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Thursday, September 10th, 2009 - 3 comments

Street harassment: I never asked for it

493599_2ceb3d4d5e_mEve-teasing” is a term that is used in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for sexual harassment or molestation in the street. The Blank Noise Project, which was first started by an art student six years ago, aims to confront street harassment and change public perceptions of it.

What does “Blank Noise” mean? The project’s blog explains:

Blank: no form, no meaning.
Noise: heightens, builds, breaks form.
Blank Noise put together are two words that contradict themselves.
We experience eve teasing daily. It is a sexual violation but we ignore it. At the same time, we structure our lives to avoid the occurrence of it – by ‘dressing decently’, ‘coming back home on time’, etc, thereby making unwanted rules for ourselves and not recognizing ourselves as citizens.
This daily silent experience of street sexual harassment is what comes closest to the term blank noise.

Blank Noise started as a final year student project by art student Jasmeen Patheja in 2003, and was a personal response to street sexual harassment, which many Indians, male and female, accept as normal or try to ignore. The project initially focused on small workshops, but has since developed into a network of groups around India, who use street interventions, public art and blogging to explore the issue of harassment.


Thumbprints indicate what people consider eve-teasing in these polls

Thumbprints indicate what people consider eve-teasing in these polls

Blank Noise groups around the country have used opinion polls to highlight the issue of harassment:

There have been innumerable debates on the blog in the past over what exactly constitutes ‘street sexual violence’ [...]There are questions about what constitutes a lecherous look- and the ones who experience it will argue saying ‘it’s obvious. we just know!’ This is precisely the kind of discussion we want to further on the streets itself. More than for facts figures and statistics we attempt to use the form of an opinion poll to start discussions. The opinion poll also becomes a ‘safe’ way for people to testify and admit what they have seen or experienced.

2007: Namita Sharma's Tea Stall (Gariahat, Kolkata) welcomed Blank Noise poll

2007: Namita Sharma's Tea Stall (Gariahat, Kolkata) welcomed Blank Noise poll

blank noise


In 2008, on March 8 (International Women’s Day) Blank Noise held a series of street interventions around India under the banner I Never Ask For It:

Action Hero: n. a woman who has dealt with street sexual harassment by confronting it. Her final response might have been to choose to ignore the harassment, but she will have chosen to do so, not failed to notice it. [...] The Blank Noise street action challenges you to be an Action Hero. Participants are requested to come wearing a garment they wore when they were sexually harassed. By doing so, they are actively taking a stand that reads ‘I never ask for it’.

This action was followed up by another, in which women were invited to send an item of clothing:

Do you really think you ‘asked for it’ when you experienced street sexual harassment? How often have you found yourself blaming the pair of jeans, the salwar kameez, the skirt, the t-shirt? Do you really think it is your fault when you are violated? Do you really think you deserve to be humiliated? Do you really think that it is only certain kind of clothes that result in women experiencing street sexual harassment?

We say NO. We say there is no such thing as ‘asking for it’ and we need you to prove that for us/ yourself.

How? Send in one garment you wore when you experienced ‘eve teasing’. Your garment is your truth, your witness, your evidence, your memory. [...] What next? We propose to install these clothes on the streets of your city and collectively challenge the notion that women ask to be sexually violated.


Blank Noise recently initiated a discussion about self-defence:

chilly powder. bamboo stick. baygon spray. toy gun. body spray. big bag. eyes. elbow. steel scale. nails. confidence. rings. pens. pepper spray. paper cutter. pencil. angry look. mouth. hand. fists. feet. elbows. sharp pencils. teeth. handbag. comb. body spray. stilettos. fat psychology book. cell phone. cerebrum. swagger. attitude. mobile phone. books. files. bag. crossed arms. conversation. pens. pins. sewing pins. breath spray. bunch of keys. hair pin. blank noise pamphlet on section 354. dupatta. crossed arms. staring at the ground. scowling. talking on cell phone. not making eye contact.

These are just some of the “weapons” used by women to make themselves feel safer in public spaces. Most of the objects listed above are not weapons in the conventional sense. However these are used by a number of women all over the world to give them some sense of security. […] Violent self defense should definitely not be the primary response to the problem of sexual harassment, but should it be a response at all?


Earlier this year Blank Noise set up a blog for men called Blank Noise Guy:

Blank Noise is terribly interested in men!
The Blank Noise Guy blog is in its first phase, asking men/boys to respond to street sexual harassment. send us your thoughts on street sexual harassment. write to us if you’ve seen it and are feeling thoughtful about how you responded, or even if you engaged with it or caused it (knowingly or unknowingly).

The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (3)

Monday 28th September, 2009, 3:45pm

You should try to search for the cause of this problem but not the method to due with it at this instant.

Tuesday 13th April, 2010, 4:46pm

Keep working ,great job!it was wonderful

Quick Facts
Friday 29th October, 2010, 7:32pm

Maybe you could edit the webpage title Street harassment: I never asked for it to something more suited for your blog post you create. I liked the blog post still.

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Guest Editor

Ayesha Saldanha

Author, Global Voices Online


Ayesha Saldanha is a writer and translator based in Bahrain. She is an author for Global Voices Online.

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