I have never been an “activist” sort of person, for primarily two reasons. One because, while I do believe that I don’t need to bend to those rules of the world that I don’t agree with, I also feel that I don’t need to attempt to change those rules, because that is out of my control and not worth wasting my time on. Secondly, many times I don’t believe in taking a stance on an issue, on a “live-and-let-live” basis. For example, I personally might feel that abortion is tantamount to murder, but I would not try to convince anyone else on this matter, because I believe that they are entitled to their own opinions.
So, while I generally stand by my beliefs, I don’t usually stand up for them.
And yet, after reading Hawkeye’s blog, I’ve realized that I also subscribe to the belief that rather than simply complaining about our problems, we need to do something about them. It is not enough to get around the problem, we need to confront it. Otherwise we, the victims of the system, are as much to blame for the continuation and propagation of the system, as the perpetrators. This supremely generic statement holds equally for sexual harassment, for shop-keepers charging more than MRP, and for corruption in government offices, amongst other issues. If we don’t make a noise about it, it’s never going to change.
And so I joined in the Blank Noise Project.
We met at the Rest House Road park on Sunday afternoon. 4.15 p.m was the appointed hour, and when I reached at 4.25, there were already a score of people gathered. Introductions and briefing went on till 5.30 and then we put our plan in action.
The first step was to wander around MG Road and Brigade Road distributing letters to the general public, mostly to women. The letters narrated similar incidents to those I describe in my blog, Violated. They were short, harsh, and attention-grabbing. They were simple text printed on plain white A4 paper and folded over into eighths. They were not pamphlets or brochures.
Being the sort who would just ignore papers thrust my way while strolling on MG Road, I was really surprised when most of the people I offered the letter to, took it. I handed out 20+.
Then, we 35-odd women lined up against the railing on Brigade Road, looking at the crowds passing by, chatting a little, and trying to look as if we were just “hanging out”. There ensued a little trouble with the cops, who were unhappy about us being there and tried to get us to move out, but they eventually gave up and left us alone. They had bigger issues to worry about, I’m sure, than a bunch of 35 women standing around doing nothing.
We were supposed to do some “eyes right” “eyes straight” stuff in tandem in response to a whistle from the head of the queue, but in my opinion this part did not work out very well. The timelines we were supposed to follow had sort of gone askew, and not all of us could see or hear the signals from the head of the queue. Nevertheless, a string of 35 women leaning against the railings on Brigade Road at peak hour on Sunday evening did attract a lot of attention (some of it unwanted) and a fair bit of comment.
Next, we were supposed to form a pyramid structure in the open area in front of Mota Arcade. The idea was that we should all spread out into a wide pyramid and just stand still, look people in the eye, and not speak. People should be able to move around us without much inconvenience, but we should not have to move to “give way”. The idea was that we should “reclaim space” from the men who make us walk with arms crossed and eyes cast down. In my opinion, this part of the proceedings was a flop. First, the area in front of Mota Arcade was already occupied by some street art display. Once those folk were persuaded to clear off, we formed our pyramid, but the crowd around us was too dense, the pyramid was messy, pedestrians could not find their way through, there was no real coordination or focus. I felt the impact was lost and had been much greater when 35 of us were lined up against the railing in a long, long row. That also had had a much lower “irritation” factor.
At last the whistle blew one last time. This was the signal for all 35 of us, who had been supplied with whistles, to walk down the length of Brigade Road towards MG Road blowing our whistles as loudly as we could. This was real ear-splitting hell. When 35 people all start blowing gustily into those small toy whistles (where the nuts don’t roll around inside properly and therefore result in a shrill, squealing sound rather than a proper whistling sounds), the noise level is almost unbelievable. If we wanted to attract attention, we sure did. If we wanted to make people wonder what on earth all this was about, we sure did. We didn’t provide the answer at this stage, though; that had already been done by the small bunch of guys handing out pamphlets during the entire operation.
Despite the protests from my ear-drums, I quite enjoyed the whistle-blowing bit. I had an overwhelming urge to giggle, though. Amit had been saying that I was going to stand on Brigade Road and whistle at men, and I had been trying to persuade him that I’d be doing nothing of the sort, this was a quiet protest… and here I was, being very far from quiet and whistling to boot!
Noisy though it was, if the aim of the entire exercise was to get attention, I feel that the whistle-blowing exit was the most effective tactic. A lot of participants disagreed though, saying it was stupid, noisy, did not give people any information, and created a nuisance and a bad impression. I agree with all that, but still feel it was effective -and fun.
Once we reached MG Road, most of us stopped blowing the whistle, and we headed for India Coffee House. India Coffee House is the meeting point for a lot of strange groups, but I’m not sure if they’ve witnessed a stranger one yet – 35 women and a few isolated men. We occupied the entire L-shaped side and back of the first floor, much to the dismay (I’m sure) of the few other patrons. We were a noisy bunch! The idea was a “debriefing” but I’m not sure how effective it was. A cup of coffee per head, 30 minutes of noise and laughter (nobody whistled, thank goodness) and then I left.
Overall comments: it’s the first time I’ve ever participated in any kind of gathering or action for something I believe in. I’m not sure I altogether buy all of it – as with any group, there were radical elements that I felt were just going overboard. I found some people bossy (as Andy mentions in her experience of a different group) and unwilling to listen to or respect others’ opinions. I did not agree with some of the strategies and opinions expressed. I’m not sure I’d want to repeat it. On the other hand, though, it felt good to be able to just hang out on Brigade Road, and having a lot of girls around to “hang out” with also felt good. I do believe my attitude changed from a defensive one to a more assertive one. I do believe it sort of took the fight to the men’s court. All the same, I don’t think I’m cut out to be an activist; I think I much prefer just writing/talking about it, so self-help groups, group therapy, discussion boards etc might be more up my alley than taking to the streets. Or maybe, I’m just plain lazy.