Sexual harassment in streets

Sarika has been with Vacha for the last 11 years. Originally as a student in our Girl’s centre now as a peer educator. She was part of a year-long project for PUKAR. The following news item appeared in Timeout Mumbai edition. Eve-teasing is an old law from British time prohibiting harassment of women in streets by roadside Romeo’s.

Eve-teasers, television artists and orphan boys. Nergish Sunavala previews PUKAR’s annual research exhibition.

Most girls do their best to avoid their neighbourhood eve-teasers. But Sarika Tripathi and some of the other girls in her Santa Cruz slum have spent the past year seeking out and interviewing the boys who annoy them as part of a year-long project for urban research group Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research. The girls, who also mapped the eve-teasers’ haunts, discovered that the boys believed that girls like the attention. “The boys say… ‘Girls themselves choose to wear fashionable, tiny clothes and make up so that we tease them, so that we harass them,'” said Tripathi. What surprised her was that education appeared to make no difference to that sentiment – the eve-teasers ranged from illiterate to highly educated.

From May 28, Tripathi and 323 other barefoot researchers of PUKAR will showcase their research projects at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences as part of their graduation exhibition. Apart from eve-teasing, the projects look at issues like employment for the differently-abled in malls, careers of orphan boys and the lives of backstage artists in the television industry. PUKAR’s research groups over the years have included construction workers, juvenile delinquents, doctors and architects. The varied education levels and life experiences are a huge challenge but also part of the learning experience, said PUKAR executive director Anita Deshmukh. “We usually group them together [during workshops] in such a way that the ragpicker will sit next to the doctor,” said Deshmukh.

Each group of approximately 10 people is encouraged to choose topics “located in their living experiences” and given Rs.5,000 a month for expenses. PUKAR also conducts workshops starting from the basics of how to write. Those who have had no formal education are given a voice recorder. In any batch, 37 per cent of researchers are from marginalised groups. This year a group of orphans from a government hostel will be doing a project on the challenges faced by their hostelmates in choosing a career. Last year, a similar group had a young boy who refused to say a word when he joined. “At the end of the year, he got up on the stage and he said, ‘Today I don’t feel guilty that I am an orphan,'” recalled Deshmukh.

Research doesn’t change reality but it can have some real world effects. Tripathi’s group conducted a debate between boys and girls in their slum about whether young women should go out after 7pm. “The boys said, ‘Girls realise the dangers and still go out, they like it, they should stay at home and do the housework’,” said Tripathi. The girls countered by saying that boys do women’s work when they pick careers like hotel management, so why shouldn’t women cross gender boundaries as well? Even if the boys didn’t buy their arguments, Tripathi said, some of them gained some respect for the girls and the confidence they displayed.

Source: Timeout Mumbai Magazine, May 27- June 9, 2011 issue, pp 55


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