What has eve-teasing got to do with clothes?

The next time you notice a bunch of college-going girls stacking up dupattas, sarees, churidars, school uniforms and other such old clothes on display along roadsides, don't mistake it for a charity sale.

For many students and young professionals the display of clothes is a means of silent protest against those who blame women for being a willing target for eve-teasers by dressing up 'provocatively'.

During the past few months, volunteers of the unusual nationwide campaign 'Blank Noise,' which has picked up pace through networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, have been collecting and displaying clothes worn by women and girls when they were sexually harassed publicly.

While many women chose to suffer silently being ogled at and groped in public places, a group of youngsters have taken it upon themselves to express their strong disapproval in this novel style.

Kicked off as an online campaign through blogs, tweets and Facebook status messages that read 'I never ask for it, the drive now in its offline avatar, strives to challenge the beliefs of those who accuse street sexual harassment victims of dressing immodestly in public.

"We are told that the onus lies on us to prevent its occurrence. We are told to dress appropriately, to come back home on time, to not attract attention to ourselves. And the worst of all, we are expected to accept sexual harassment or forms of eve-teasing as a part and parcel of our societal culture," says Mariya Salim, a Calcutta University student of human rights who is participating in the drive.

Besides acting as testimonies of eve-teasing all voluntarily donated garments exhibited at public places in Kolkata since last month, also serve as a sort of an outlet for the victims to purge their pent-up feelings.

Jasmeen Patheja, founder member of 'Blank Noise', a Bangalore-based volunteer led community arts collective, says it is a violation of a girl's liberty when she has to think twice before going out of her house alone.

"Isn't the perpetrator responsible for his own action irrespective of what time we go out on the roads wearing the kind of attire we want to," she said.

Clothes contributed to the drive are usually accompanied with a note by victims explaining circumstances under which they were harassed and the emotional trauma they underwent.

"Those letters are passed on to curious passer-byes by volunteers who stand in the middle of footpaths displaying clothes," says the activist who began her crusade against eve-teasing by blogging at blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com.

Acting as a cathartic experience for these young girl victims, the initiative not only creates awareness, but also counters the tendency to brush off street harassment or live in denial about its existence.

The action programme, as they prefer to call it, kicked off from Kolkata and Bangalore last month.

With plans to gather around a thousand clothes, the volunteers say they want to hold such events across the country in cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow.

"Girls have been eve-teased in all kinds of clothes. Sarees, burkhas, school uniforms, T-shirts, skirts, bikinis, salwar we have received the entire range of women wear in response to our campaign," Patheja says adding that they have already collected hundreds of such outfits from all over the country.

Terming the word eve-teasing as a euphemism, the activist, in her late twenties, says that young boys often consider it as a joke or prank.

"Staring or passing unsolicited comments at a girl sitting opposite to you in a public bus is like a prank for many youngsters, but it is cruel for the girl," she says.

So where does the solution lie?

"We are not looking at any solutions, so to say. Eve-teasing has become such a universal phenomenon that we don't even accept it as an issue. The whole idea is to trigger a public discussion on such closed issues," says Patheja, a professional photographer.

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