Jasmeen Patheja wants your clothes. She’s an artist working in Bangalore who started up the Blank Noise project (www.blanknoise.blogspot.com) a few years ago. Blank Noise is an examination of street harassment; it is not gender-specific, and is as open to male testimony of being harassed, pushed around, felt up or assaulted as it is to women’s voices.
One part of Blank Noise is a project called ‘Did You Ask For It’. As Jasmeen writes, “When attacked on the streets the first thing we look at is our clothing. We question if we ‘provoked’ or ‘asked to be made victim’. The garment worn at that point of time contains a memory and is witness to an experience thus becoming a testimony' I wish to build testimonies through a gathering of clothes given by all those who have experienced sexual threat/attack on the streets... These clothes will contribute to the making of a public art installation.” If you can’t send her the clothes you were wearing at the time of the incident, send her a photograph.
From personal experience over a period of years, I can offer: a loose T-shirt and pair of jeans, a sari, kurtas, one sleeveless top-and-capris combo, a long ghagra worn with a dupatta and a loose shirt. The pile of clothes on my bed contains memories of catcalls or physical abuse, a one-off groping attempt, a frightening occasion when two men on a motorcycle drove into me and a friend for no particular reason.
If you walked out of my sheltered world, down to the traffic lights on the main road, and asked the group of young, under-12 street children questions about what they face, this is what you would get. A donated T-shirt with a slogan saying “Bulldogs Rule!” marks the night a 10-year-old boy was beaten up by two drunken men in an Esteem. A torn and patched kurta bears the memories of the night another boy, about 13 years old, was assaulted by a smack addict. And so it goes. These children won’t be donating their clothes to Jasmeen’s projects, because then they would have nothing to wear. But everything they wear contains a memory and bears testimony to the fact that the street is a scary place.
Jasmeen’s blog occasionally features photographs, taken on Bangalore’s roads, of stalkers, gawkers and assailants. What would happen if everyone who’s affluent enough to own a point-and-click camera or an MMS-enabled phone began building up their own photographic maps of street harassment'
Over at a US site, www.streetharassment.org, the battle on the streets is seen as a feminist issue: “Street harassment is a form of terrorisation of women in which men attempt to impose dominance and women are supposed to react with subordination' It is patriarchy flexing its muscles.”
Jasmeen has tried to widen the boundaries by stressing that her project is not gender-specific. Violence on the streets affects everybody. Men have been the victims of attacks and young, homeless boys are just as vulnerable as young girls. What Jasmeen wants is testimony. From anyone who’s walked down a street in India and felt that this is not a space where they are safe, or welcome.