Jasmeen Patheja

Ashoka Fellow
India,
Fellow Since 2007
Blank Noise

Citation

This profile was prepared when Jasmeen Patheja was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
Jasmeen launched Blank Noise in 2004 in Bangalore to help women and men challenge sexual harassment. Her goal is to make sexual harassment visible and to transform public perceptions about the problem, which in India is tacitly accepted as trivial and even legitimate, rather than a form of persecution. Jasmeen’s public interventions are bold and provocative. Using elements of street theater, performance art, and protest, she engages the public in events designed to increase awareness of sexual harassment where it most often happens, on the street. Her campaign also uses technology as a way to address both women’s concern for privacy and their growing sense of impatience with ineffective laws.
Jasmeen’s movement is unique in the history of efforts against sexual harassment in India because it engages not only perpetrators and victims, but also spectators and passers-by. She aims to shift the responsibility for managing the problem from women back to the public and the legal system, where it belongs. To do this, she involves a wide variety of people, most of whom are new to the fight against sexual harassment. She relies on a network of volunteers, 20 percent of whom are male. During her sensitization drives at large urban bus and railway stations, she works with bus drivers, women bus conductors, and traffic police, who then become active participants in the process of changing social behavior and challenging the denial and passivity that allows eve-teasing to remain status quo.
Another component of her work has been the blog www.blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com, which serves as a platform for women to share testimonies of eve-teasing and experiences that are often suppressed for fear of ridicule and humiliation. The blog has elicited an unprecedented response, and has grown into a tool to spread her movement swiftly and inexpensively across the country. Inspired by her vision and strategies, similar movements have begun in five additional Indian cities. Jasmeen’s desire to work outside the comfort zone of the largely middle-class, Internet-savvy supporters who frequent her blog has led to partnerships with youth groups working in urban slums, who use letters and posters in indigenous languages to spread their message.
In addition to changing social behavior, Jasmeen is working to amend the country’s laws to recognize street sexual harassment as a serious, punishable offense. Technically, sexual harassment is a crime in India, but the wording of the law prohibiting it is ambiguous, so Jasmeen works with lawyers’ groups to amend legal statutes and pressure policymakers.
Jasmeen’s long-term goal is to change attitudes: She empowers victims of street sexual harassment who may feel they cannot speak out or access legal remedies; challenges overconfident perpetrators, who may believe they can get away with molestation and abuse; and confronts the apathy and hesitation of spectators, who do not consider harassment their problem.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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