Prajnya, a Chennai-based charitable trust that works in areas of peace, justice and security, has started an innovative campaign to highlight the issue of sexual harassment on streets.
The trust has placed four mannequins in the city, asking women to come forward and mark the part of the body where they have been touched inappropriately.
The initiative is part of Prajnya's "16 days campaign against gender violence". Across the world, many organisations come up with strategies to highlight gender violence in the period beginning from November 25 (International Day Against Violence Against Women) to December 10 (International Human Rights Day).
This is a tradition that was started by the Centre for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University (USA) in 1991. Prajnya has organised campaigns in this globally recognized 16-day period since 2008.
Speaking to The News Minute, Ragamalika Karthikeyan -Programme Officer at Prajnya- said, "The idea for placing mannequins came from my friend, Aditi Surendra. People tend to trivialize street sexual harassment, often calling it by the term 'eve-teasing' which makes it sound harmless. We wanted to create a visual reminder of how prevalent the problem is, and how it happens on an everyday basis."
Ragamalika also pointed out that many victims internalise the harassment and believe that it is normal.
"We see this as an art intervention. We've placed the four mannequins - one at Shree Ayurvedic Hospital, one at Chamiers Cafe, one at Women's Christian College, and one at PCVC (an NGO). The mannequins will be displayed at a public forum we're holding on 10 December," she says.
Prajnya has partnered with Sundari Silks and Tranz for sourcing the mannequins. Each mannequin will have a basket with stickers and anyone from the public is allowed to take a sticker and put it on the mannequin to indicate where they'd been touched without their consent.
While the mannequins are dressed in a saree, Ragamalika says that anyone, irrespective of gender, is welcome to pick up the sticker.
Though people have lauded them for the innovative idea, getting permission for placing the mannequin was not a smooth affair.
"Some asked us if the mannequins would be clothed. They didn't want to take responsibility for it. Others felt that the mannequin could be misused somehow," shared Ragamalika. "It's a six foot mannequin, so it does take up space. We also didn't have the time to talk to a lot of organisations, so we limited the number of spots to four."
When Prajnya placed the mannequin at the Ayurvedic hospital, Ragamalika says that the staff came forward to place the stickers almost at once.
"It started an impromptu discussion right there about street sexual harassment - they shared their personal experiences, talked about what they've witnessed, and also about how pervasive the issue is. We're hoping this is just the beginning of a much larger discussion around the issue, across the city!" she observes.
Two days into the campaign, Prajnya has been told that all four mannequins are already covered with many stickers.
At the end of the campaign, Prajnya will display the mannequins at a public forum on gender violence, where speakers, including members from the transgender community, will share their views and experiences.
Other initiatives include "The Letterbox Resistance", where members of the public are invited to send in their messages -in any form- on gender violence, and a "safety" audit for which they have partnered with students of the Women's Christian College.