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Seeking solidarity
Ambika Shaligram | Thursday, 12 January 2017 AT 11:28 AM IST
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In conversation with Mriganka Dadwal, founder of SLAP, about the effectiveness of participating in protest march to uphold women’s rights

After the Nirbhaya case, social media was flooded with comments from people, which ranged from anger, sadness, shrill rhetoric to practical solutions. One of the concrete action to emerge from the cesspool of blame game, was SLAP — Street Level Awareness Programme. Founded by Mriganka Dadwal, the NGO, which works from New Delhi, has conducted many workshops and self-defence meets where the participants, both women and men, could speak up, take a stand and raise their voice against injustices perpetrated against women. We talk to Dadwal to find out if popular measures like holding a protest march or sit-down agitations offer any solution.

How will participating in a protest march act as a solution to the social malaise of molestation or sexual harassment?
There are two ways of looking at it — short term and long term. Protest marches are a significant way to show solidarity towards each other. The person, who has gone through a harrowing experience — either an assault or sexual harassment — feels isolated. And so protest marches do serve the purpose of garnering community support for the person and the issue.

That said, it is sad that when something happens, people’s emotions get stirred, but soon after the anger dies down. We need to understand that the fight against gender inequality, sexual harassment and abuse needs to be fought everyday. Taking a stand doesn’t mean shouting slogans or lighting candles alone. It means doing something which is practically useful, even taking small steps like becoming aware of your rights, figuring out how you can escape an assault, educating others on personal safety, buying a pepper spray and more importantly, learning how to use it to defend yourself.

If you look at it more widely, educating boys and girls to be comfortable around each other, raising them to accept and understand their sexuality rather than suppressing it, would go a long way in curbing sexual harassment, abuse and so on. You may already be aware that a lot of times, the perpetrators themselves have been victims of abuse.

Also, those who participate in protest march are people, who are already sensitised. We need to reach out to the uninitiated, and that’s a hard task.

Will it provide any concrete solution and help women come forward and voice their concerns?
The reason people don’t speak up about being sexually harassed is because they are afraid of being judged. When we show solidarity towards these survivors, they get the courage to speak up. As a community providing emotional support to someone, who is feeling isolated on so many levels, is definitely a good first step.

Have you also talked to men and tried to understand their psyche as to why they do this?
As a matter of fact, I have been approached by men in SLAP’S workshops trying to understand what constitutes sexual harassment. Especially when it comes to passing a sexually coloured remark, they might not understand themselves, but it is offensive.

That coupled with the role of a male protagonist as espoused by media leaves them confused. For example, what we see as stalking, may in his opinion be a way to serenade a girl, something she secretly enjoys. You see this is the role model, our movies project for men. We need to take a deep look at what role models we are presenting to our young boys.

We also need to understand the negative impact of gender role expectations on men. While a girl may still gather up the courage to break her silence about being abused/raped, our society doesn’t talk about molestation of men, forget about showing emotional support.

I have been able to speak to three men, married with kids, apparently happy families, who spoke of their childhood experiences of being abused by a close female relative or a  neighbour. They could never ever open up to their families, lest they be seen as lesser men. Unless we take a 360 degree look and keep judging men as perpetrators, we may never find a way out.

The author can be followed on Twitter @riceandpickle

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