Kurtas, t-shirts, sleeveless tops and pyjamas hung loosely with tags not mentioning their price but the age of the girl who the garment belongs to. Confused? These are striking testimonials to a unique project of Blank Noise, an initiative aimed at curbing harassment of girls and women on the streets.
"There is no such thing as asking for it", as the title of the project goes, is an attempt to make people look at the issue of eve-teasing - a euphemism for sexual harassment on the streets, a phenomenon that is more endemic to northern India - from a different angle.
"Who asks for it? Who decides what is asking for it? Is wearing a particular dress reason enough for men to pounce on us?" asks Priya, a student and volunteer of the project.
Thinking along these lines, the group, headed by Jasmeen Patheja, has asked women to donate any item of their clothing in which they were sexually violated on the street. Mentioning their age and the place they are from, the clothes are then hung up for public view.
Hence what one saw at the India Habitat Centre (IHC) over the weekend were actually dozens of testimonials - in the form of clothes - of girls from Jaipur, Lucknow, Delhi and Bangalore. When the group receives 1,000 such garments, it plans to install them on the streets of different cities across the country.
"Besides the clothes initiative, we are also distributing letters from anonymous girls to people in which she expresses her feelings towards the issue. In one such letter, which is addressed to a 'stranger', the girl says that she doesn't expect anyone to look at her as a mother or a sister but simply as a citizen who can move on the road without feeling insecure or threatened," said Abigail Crisman of Blank Noise (blanknoise.blogspot.com).
"We also have audio testimonials from men on this issue, including a constable's in which he clearly says that once when a girl approached the superintendent of police to complain about a case of sexual harassment he told her that it was her dressing style that must have provoked the man," Annie Zaidi, another supporter of Blank Noise, said.
"But haven't you ever seen a burqa-clad woman whistled at? Or a mother of two taking her kids to a park being hassled with lewd remarks? The issue is that of mindset, of attitude and not really of what she wears."
Narrating an incident, Ashima, a student and a volunteer of the group, said that once a 14-year-old girl asked her mother if she could go out and play in the evening. "The mother said no because the boys in Delhi are not nice, to which the girl innocently replied that it's the boys who should be locked up inside the house then and not the girls!"
Operating since 2003, Blank Noise, with its various innovative projects, has been working in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai. And it's not just women they work with. "We have a number of male volunteers who feel strongly towards this cause and help us greatly," said Zaidi.
"Two years back if a man tried to get close to me in a bus or passed a lewd remark I would simply ignore. But now, I simply look straight into his eyes and tell him to move away very sternly. You have to be confident of yourself and not let anyone take advantage of you," she added.
"We want girls to feel confident to go out for a walk at any time of the night," said Crisman.
(Azera Rahman can be contacted at email@example.com )