Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stand Up for Your Rights! - Hollaback Chandigarh and Worldwide

Activism IS the only way to make any society better. Each of us must do our part. Hiding from issues or ignoring them only enables them to get worse. Thankfully there are motivated individuals who are willing to go all the way and start something big. Something that helps more than one person. That's exactly what's going on in India. More and more women are standing up against the oppression and fighting to make life better for women everywhere.

I recently had the opportunity to interview one highly motivated woman in Chandigarh. Her story is inspirational and I hope it motivates you to stand up and do something in your area or to join her fight. The only edits I made to the interview below was to change the font and increase the size of the phone numbers she provided to make sure no one misses them. I would love to hear your responses and a little bit about what you do in your daily life to make this world better. If you have an eve-teasing story where you either stood up for yourself or someone else, or witnessed someone standing up against eve-teasing, please take the time to find a Hollaback organization near you (or start one) to post it and help other women gain confidence to stand up for themselves too.

1.     What led you to start the Chandigarh chapter of Hollaback? 

Street harassment or ‘eve teasing’ as it’s commonly called, has been a reality for me for as long as I can remember. The famous ‘Gehri Route’ of this city is known for men following women, passing comments, etc. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been followed or been subjected to lewd comments or Bollywood/Punjabi songs. My anger peaked when I had this group of men in a car follow me till my house and actually enter my house! I don’t think I had ever been so scared. I actually thought they would get a hold of me and rape me. I finally decided I had to do something about this. That’s when I found out about Hollaback! and started one in Chandigarh. (You can read the whole story here:

2.     When did you start the Chandigarh Hollaback?

Hollaback! Chandigarh was officially launched in August 2011. We are one of four chapters in India, the other three being in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.

3.     Are you working alone or have you been able to enlist others to help you? Are they women, men or both?

We have been lucky to receive a lot of support for the cause. Although, officially I am the only core volunteer, we have a lot of people who help out regularly. Many people write blog posts or become social media volunteers. Those locally available help out with events, etc. We have volunteers of all genders and sexualities. Majority of our volunteers till now have been male.

4.     Was there a turning point in your life that you attribute to your current stance against eve-teasing?

Street harassment has been a constant part of my life. I would always think twice about where I was going, what I was wearing and at what time was I leaving. Also, spending five years in Panjab University, you can never really escape being harassed. I have always felt very strongly for women’s rights and even while completing my law degree, I worked extensively on the issue of domestic violence. As I mentioned earlier, street harassment became a more prominent issue when I had some men in a car actually enter the premises of my home. That terrified me and I had just had enough!

5.     You mentioned having been in the US and experienced the same there. Please give some examples of eve-teasing you've personally experienced or witnessed in the US and India. Include how you felt and how you know what was done is wrong (optional but your feelings on the topic would be greatly appreciated)

I have spent a few years living in the US as well. I was staying in Maryland, close to Washington D.C. I was in high school at the time and even there, street harassment was a regular feature. My friends and I were quite used to catcalls, staring, random comments, etc. And we were all under 16 at the time. I didn’t realize the extent of the problem at that age though. Everyone somehow thought it to be a part of life and just got used to it.

Things got a lot worse once I returned to India. I’ve been in Chandigarh for most of the time, and people seem to have no fear at all here. I still feel Chandigarh is better than a lot of other cities in India though. The worst thing for me has been being followed constantly. Many of my friends, though have experienced a lot worse. Ranging from public masturbation to groping and stalking.
Constant street harassment has very negative effects on women. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t faced harassment in her life no matter where she lived. It creates this inherent fear. A fear of walking alone. A fear of dressing a certain way. A fear of going to certain places. Why should half the population live with this constant fear?

Many people feel that street harassment is a petty issue. I have had people try to convince me to work on female feticide or dowry harassment instead. However, many don’t realize that all of these are a manifestation of the same basic problem: a lack of respect for women.

6.     How do you feel Indian women should react to eve-teasing and why do you think they don't react to it?

Indian women are some of the strongest in the world. Many don’t hesitate to speak out or even slap someone who is harassing them. Although, we definitely do not condone violent reactions, it is very important to speak out. Most people will stop engaging in harassment if they are called out or asked to stop. Stop Street Harassment offers some wonderful assertive responses to street harassment (

I would also like to emphasize the importance of responding only when you feel safe. It is not necessary to respond in every single case. If you are by yourself in a secluded area at night, it is best to reach a safe place first and then choosing your response. And please do feel free to call the police at any time. The number is 1098 for the child and women helpline in India. Delhi also offers an anti-stalking helpline at 1096 or 011-27894455.

It is also helpful if bystanders respond when they see someone being harassed. Simply going up to the person and asking if they are alright or if they need any help, helps them feel supported and discourages the harasser.

7.     What are your goals for Hollaback and what do you hope it will do for the women in the community?
We hope to make this city a lot safer and ensure women do not feel scared when they step out of their homes. We are also working on the issue of LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) rights and hope to create an open and safe community for them in the city.

Some other things I would like to mention:
About Hollaback! – Hollaback! was started in New York in 2005. A group of friends decided to use mobile technology and blogs to put an end to street harassment. We provide a blog where people can come and share their stories about street harassment and we also hold local events and drives to raise awareness and help the cause. Hollaback! has now spread to over 40 cities all over the world.
For women who face harassment – At Hollaback! we believe very strongly in the power of sharing stories. It helps people to connect and relate to shared experiences and also encourages more people to speak up. ‘Hollaback’ literally means to holler back or to speak out. Until we start saying that street harassment is not OK, it won’t stop.

Contact Details for Chandigarh Hollaback
Twitter: @hollabackchd


  1. Eve-teasing is a silly stupid terminology that takes away from the seriousness of this crime: sexual harrassement.  With that being said don't you think the prevalence of such in India is largely due to the sexual frusration of men who are not allowed to date or choose their own wives or have a full and exciting sex life once they are married due to living in the joint family household with little to no privacy?

  2. I agree. Eve teasing is lightening the severity of the crime. But that is what it is called here. As much as I would like to blame men for the problem, women are equally at fault. From the mothers and aunties that continue the traditions to the women who dismiss these activities as just something men do, they are all to blame. I'm thankful for women who stand up for themselves and others so that this society can advance toward equality.
    The after marriage sex life thing is crazy here. You're bombarded with demands for a child but never left alone for the opportunity to make one. Sex is still taboo after marriage in many homes. Its a strange mess indeed.
    Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone

  3. "Sex is still taboo after marriage in many homes."

    Yes.  Families are scandalized when a young couple shows signs of physical affection in their own home!  What is up with that?  Do they really expect a new couple not to want to want to be alone and have sex as much as possible?  This is why so many Indians are frustrated and the women eventually repose their desires for attention and romance in their sons and then compete with their daughter in laws for the son's affections instead of focusing on their own husbands.