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A new campaign to stop ‘eve-teasing’, also known as sexual harassment on the street in Mumbai, India, is also called the Chappal Maarungi campaign. It literally means “I’ll hit you with a sandal” and is the facebook action cry of five media students from Mumbai based Wilson College orchestrate the campaign as it expands across the internet using social media. As the grass-roots action grows the Chappal Maarungi campaign now aims to spread its message to other cities.
“Every woman in Mumbai experiences ‘eve teasing’, also known as sexual harassment on the street. We’re all fed up, but the problem doesn’t seem to be ending. Talking to the man doesn’t work. So our campaign is aimed at women. Our idea is to ask women to stand up against it. We want the women to be bold and not chicken out,” says one of Chappal Maarungi’s founders, Alisha Sharma.
The campaign doesn’t necessarily promote violent reactions from women. “That’s not the point. Chappal Maarungi isn’t propagating actually hitting men back. It means that women should raise their voice. The sandal is just symbolic,” Alisha says.
Shaming the perpetrator
The idea behind the campaign is to publicly embarrass men engaged in teasing or groping women. “For example, the other day, I was walking with a friend in south Mumbai and a man brushed past us. We turned back and created quite a scene. People gathered around us. The man was put to shame, and that’s the idea behind the campaign,” Alisha explains.
The campaign encourages women to take this bold approach in crowded public places, where most incidences of groping or teasing are experienced.“Of course I wouldn’t do it if I was walking back home alone at midnight. Safety is important. If you are in a crowded place, it is most likely that you feel safest as a woman to yell back or get him by the collar,” the 20-year-old advertising student says.
Women must speak-up
Abhishekh Lamba, the only boy in the five-member team, always stands up for his female friends when such incidents happen around him. “But the women need to speak up for themselves. There’s no better way to get the point across than to engage women in the action. They are the one’s suffering, they need to respond firmly,” he says.
Being a man, Abhishekh still finds it difficult to understand the drive behind men indulging in groping: “It’s sick. I really hate it when men do it. I don’t know why they do it. Maybe because they are frustrated, because they don’t have any women they really respect. Maybe because they get a kick out of it. It’s nasty, it’s sick.”
While Chappal Maarungi is a fresh campaign addressing the issue of eve-teasing, which has been prevalent in the Indian sub-continent for decades, women have had differing personal approaches to deal with it through the years.
Maithili Mokashi, 24, has lived in Mumbai all her life. “I tend to be very aggressive. Grabbing someone’s collar or kicking him, these are two things I normally do. If he runs away, I try shouting aloud some profanity. But I make sure that he is scared and would think twice about doing something like this again,” Maithili says. There have even been times when she has dragged men to the police station, she adds.
When body contact is wrong
23-year-old Priyanka Uchil has a very pragmatic way of going about it. “My reactions really depend on what the man has done. If he walks past me and sings a song or something, I prefer to ignore it. If I react, it would just spoil my day. If there is any kind of body contact, I lose my mind. I once hit a man when he tried groping me in a public bus.”
Pepper spray just in case
Most reactions that Priyanka has received from men whom she has confronted have been apologetic. But she always has a pepper spray handy in her bag, just in case she comes across an unexpected response.
24-year-old education specialist Aparna Sunder also chooses her battles. She’s only bold when she has some company, she says. “If it’s a matter of rude conversation, I look at the number of people on the street and if there are enough, I react. I would stay quiet if it’s a deserted lane.”
To find out more about ‘eve teasing’ in Mumbai, India see this video:
In an effort to tackle widespread sexual harassment on India’s railways, India’s authorities have introduced female-only services in four of the country’s largest cities. Packed into crowded carriages with men, women often find themselves to be victims of groping and catcalling. The trend also called ‘eve-teasing’ and ‘sexual harassment’ has worsened as large numbers of women have joined the workforce in increasing numbers over the past decade. Alleged suicides by women suffering from severe sexual harassment have been reported in Mumbai. Journalist Supriya Sobti reports from Mumbai for Al Jazeera TV. (video production Al Jazeera Network 2:43 min / Youtube release October 12, 2009)
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