Something is rotten in the state of India. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau every 20 minutes a woman is raped somewhere in the large country. Few cases are investigated and most perpetrators go unpunished.
Just over a month a go, the Badaun gang rape made headlines when it was revealed that local police actively participated in the cover-up of the rape and subsequent killing of two teenage girls. In a statement almost too outrageous to believe, Babulal Gaur, the home minister of the central state Madhya Pradesh, described rape as a social crime, saying “sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.”
Every woman in India has faced sexual harassment and gender bias one time or another. And many women have stories on how to survive – but few places to tell them. That is why Aparna Das, a former journalist and current student in the Communication Leadership program at the University of Washington started Project Black Noise, a digital forum to share personal stories and break India’s “culture of silence”.
Flip the Media talked to Aparna about her inspiration for the project, how she got people to contribute and what she wants people get out of it.
Flip the Media: What was the inspiration behind the project Black Noise?
Aparna Das: Project Black Noise is actually a culmination of many years living in India. As a kid, I never really understood why boys were set apart and pampered more than girls. While I thank my stars for having parents who always supported me, most of my friends were not so lucky.
When I grew up, I got to know the society’s reasoning for different treatment of genders, but I could never accept them. After moving to Seattle, I felt a huge difference in my life. I could walk alone on the street without being stared at or harassed and in many ways experienced a new-found freedom. But more importantly, I realized just how indifferent I was to such gender discrimination while living in Delhi. It upset me to think that women in India have to fight injustice, violence prejudice and neglect every day. I knew I had to do something, say something and was sure many women felt like me.
You mentioned that your parents were always supportive of you growing, but most of your friends were not so lucky. Can you give an example?
So when I was still in school, a friend of mine who had a very good academic record was forced to leave school and married off to someone twice her age. On top of that her family had to pay a huge amount of dowry to the groom’s family to keep them ”happy”. Her father almost gave away his entire retirement saving for her wedding. She got pregnant soon and was threatened to be sent back to her parents if she did not deliver a boy. All this while she was still 15.
While I was working in Delhi, I noticed a colleague of mine coming to work with bruises in her arm quite often. When I enquired she gave me one excuse or another. Sometime it was ‘I slipped in the bathroom and fell’ or she blamed herself for being accident-prone. Only later did I get to know that she had been suffering domestic abuse. However, she was brave enough to put an end to it by filing for divorce.
There are more such stories and experiences. But I think you get the gist. My mother is rather worried that I started this blog. She is afraid I might get into trouble when I go back to India if it becomes popular.
So how did you go about putting your idea into practice?
In a Communication Leadership Program class we were challenged to do a project we were passionate about. So I connected with my friends from India, my network here in the program and I reached out to women who have either lived in India or had been to the country to share their experiences and perspective.
I have, many times, been told to filter my thoughts, to speak cautiously about how I really feel and learn when to stop talking. So I knew that it was going to be difficult for many women to write for an open forum like this. Therefore, they had the choice to write anonymously. Some noise makers (Project Black Noise contributors) also feared a backlash and so did not want the family or neighbors to know that they were sharing their stories.
How did you spread the word about your project?
The blog is at a very early stage, so I can’t say I have a major social media strategy. My connections so far have been my FB friends, my journalism network and the CommLead family. I sent personal messages to all my contacts who helped me spread the word and then one story encouraged another person to write – so the blog is at a very organic level so far. However, I have recently got in touch with a few NGOs with whom I hope to collaborate in the future.
What story moved you the most?
I don’t really want to mention any particular story. I think each and every one who contributed has shown tremendous courage and strength, something rare among women in India when it comes to talking about gender discrimination. I think every story is important and needs to be heard.
What do you want readers and contributors take away from your blog?
Project Black Noise is an attempt to end a culture of silence and disrupt the patriarchal mindset in India. I want readers to share these stories, not just on social media, but also with people they meet every day. If everyone starts talking about the issue, eventually, it will lead both men and women to re-think the way they treat women.
I also want men to share their perspective. Not all men are the same and I hope they will realize that just feeling sorry about the situation is not enough. It’s high time something is done and since all of us are part of this society, we all need to own up and work together to make a difference. More importantly I hope women will realize that they are not alone and that the world wants to listen to them.
If you are interested in the project or even want contribute, check out the Project Black Noise website or contact Aparna Das via Linkedin or Twitter (@aparnadas). It does not have to be your personal experience. It can be about a neighbor, friend, colleague or just some incident you witnessed. Think about it.