Gariahat, the vibrating shopping hotspot of the city witnessed people from the cross-sections of life come together to protest against the prevalent practise of victim blaming in cases of sexual harassment. It was a day of rejoice, of revolution – men, women, transgenders, students, mothers, fathers and children joined ranks to uphold basic human dignity.
What started as a protest against a Toronto police official, who irked the women fraternity in Canada by his statement to dress properly to avoid sexual harassment, has also inspired Jadavpur University (JU) students to bring issues related to women injustices before Kolkatans.
“Anek bhalo sheje dekhechhi, ja porecchi besh korechhi “ (we are done with dressing up correctly, now we shall wear what we want) were the words echoing on the busy lanes passing the Gariahat market on the sultry Thursday evening as a sign of revolt against the shadow rules dictating women wardrobe.
The Kolkata edition of SlutWalk marked its debut from JU premises, and though it was meant for the women fraternity it included people from various sections. The protest march, an entirely apolitical one, was unique because it was attended by men, women, girls, homosexuals and transgenders.
Though Kolkata’s response to SlutWalk took a year after it was started on 3 April 2011 in Canada, it attracted good attendance despite its low profile campaign. On being asked what he feels regarding such late response of Kolkata, Sayak, one of the many male participants of the rally replies, “Better late than never. We were late in responding but I think ours is the most unique walk because participants from all walk of life have joined the cause. The turnout is more than what we had expected. As you can see, around 400 people have joined us. Doesn’t that reflect the awakening of the city towards such injustices?”
“I am participating in the rally because I am against any sort of harassment upon any person, irrespective of gender,” continues Sayak. He adds, “It is not the age, not the dress nor the gender that actually provokes sexual harassment. It’s always the approach of the molester that leads to such incidents. We are not against any community, gender or political party. We are protesting against the indecent approach of people, who feel they can take the esteem of any person for granted. It is a show of solidarity for all-the victim, the oppressed. It’s for every other victim who happens to be harassed almost every day on the streets, at home, work or school.”
Encouraging participants while distributing pamphlets, Dona Dey another young girl proudly explains the basic goals of the rally to an old passerby. “I am wearing a dress which I am comfortable in and I love to put it on, but that doesn’t mean I am provoking you to put your hands on me,” she adds while moving forward to join the crowd.
Taking a break from shouting slogans, “Neiko haya nei pobitro,esho haanto dushchoritro (we are beyond the pales of shame and purity, the fallen walk together)” to gulp some cold water, one of the participants, a transgender says, “It’s not only the women who are targeted. Haven’t you heard of transgenders being molested? I am such a victim. I am a transgender and that’s not a shame. But it’s a shame when the person feels that I am easily approachable.”
One of the chief organisers Shreya Sen, says: “I came to know about the walk through Facebook, I knew that this is the day when I can openly voice my protest against such injustices in the society. Every day and night, we are being harassed in different ways and I wanted to protest against it. It’s our fault also that we never fight back due to societal constraints. I contacted the students of JU and the next moment I was preparing the strategy for the rally.”
On being asked why they did not publicize it much, she replied “We never wanted any publicity stunt. Therefore you can see there are exactly no celebrities attached with the rally. It’s an outcry for the common man. It’s for one and all. It’s for the teenage girl who is being sexually harassed by her uncle, it’s for the kid who is being molested by his tutor, it’s for the boy who loves boys and not girls, and it’s for me for I am also a victim of eve teasing.”
“Sensationalising the topic would just gain us mileage but our ultimate goal would never be fulfilled. We could have invited some high profile feminists to join us for a good publicity stunt, but even I am a feminist. You are a feminist. Because I think every woman who fights for her own rights, raises her voice against injustices to her and is vocal regarding her choices in life is a feminist,” she continues.
“We want to change the attitude of people towards the word slut. It’s not any particular incident that has fuelled us but yes, I think this was the need of the hour. We want to hold more such rallies in the near future. Just an hour of Slutwalk won’t change the stereotype thinking of people that has been prevalent since decades but we are still optimistic regarding the attitude towards victims of sexual harassment. We know we can bring that change. And that would be the real poriborton. Isn’t it?” she adds.
The fact that a mother and her daughter skipped their shopping to join the rally clearly indicates that the message has struck the right chord.
An old man, who preferred not to reveal his identity said, “Seeing these people do such a good work, I approached the volunteers in hope of getting some help from them for my daughter who is being physically tortured at her in-laws. I was taken to the members of a NGO participating in the rally.”
Though the change may not come in a day, with just one piece of rally yet the organisers believe such events will give another platform to create the awakening and bring the awareness among people regarding the social injustice towards women in our society.
The volunteers had ‘no entry’ specially written over body parts that attract male glare. The bold step mirrors the confident mood of the participants, who have joined the war path singing we shall overcome.