First person, Hollabacking!, SH On the streets

A journalist’s story: there was no room for tolerance

After wrapping my work around 9:45 on a Monday night, late like my most other days, I was contemplating whether to take an auto back home or wait till 11pm for the office cab to drop me. My only worry, at that point, was that I will not get any auto to turn on the meter. I quickly checked with my security if a cab would be available earlier and he said no. After a long day of being on the field, pitching ideas at the weekly meeting, filing a story on juveniles, all I wanted was to be home as soon as possible and relax. I began walking down to catch an auto, with no premonition that I’m not going to be able to relax for the next 24 hours.

It takes me half- an- hour to get home sans traffic and Rs 120 on the meter. Just as I knew, autos refused to ply, the first auto driver asked me for Rs 350. I told him I don’t need to go to Bangalore and continued walking down. I held my hand out for a running auto to stop near a hospital in Nandanam, that is roughly 100 meters from where I work at the press office.

As the auto approached me, an elderly security guard at the hospital came close to asking me if I’m waiting for an auto and held his hand out too. I did not react and told the driver my address and be agreed to turn on his meter.

I set my left foot on the auto and I was about to get in, when I felt a hand groping my right buttocks. I froze for a second. When I realised I was plainly shocked and angered. I got off the auto and yelled at this old man, shouting, calling him an idiot, asking him how dare he touch me. The auto driver whispered, “Why would an old man like you do such a thing.” He seemed unaffected with a smug on his face. I thought twice.

And I finally decided to do what I hadn’t in all these years of these men harassing us on buses, share autos and streets. I struck him on his face. I gave him a loud slap. He was surprised I attacked him. But he seemed to enjoy it, still smiling and not defending himself. I got back into the auto telling him I will get him caught by the police. And I did.

I rang my crime reporters, narrated the incident and told them to put me on to the official concerned for me to register a complaint. Then, I rang the hospital; without divulging details, I demanded to know this old security man’s name.

Word spread by then and all my bosses called me the same night to make sure I was ok. I was more than ok. Not scared, just angry and violated. My parents were feeling sick in their gut but kept telling me how proud they were that I stood up for myself and did not cave.

This case wasn’t heinous. Compared to what others have gone through or what I have gone through myself in the past, this wasn’t as serious. But why should we tolerate any level of harassment big or small in scale? How many times have we all been groped, brushed against and even felt a boner up against us when we have travelled to and fro on 29C buses. My friends and I were scared in college days then and we’d only move away carrying these scars and never ever forgetting the act or that guy’s face.

This time, there was no room for tolerance or acceptance. How can any man think he has the right to lay his hand on any woman any where he wants? And actually have the audacity to think he will get away whether he holds her hand or leg or breast or ass. My slap would have done it, but his audacity that it was okay for him to touch me and how normal and calm he remained, I wanted to give him something to shudder about. As children aren’t we all warned that if we do something wrong we will be punished. Why is it then when we grow up, we girls and women pay for the mistakes a boy or man commits? We police and limit ourselves. But can we stop working late? Can we stop walking on our streets alone? Can we give up the job that we love doing to conform to ‘social hours’ and remain in groups? This had to stop somewhere. This was my zero tolerance.

The next morning, I spoke to the assistant commissioner of the Saidapet police station, who assured me that before I came to the station, he would remand this man. He kept his word.

Before we spoke, that morning, cops had landed in my office thrice looking for someone who filed a sexual harassment case. No one had a clue. When I got to know, it disturbed me, I did not expect it to blow up.

I called my boyfriend, who had been with me since the previous night when the incident broke out, over phone. I was cribbing to him about the 350 bucks the auto asked me, so I was still on the call with him when he heard me shout and yell while he remained helpless on the other- side. It’s truly haunting.

Now, I asked him if I was doing the right thing ‘cuz I wasn’t prepared for everyone to know about it and put my mother through it. “Nothing is going to get beyond our control. Whether we press charges or not is secondary, the bastard should be punished,” he told me. My brother who lives abroad was equally helpless and restless- all he wanted was to deal it with his own hands against anyone who hurt his little sister.

Around noon on Tuesday, I went to the station with my mother and my lady boss, a journalist for 25- years having faced several such filth, who wanted to come to support me.

I was taken inside to meet a serious looking cop. I was uneasy, nervous and they told me to narrate. He asked me if the man touched my shoulder, I said no he touched my behind. After asking me some basic questions, he told me they have brought all those who were on night duty to the station and told me to identify.

Another friendly cop brought two men walked in and I sulked, it wasn’t either of them. Was all this effort for nothing, I thought, preparing myself for a few more hours at the station. That’s when the third one entered- that’s him I pointed in a split second and jumped and got back to my seat and not wanting to see his still smug ridden face.

All eight of us were within one room. This man who harassed me still seemed unaffected, lazily giving inconsistent answers. The cops obviously knew he was lying. No one in the room had a doubt. He said that he was only helping me get an auto and his hand touched me by mistake. My mother, more powerful than Obama and Putin combined blew her top. She was very clear had he helped me I would have thanked him and not slapped him and if he did not do anything wrong why did he not react to the slap. He told the cops I scolded him in English, so he did not understand that I was scolding him. My boss too shot up yelling at him, only short of not hitting him.

The cops told him to be taken into custody and one of the three men who was the supervisor of the security guards began trying to convince me to not file a complaint. “I’m sorry on his behalf but please let him off, he’s old” he told me in cowardice.

I ignored him. The serious cop, then I learnt was the inspector, was extremely supportive. They are trained to be tough and slowly he loosened up explaining the procedures to me. My mother did not want an FIR, and continue with courts. She wanted me to close this here and not look back at it. I agreed and filed a Community Service Registrar (CSR) for him to be severely warned and restrained from Chennai to go back to his whatever village. In cop terms ‘severe warning’ meant a night of being bashed up.

I spoke to the hospital management who were repeatedly apologetic and sacked the security agency to whom they had outsourced it to.

The whole experience has only made me stronger and the sensitive treatment the police demonstrated only made me feel secure and empowered. Yes, it was smooth cuz I’m a journalist working for a powerful media house who showed up with someone as strong as my mother. It is definitely not easy for someone with no support to walk in and make a gender based complaint. The act is harrowing, you feel vulnerable and you do not want to talk about it to too many people.

But a change in attitude towards police and police stations is a start. Of course I was lucky that a judgemental or sexist cop did not handle me. The inspector gave me his number and told me to ring him directly whenever. This may not always be the case but our silence and inaction only allows such men more confidence to continue. It does bother me if this man or the agency may trouble me again but I think they would be wise to be scared.

This happened to me on the main road two buildings from my office in front of a hospital. If it doesn’t scare them there, what would scare them in a deserted street.

If any of you women are in trouble in future, if you do not have numbers of your local inspector, call 100 and just give your location. The control centre immediately connects patrolling officers on their wireless devices and they’ll land in your location within minutes. Our fear is their only advantage. When we retaliate- they will run.

I've got your back!

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First person, Hollabacking!

Interview with Sandy’s, one of our ‘Champions of Change’!

As part of the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence in December 2013, Hollaback! Chennai launched its ‘Safer Spaces’ campaign, which calls on local businesses to become a ‘Champion of Change’ by pledging zero tolerance to sexual harassment on their premises. These can then be ‘safer spaces’ – spaces, where complaints of harassment or misbehaviour will be heard and addressed. As one of our first ‘Champions of Change’, Sandy’s Chocolate Laboratory has made a visible commitment to ‘zero tolerance’ by displaying helpline numbers in all its venues, and has brought together its employees for a training session on ways to deal with harassment. Recently, we interviewed Rohit Koliyot, Consultant – Strategic Ventures and Marketing at Sandy’s, on the reasons behind joining the campaign, and the impact it has had.


1. Why did Sandy’s want to be a ‘Champion of Change’?

When Prajnya approached us, we jumped at it for two reasons: personally, and institutionally.

Personally: I feel that we are unfortunately a very reactive society instead of being a proactive one. Even though we may all have moral compasses, in most cases, we have no knowledge on how to react to such situations. We end up not reacting and letting it happen, therein further involuntarily encouraging such acts. We end up saying, these are things that we hear about in the news or read about in the papers, but don’t really feel the impact until it happens to a near and dear one.

Institutionally: We wanted to ensure that everyone felt safe in our spaces. The mental and physical safety of our guests are top priority for us. Also educating our staff, which is an audience under our influence is a small step in educating the rest of the world.


2. How have your customers responded to the ‘Safer Spaces’ campaign?

We think the posters stating that Sandy’s is a safe space, and especially the helpline numbers pasted in the bathrooms, have given a sense of reassurance to our guests. It’s probably the Panopticon effect at play, but we’d rather be proactive than reactive.


3. How has being a part of the campaign impacted employees at Sandy’s?

It was nice to realize that most of our employees were already dealing with particular situations in the manner suggested by Prajnya. Awareness levels, we feel, have definitely increased. It is our hope that they talk and share this with their families and friends as well.


4. How do you think businesses can help fight sexual harassment?

Awareness!! I still feel even the highly educated or well-travelled business owner today does not know what can be done. Victims still don’t know what their rights are, what the power of a moral society is. It’s not awareness of the infraction but awareness of what needs to be done during or post an infraction.

A request we would have is probably a 1-2 page document that gets included in every employees HR file. The moment he joins, he is given an awareness brief which he reads and signs.


Safer Spaces 1    Safer Spaces 2

               The ‘Zero Tolerance’ poster                                      Training session for employees


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We are Looking for Volunteers!

Hollaback! Chennai is staffed entirely by volunteers, and we are always looking for new members to join our team.

A little bit about us: Hollaback! Chennai was launched in December 2011 by Prajnya, a Chennai-based non-profit working on issues of peace, justice and security. We are the local chapter of the global Hollaback! movement against street harassment, which has chapters in 71 cities and 24 countries. Our aim is to end the pervasive silence surrounding street sexual harassment by providing a platform for victims to speak out, through our website and mobile app. We also conduct workshops on street harassment at city colleges, and have recently launched our ‘Safer Spaces’ campaign, which calls on local businesses to pledge zero-tolerance towards sexual harassment in their outlets.

We are looking for volunteers who:

Are enthusiastic and passionate about gender issues
Are willing to travel around Chennai
Have a working knowledge of English and Tamil
Have access to the Internet at home
Are social media-savvy
Have good writing skills
Can commit to being part of the Hollaback! team for at least one year

Volunteers will assist the Hollaback! team with maintaining our website and staying active on social media, organising workshops and training sessions on street harassment, and spreading awareness about ‘Safer Spaces’.

Interested? Please email your CV and a brief covering note to [email protected] by 24 April, telling us why you would like to be part of Hollaback! Chennai. Thank you!

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First person, Witnessing Sexual Harassment

Anupama’s story: my husband is an ogler

This is to mention the casual attitudes of Indian society against modern forms of street harassment. I was going shopping with my husband, he is an ogler whom I have to tolerate to save my marriage according to friends and family. We have a 3 month old kid. When we reached near the mall, to my shock, he pointed out a girl and said her petrol is finished. This is always the case. He always draws my attention to random women when going outside. It seems to me he admires everyone except me. When we quarrelled over this, he reacted calling me mad. My friend said this will continue for all men, married or not till age 40. What should I do? To live with one man and never be appreciated for one’s worth or should I join him in ogling as he says?

I've got your back!

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First person, SH On the streets

Saipriya’s story: we ran without looking back

My two friends and I were getting back to our hostel from the beach. Even while we were hanging out in the beach, these 3 guys were lurking around us and passing comments on us. We weren’t worried because there were too many people around.  Then they followed us on their motor cycles all the way to our stop. We got down at our stop and there they were, smirking at us. We decided to walk past them without uttering a word or looking at any of them. One of my friends stopped walking mid way and the guys rounded her up in their vehicles. Both of us didn’t know how to get past them to help her. I somehow managed to grab her out of it and then we ran without looking back. One hell of an evening it was. It’s been 2 years since that happened and we never once dared to go to Marina again.

I've got your back!

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First person, Hollabacking!, SH Public Transport

Theju’s story: please react immediately

I was travelling in a bus that was so very full at around 2 in the afternoon. I barely had any place to stand. There was this man – must have been around 35-40 years of age. He was standing behind me and taking advantage of the lack of space in the vehicle and then he did the unimaginable. He unzipped his pants and started rubbing his “private part” against me. I was totally appalled and upset by this behavior. I felt my fingers go numb. I went totally blank. Only then did something hit me, and I stamped his leg real hard. Only then did he back off. A word of caution to all the girls who travel in city buses – please react immediately if something of this sort happens. Just yell at the top of your voice and people around will help you.

I've got your back!

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First person, Hollabacking!

Hollaback! Fridays: A firsthand account

Recently, Hollaback! Chennai partnered with Vivanta by Taj – Connemara for five exciting editions of Hollaback! Fridays. These events, which took place on ‘ladies’ night’ at the hotel’s bar, Distil, featured live music by local female-fronted bands, with handouts on street sexual harassment being distributed with every bill. Hollaback! Chennai volunteers also approached patrons at these events and asked them to complete the sentence, ‘I Hollaback! because…’ in their own words; they were then asked to write the sentence on a piece of paper and pose for a photo while holding the paper with their message. Our goal was to start new conversations on street harassment, to end the silence around this issue, and to get people thinking about it. One of our volunteers at these events, Vetrevel Karthekeyan Shivakumar, shares his experiences:

Are our streets safe? No, they aren’t. Can we do something to change it? Yes, we all know nothing is permanent except change! However it isn’t easy and would need a collective effort. I guess this would have been the discussion the founders of Hollaback! had back in 2005 when it all began.

From history, we know words & pictures are the most powerful in bringing about change. Vietnam War pictures immediately comes to mind and there are countless number of stories & experiences that have been instrumental in inspiring change. In today’s world, the effective use of social media can produce astounding results. Through crowdsourcing, Hollaback! encourages people to come out with their stories & messages against street harassment. Is it enough? Maybe not, but it’s a start. When we hear about harassment incidents, it can trigger three possible emotions depending on your personality – a don’t care attitude, or you care but it’s all talk, and the third is you want to stand up, be counted & do something about it. Unfortunately not many people fall under the third category and I don’t blame them.

At Hollaback! Fridays, while approaching people and asking them to pose for photos and come up with a message, I have encountered all types. Some just decline and don’t seem to be interested. Some take time and come up with a message that isn’t particularly effective, but at least they cared enough to try and its a good starting point! The good news is most people we’ve approached do agree and come up with some gems.

However, this isn’t always the case. One particular instance comes to mind: there was this young lady who refused to believe that these messages & their use in social media would make any difference. After some persuasion, even though not totally convinced, the message was ‘Kill them’. That’s too radical anyway and can never be a solution; but as I mentioned earlier, it’s a start and maybe the concept can be extended to cover institutions, schools and colleges for more crowdsourcing.

As a start, what we really want is for people to talk about street harassment; express yourself, as there is a platform. If you are reading this and are someone who wants to do something more, then why wait, contact us and start volunteering now!

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First person, Hollabacking!

Staying safe on Facebook

This is a guest post by a participant from a Hollaback! Chennai workshop for students.

Most of us have an account on Facebook. We love uploading our pictures, posting comments, and so on. But we have to careful, alert and aware of the privacy settings which are available on Facebook, and use them wisely. I opened my account after my 10th standard board examinations. I realized that being on Facebook was so much fun, but as days went by I started receiving friend requests from unknown people. I also wasted lots of time chatting with strangers, which I later realized was very unproductive. As I didn’t know much about the privacy settings, I could not keep my account protected; but after going through the privacy settings in depth, I understood how I should go about keeping myself safe on Facebook.

There can be instances wherein we don’t want other people to add us. In such cases, we can go to the gear icon in the top-right corner of the page and choose ‘Privacy Settings’. On this page, under ‘Who can look me up?’, we can choose the option ‘Friends’, and remove the tick from the statement, ‘Let other search engines link to your timeline’ under the question ‘Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?’. Under  ‘Who can contact me?’,  we can choose ‘Strict Filtering’ in response to the question, ‘Whose messages do I want filtered into my Inbox?’

For the question, ‘Who can send you friend requests?’, we can choose the option, ‘Friends of Friends’. For the question, ‘Who can see my stuff?’, we can customize our settings to ensure the privacy we desire. If you follow these settings, no stranger can add you, they can only message you, and only you can add people.

Sometimes when we are on Facebook, we might not want to chat with someone. In that case, we can go to ‘Chat’ at the bottom right of the screen, click the ‘Options’ icon, and go to ‘Advanced Settings’, where we can choose the option, ‘Turn on chat for all friends except…’ For example, if you do not want to appear online when Rahul Gandhi is online, you can choose the option, ‘Turn on chat for all friends except Rahul Gandhi’.

Facebook can be very productive, if we know how to use it safely. Please do not accept friend requests from strangers. I encourage each one of you to spend some time getting to know the privacy settings on Facebook in detail, and applying it accordingly if you face any kind of harassment.


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