebrities to common men who had become furious warriors. I was there standing on the roads along with hundreds to people fighting for justice, it was for the first time I was out on the road shouting and carrying written slogans, all I could think was that nobody deserves this sufferings and the criminals must be punished!

She lost her life, and that changed everything- one side there was hue and cry for justice and on the another hand, fear started deepening its roots which involved scrutiny in terms of what girl is wearing, timings when a girl should go out and come back, places which are unsafe for girls, and literally thousands of apps came out to ensure safety! That situation has not changed till now, there have been better laws courtesy Justice Verma committee, public spaces are still considered out of bound for girls.

So this year, “Meet to sleep” campaign (by Blank Noise) was organized in order to take a step forward to reclaim public places, to fight the fear that women can’t be in public parks, roads, to show our presence and to claim our right to be defenseless because when India gained independence it was not only for Men but for women as well as for every gender and sexual identity.

It was literally last minute when we decided to host and participate in the event. Within few hours we coordinated with number of organizations and people in Dwarka to gather and participate in “Meet to sleep” campaign. I was hopeful that people would turn up because it was about each one of us plus I thought that from Sahas, we are 2 people and anyone else joining us is a happy bonus. 

All geared up with our mats, pillows and some snacks, we arrived at Park in Dwarka sec-3, to my surprise one woman after another kept coming and by the time we began we are 25 in number, there was huge diversity in terms of age, class, employment. The event began with brief introduction about the relevance of 16 December and purpose of the event. Then the participants were invited to share their name and do they think the scenario on women’s safety has changed in these five years?

“Nothing has actually changed; there is Bulandsher highway where goons puncture buses by putting nails on the road and they not only snatch their belongings but also molest and harass women and girls traveling through bus. This happens even in daylight it’s a nightmare to travel there”

“Forget about grown-ups we are more scared about our young girls, we are even scared of sending them to the parks where they are taught in the evenings what if something happens to them, and someone might kidnap them. It’s very scary” 

“Some of us work in people’s home, when we go in the morning we are scared that even between the roads anything can happen”

It was so evident that women’s safety is so linked to employment and education.

“I know it’s not safe but that doesn’t mean that we won’t send our daughters to study. Its crucial for them, but that fear dominates our consciousness till they are back home”

“Also here there is a grave problem of drugs, there are so many ways to get drugged, when I went to fight with a chemist he counted like 200 ways of having drugs, so these young boys take drugs they not only eve tease girls they molest and cat call older women”

“I don’t understand what is the relationship between clothes and rape. The place where I come from men wear lungis till knee and women are clad in sarees, at this argument all men would have got raped till now”

“Also I feel it’s not about women from low socioeconomic background, women from middle class and high class also suffer gender based violence be in their office, way to office and in their homes”
This discussion was crucial and brought number of aspects related to women’s safety, need for better law or awareness about existent law and why mobility of women is so restricted. We also discussed about norms of “good woman” and “bad woman” which laid the guidelines for successful implementation of patriarchy.

We then took a small lunch break followed by taking nap in the public park. Since I was doing photo and video documentation, i didn’t get to sleep, my mind was constantly telling me to keep looking for the participants who were sleeping so that nobody do anything wrong to them. The fear crawled and kept me engaged for a while. I could see that one of the participants who was sleeping under the tree was stared by men passing by! They couldn’t believe that a girl was sleeping just like that in a park. Finally even I got to sleep for half an hour, what a relief!

We then gathered to share our experience of taking nap in the public park
“I felt fine, I was not scared. It took me time to sleep however it was a great experience, the sun actually facilitated sleep”

“I could sleep for few minutes only, I could sense that people passing by were looking at me, the uncle on the bench was so surprised that he couldn’t take his eyes off. But yes I couldn’t sleep well”

“It was a great deal for me, first coming to park and then lying here. For me it’s the first step towards being fearless. I am glad that I came here. When I was lying down, I was adjusting my clothes from here and there so that nothing is visible.”

“I think it’s wonderful that I took this step, I came out here, sleep in a public park. I know there was fear, but I faced it and realized that it’s not real, it’s conditioning”

For me, I was happy and enthralled that so many women can come out in public park and create a discourse around violence, safety, challenging the violence and reclaiming the public space.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Child sexual abuse: Knowing it, fighting it and eliminating it!

Didi, I saw in the park that a boy was walking behind a girl, then he hit her behind her back, then he started walking beside her and forcing himself on her. She was trying to shout for help, but he was constantly threatening her. She didn’t stop and then people helped her. I know she had suffered a lot before too says a 12 years old participant.

The sixth and most crucial workshop “Child sexual abuse” with participants from Govt. school Dwarka was organized just after the session on ‘gender’. By this session, the participants are getting comfortable with body changes, the attraction they feel towards other sex, peer pressure, their own body and most importantly they understand the gender stereotypes around both girls and boys hence this is the right time to talk about abuse and violence that children face in form of child sexual abuse.

The session began with screening of the video “Komal” by Child line followed by detailed discussion on child sexual abuse and hinting of POCSO act. 

“Didi, I have seen something like this in serials like Savdhaan India, crime petrol”

“Gumrah the one that comes on Channel V also showed something like this”

We then invited the participants to share any incident/ experience of child sexual abuse that might have happened to them or they might have seen.
“I saw a woman being molested by group of boys, she seemed scared”

“A boy was harassed and molested by group of boys”

“Lot of such incidents happen near and inside the park where lot of people come, I have seen a girl being molested by a man”

It took a while for the participants to share their stories, however one person opening up gave strength to other and the chain followed. We could actually see few more faces who wanted to share but something was stopping them, however they seemed relieved hearing constantly that “it’s not your fault”, “you don’t deserve this” “We are there with you”

One of the major objective of the workshop on “Child sexual abuse” is to aware the participants about it, along with this the other most crucial step is to build their capacity to challenge CSA which involves engaging with “Safety action plan”. This is detailed workbook filled with pictures, stories, safety rules- good touch, bad touch, what to do when someone tries to touch inappropriately. It was really interesting and motivating to see that they were actually saying things aloud in synchronicity- each step was building in a way that they were ready to challenge gender based violence, along with the awareness that if nobody can touch them inappropriately, they too shouldn’t be engaging in touching or violating other people’s space and body.

It was an intense and overwhelming experience to be sitting in the circle sharing and hearing what children of age 11-14 years old witness and experience around them in form of violence.

Gender: What does it means to be a 'BOY'?

“We are two brothers and 3 sisters, both of us go to school however my parents don’t send my sisters to school. I always wondered why?”

As part of our ongoing intervention in the Government all boys’ school, Dwarka, the fifth session was based on Gender. It’s been an interesting journey with 30 boys because right from the second session, be it body changes during puberty, peer pressure, sex etc ; gender had always dominated the conversations hence I was really excited to see how the session on gender turns out to be! 

The workshop began with the energizer “Sword and shield” where in the boys actively and joyfully participated, this was followed by a quick revision of last four sessions, introduction of what will happen in next two hours and the agreements. In the next activity, all the three facilitators shared their personal story based on the gender.

“Being a boy, I always had the pressure to stand on my feet and earn good money. Once a boy is 24-25 years, he has to earn come what may be the situation and this is followed by extreme pressure to get married. I don’t want to get married however my parents insisted on seeing a girl for marriage”

“Being a girl, my parents are always worried about my where about? I am always told to come home early, not roam around late in the evening”

Following this, the participants were divided into three groups where-in they were invited to share “3 key messages they have received because they are boys”

“You need to study hard so that you can become something in life”

“Friends always say that you should have a girlfriend because you are a boy”

“I am always taunted for my height”

“As I am growing up, my parents don’t allow me to play with girls because the people around me will judge”

“Only boys can play cricket”

“If any boy plays badminton, then they are called girls”

“Don’t stay in home as girls”

“5 years back, when I used to play with girls, my friends used to tell me not to play with them because boys should play with boys”

“In the village, it’s me who is always sent to market. In case I am not in the home, my mother will never send sister to the market, they will wait for me and once I am home I would be sent to the market”

“My mother say may be I won’t get to eat in a day, but I will make sure that you study so that you could become something in your life”

“Once I sat on the ladies seat in a bus, I didn’t know anything. One uncle came to me and said that boys can’t sit on ladies seat”

“In the home, girls are told to wear veil and remain inside”

This was followed by the game of Chinese whispers; hilariously the facilitator whispered 2 lines in the ears of the first participant and the last person said just one word “NO”, following this a gender story was co-created from the times of ancient man to the current society that we live in. The facilitator then explained the concept and meaning of gender taking insights from the gender story and the chinese whispers. 

Once the definition of gender was established, the participants were again divided into 3 groups where in each group has to share the ‘difference between boy and girls in different spaces namely home, school and public places’.

“The girls are not allowed to go outside the home”

“In the home, all the things are first given to the male members then to the women and girls”

“Only sister and mother cook food in the home”

“Most of the household work is done by my sister”

“We are always told to be with sister, to guard them and not to leave them alone”

“When a girl goes outside their home, their brothers are also sent along with them”

“Girls are not given mobile phones”

“Boys are given more money”

“Girls are told to speak softly and little”

“Girls can’t wear clothes of their choice”

“Girls are given less food, else they will grow fat”

“Girls are not given anything that is sour or tangy to eat”

Public spaces-
‘Girls have seats reserved in metro and buses”

“Boys can play whatever they want to, till whatever time they want to, however that is not the case with girls”

“Most of the shops have male person to manage the shop”

“In the playgrounds and parks, mostly boys are seen”


Now this school is an all boys school, hence they twisted the question in a different way. The participants discussed as to why girls have school in the morning and why boys come in afternoon.
“Girls get up early in the morning, boys are lazy they get up late in the morning”

“Girls have to do household work after the school”

“They can’t stay late in the evening, because they might get kidnapped or something wrong might happen to them”

“In this school, we have all male teachers and only one female staff”

Apart from this,

“The boys are scolded or beaten more by teachers than girls”

“if both boys and girls study together, then the boys will eve tease them , harass them like yesterday few girls were giving examination in the class, all the boys hovered around to see them, every one was staring at them”

“There are more girls in a class room because they are enthusiastic and they love studying unlike boys”

“My parents, teachers, neighbors everyone tells me to stay away from the girls, don’t study with them, mingle with them because something wrong will happen”

I was astonished to see how gender is taking up its roots in the lives of adolescents. In the same group, one boy said, “If a girl complains then everyone listens to them.”

“But, the girls very rarely complains, so when they say people believe them because it takes lot of courage for a girl to speak up” I said.
“You are right didi, boys complain on every small thing so they are not always taken seriously”

“In case of eve teasing, girls don’t complain because they are scared of the culprits, their family as to how they will think about her and also people talk nonsense about her” I said
“Do you think if a girl is raped or beaten, it’s her fault?” I inquired

One boy promptly replied, “Didi, how can it be her fault? She is being harassed but everyone thinks it’s her fault because she is girl, family worries about their respect nobody thinks about their daughter. People say that she might have done something that’s why she has been raped. But I don’t agree”

Another boy, “If I ever see anyone harassing a girl, I will raise my voice and help her”

Another interesting conversation happened on movies, how boys and girls are projected in the Bollywood movie.
“Mostly it’s the male who are heroes, but there are films where girls are in action like phool bane angare, Mumbai ki kiran bedi, Mardani etc”

The session turned out to be fantastic with so many insights. I was really glad to watch the young boys having mature conversations around gender which just made my day J