Monday, August 22, 2016

She Says

Trisha Shetty
She Says, an initiative that works as the step forward in educating, rehabilitating and empowering women to speak up and take direct action against sexual abuse, was founded by Trisha Shetty. In an interview with us, she chronicled the efforts that culminated in the project.

Often, people tend to ask me if I started She Says because I suffered abuse. Starting from a place of prejudice like that makes it appear like the issue is being marginalised. As a woman, I represent a social demographic that faces plenty of abuse and violation very regularly. People express a lot of anger about these issues, but it really needed strong engagement in order for us to address it.
The birth of She Says was really on the premise of “Zomato has everything.” If I go on Zomato, I have all the information I need on where I should eat. Menus are available, information on rates are up for everyone to see, there are reviews and even maps to help navigate. I don’t even need to call on a friend to ask for their help. That’s what I wanted to create to bridge the gap between the existing state of affairs and addressing sexual violence. Sexual Violence leaves one with an alienating feeling. It is a very difficult thing to pick up the phone and say that you’ve faced this situation, and that you need help. So, for someone in that situation, a step-by-step account of how to take action, the complete A to Z of all that one needs to know to get help was necessary.

Sexual violence is a public health issue. But there isn’t enough sensitization around it. The police isn’t always sensitive to the issue. Sometimes, they even chide the women for bringing up a complaint for something they don’t see as severe. People tend to be apathetic and tolerant of abuse – if you are hit or pinched under your waist, it doesn’t matter. If someone slapped your bottom, you keep quiet. But if you’re pinched on your boobs, you get furious. It is this climate of apathy that tends to look at certain crimes as okay and acceptable – but the point is that every crime becomes a gateway to an even greater crime. No one understands the nuances of sexual violence. Instead, they cry about it if it is a horrific rape – but the everyday occurrence under their noses remains ignored.

She Says was an effort to look into creating self-sufficiency in getting help. But it also came with a challenge. We need to keep our privilege in check. One of the things we understood in our journey so far is that the delivery and manner of communicating an issue makes a very big impact. It is a sad truth that people hear so much about these kinds of issues that they get de-sensitized about it. We should package and communicate the issue in such a way that we don’t polarize anyone. It can get too disconnecting for a person to be bludgeoned with talk of violence and abuse. But if you went to a community space where people congregate and package the communication in a way that they feel comfortable receiving, you can work wonders. For example, I once went to a bar that had a sign board that said, “Your woman. After a drink, our woman.” It was appalling – I later learned that it was a bit of a popular signage. Later, when I went to Delhi to attend a conclave, one of my friends had his girlfriend with him. His roommate told him that he was not intending to move out of the flat for him and his girlfriend to indulge in their dalliance. To that, my friend – who is generally very well meaning, and thought nothing of what he was saying – said, “It’s Delhi. There are plenty of buses.” This was right after the gang-rape incident in Delhi of December 16, 2012. It shocked me that we make these derogatory and jocular statements with such casual abandon – that it only made me realise that we should check our privilege.

Once, I was at the airport in Delhi, eating. Behind me, a man of about sixty was busy talking to people accompanying him – women and men around the same age. He casually dropped sentences like “If you excite a man, rape is inevitable”. He then described a case where a woman who was raped in the relative recent past was sitting in the front seat of a taxi, and blamed her for sitting there. Soon, he began to add to his diatribe, speaking of how marital rape is no crime at all because, “who else will a woman sleep with but her husband?” When he belted out a line to the effect that “inserting anything nowadays means rape”, I was outraged. The women in his company said nothing after a feeble attempt to tell him to leave it. I shared a piece of my mind, but was met with silence from him – which meant that he was conscious enough to keep quiet about it – but he was still unapologetic. This is the kind of mindset that needs to change.

On the other hand, there is also the glaring issue of how very few people know that they have rights that are actionable. For instance, there is a common notion that sexual relations that come from a place where a woman was promised marriage is often brought to court as rape. I don’t agree that it is rape, but an incident showed me how much of a premium is placed on certain parameters that stem from a gross lack of understanding. A young woman had come to us and told us that there was this man who had promised to marry her, and he kept trying to get her to come to a hotel to sleep with him. She refused, but he forced her, and there were CCTV grabs that showed that she was crying and upset about it all along when he dragged her into the room. He had sex with her, but did not marry her, and instead, married someone else. He didn’t let her marry, and spoiled her reputation in their social circle. She filed a case of rape – and wasn’t aware that the public prosecutor handles these cases, so she spent a large sum of money on a lawyer. He took a bribe from the other side and tried to pressure her into dropping her case. I tried explaining to her that her case did not fit within the definition of the term, but she genuinely believed that there was no role for consent to play in all of this. She believed that her body was his, and that now that she had lost her virginity, no one would marry her. It is important that we work around these mindsets.

 To deal with this, at She Says, we make it a point to ensure that whoever works with us gets sensitized about the issue. We sit and talk about it, and we also make it a point to stand up to point out or fight something that is not okay. We situate ourselves in spaces where people already congregate. We worked with the Music Festival team pre and during the duration of the festival to make concerts safer for women. This is part of SheSays’s premise of working with established institutions, where we are building a nexus of support to ensure safety of women in Public Places. We are also collaborating with Bars/ Restaurants across Mumbai in a similar capacity. We had posters like “No Dress Code, Check your Penal Code” and the like. We’re also working on a prevention and education module for schools and colleges. We are also trying to get the dialogue going on depression and PTSD as consequences of sexual abuse, and are attempting to help women reach out and get help. Right now, we’re also working around educating people on their rights, so that they can seek justice. We’re constantly advocating the criminalization of marital rape, and the release of a Sex Offender Registry List. 

Weighing in on the conversation with their powerful thoughts, two other team members of She Says add as follows:

Nishiki Bhavnani - Operations Director, SheSays and Matrimonial Lawyer - 
During the recent criminal law amendment ordinance, the reason for not making any changes to this marital rape law was that it would "weaken the institution of marriage".
The UN Population Fund states that more than 2/3rds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex. The statistical data pertaining to marital rape in India clearly show is that sexual violence within marriages is undeniably common.
Rape is rape in every form when there is no consent. A person’s marital status shouldn’t justify or make a crime against humanity valid or legal. The importance of consent for every individual decision cannot be over emphasized.

Krutika Pursnani - Outreach Director, SheSays
As was brought out recently by an article published about an area in Delhi, a city becomes safer not when we give up the public spaces; it becomes safer when we reclaim them. 
Women must not base their comfort on the presence of men or the lack of it, t
he streets belong to 
Cities like Mumbai, especially in the youth dominated spots, must be well equipped to provide this safety. This is the idea behind SheSays tying up with bars; to get institutions to take direct onus towards safety of their patrons.