Liminal Lens and How Revealing! are giving a voice to survivors of abuse, one post at a time

In a country where sexual harassment is commonplace, horrendous incidents are very often spoken about in passing. Or worse, they are not addressed at all. Many of us do not even regard some forms of abuse as problematic, such as eve-teasing or cat-calling, and just brush them under the carpet. At such a time, two online platforms are making the process of talking about abuse and violence easier and accessible.

The Instagram account of KrantiKālī, a startup advocating gender equity, features pictures of women narrating stories where they have been groped, eve-teased and almost been kidnapped. These pictures, where some women have revealed their identity, and in some where one can only see their feet or back, are part of the Liminal Lens series.

"3 years ago at a family function. I caught my domestic help looking pretty flustered and unnerved. Concerned, I asked her if she was okay and that’s when she mustered what seemed to be like all the courage in the world and say ‘Baby, don't mind but, that relative of yours gives me the creeps. I caught him ogling my chest while I was serving him water.’ Completely taken aback all I could do was apologise. I promised her that the next time he visited I'd attend to his needs directly. And so it happened. He paid us another visit the following week. I went to greet him and shake his hand but his eyes went straight from my face down to my chest. I felt a pang of discomfort and panic travel through my body. I withdrew my hand immediately excused myself and went into my room. Spent rest of the day trying to justify as to why he would've “looked” at my chest maybe he was trying to read what was written on my T-shirt except for the fact that it was a plain T-shirt. When it happened a second time, an unexplained mixed feeling-an eerie shiver ran down my spine. I immediately excused myself and stayed in my room till he left. I've never felt so violated. It was as if someone was forcing me into a corner. I felt stupid because he hadn't exactly done anything "offensive" in the physical sense of it. Later, that night both my help and I described the incidents to my parents.To which all they said was ‘He is a bright fellow and a whiz in his field, such kind of people are socially awkward. The thought of a 40yr old man ogling my boobs right in front of my parents and getting away with it kept me up the entire night.The next morning my mother told me how she’d confronted and had him apologise. I felt relief sweep over me.I didn’t feel cornered anymore.I met him the next day and his eyes were careful not to wander off anywhere below my face. When something like this happens one can feel the stranger undress you. Its worse than slugs crawling all over your body. In such situations one discounts ogling as harassment because there's no physical evidence. But ogling too, becomes a form of harassment when it puts you when it puts you at discomfort, threatening your personal space."

A post shared by KrantiKālī (@krantikali) on

Founder Bhani Rachel Bali wants Liminal Lens to add to the gender discourse in the country and to derive an understanding into values, beliefs and customs that perpetuate gender-instrinsic behaviour. “KrantiKali believes in photography with a purpose. ‘Liminal’ refers to a space or a metaphorical realm where ideas and concepts, artistic, political, cultural social or otherwise are in constant states of contestation and negotiation,” she explains. She wants to understand how the common Indian perceives gender. “We’re using personal stories of the everyday Indian citizen to reach the mainstream where these issues are often ignored. In my experience of working as a gender sensitisation trainer, I’ve realized that most people for that matter who are not in the gender rights or feminist activist circle equate “gender” with women’s issues only. It's high time this changes,” Rachel asserts. How Revealing!, a website which welcomes people of all genders to submit stories of harassment, aims to act as a safe space where complex feelings associated with abuse can be legitimised. Here, you will find stories of both men and women across all ages who have been at the receiving end of abuse from relatives, strangers and also persons of authority, such as policemen.

Screengrab from How Revealing!

Screengrab from How Revealing!

The name is an effort to reclaim this exact phrase – “How revealing!” – of victim blaming and shaming. Urmila, the founder of this platform, says that she set up the website because she realised that a lot of her friends and relatives were blaming themselves for the trauma they had endured, and that very often they did not address incidents simply because of the frequency with which they occur. She wants How Revealing! to help people speak out, even about what they think are ‘small’ incidents. “The ‘small’ and ‘casual’ incidents of sexism we encounter regularly, when we are made to feel ‘touchy’ for raising our voices – we want to record these experiences as well, because it is all part of and contributes to the same, larger problem,” she explains. It is also a way for her to channel all the anger and despair she feels when a victim is blamed and to channel it into something positive. An unmissable feature of the stories on How Revealing! is that the place, time, clothes worn by the victim and their age are distinctly mentioned. When asked what the objective behind this was, Urmila says they are meant to turn common notions on their head. “We want to show that this does not matter; one can get assaulted irrespective of whatever one is wearing,” she explains. She adds that once she has accumulated a considerable number of stories, this data can also be used as research to draw conclusions from, about abuse and violence. How Revealing! allows everybody to submit stories, and Urmila does not pick and choose when it comes to publishing them. She only edits them for spelling mistakes and grammar, or to make the meaning of a particular sentence clearer. “I also remove identifying details of the abuser or harasser,” she adds. The process that Rachel follow for Liminal Lens is the opposite of this; she walks around cities to seek stories. Have people always been open to speaking about incidents from their past? Rachel says that it is difficult to approach women, and understandably so. “But when I show them the Instagram feed and they read the comments, they realise it’s a safe medium, and that by sharing their stories they are furthering the discourse on the topic. Usually, they speak of situations where they thought it was a minor incident to report,” she explains.

“One evening while i was walking back from the colony market towards my car. A Wagon-R was speeding towards me. It pulled up right in front of me so suddenly that I fell down. The back-door flung open and i saw 4-5 guys sitting inside. I was about to get up and hurl some abuses at the driver, when one of the guys started pulling me inside. I went numb with fear and shock. I couldn’t process anything that was happening to me. These guys were laughing and they actually looked like they were from a decent background. Something kicked in and I started shouting. Since, this was a market place I thought someone would notice and come help me, but people were just gawking at the on-goings and didn’t make any effort towards helping me. I caught the driver signaling to the guy (who was pulling me inside the car) which was when he let go of me, the jolt being as sudden as when he was pulling me inside. The car sped away. I didn’t even manage to get a glimpse at the number plate of the car. Turns out, I had injured my shoulder in the duration of this entire incident and was in too much pain to do anything else at that moment. I have not shared this story with many people, especially men often the tendency to respond with - “Why did you go to the market in the evening?”, “Must’ve been something you were wearing!”. I was wearing formals, shirt and trousers. The reason I'm mentioning my outfit is because of the taboo around “Revealing clothes = Asking for it = It was the woman's fault” mentality of our country. I am 25. I work. I am an independent woman. I don’t like the fact that I have to exercise caution while doing something so mundane! I can’t and don’t want a guy “protecting” me 24/7. You should be able to protect yourself. You never expect something like this to happen to you unless it happens to you. Delhi needs to have very active awareness campaign targeting men. I am not deterred by this incident, but there’s always this small fear in the back of my mind of this freak encounter taking place again.” . . . #streetharassment #storiesofstreetharassment #krantikali #theliminallens #gender #safety #delhi #india #whyweneedfeminism #instagram #indiaphotoproject A post shared by KrantiKālī (@krantikali) on

How Revealing! aims at helping people know that they are not alone, that there are others like them, as well as enabling people to seek help through the links on the support page. Additionally, it is working towards being an inclusive platform where anyone can post about experiences that they have undergone or been witness to. “We also want to function as a repository that can fill the information vacuum as incidents of sexual violence are probably under-reported in India due to flaws in our justice systems and due to the stigma. With time and with enough stories, we hope to impact policy,” explains Urmila.

One of the goals of both How Revealing! and Liminal Lens is taking the conversation about abuse beyond the community of feminists and people who are already aware of gender issues. “We also want to empower women to start their own dialogue, to demand that people sit up and notice that women’s safety goes beyond the moral policing, political jargon and reactionary policies,” says Rachel. Both these projects also seeks to help people deal with the difficult emotions that result from traumatic experiences.

As a result of documenting these stories, the creators of these projects have been able to make certain observations about violence and abuse in India. Urmila says that the response from contributors has been positive and heartening, and that some of the stories she receives are frankly heart-breaking. “Another point that stands out is that more than 50% of the stories are of child sexual abuse,” she highlights. Rachel says that sexual harassment seems to be a commonplace occurrence in the lives of women, and that most of the cases she documented had gone unreported.

Screengrab from How Revealing!

Screengrab from How Revealing!

One striking observation that Rachel and Urmila shared is that their platforms seem to be the first place where many people have even opened up about a negative experience they have undergone. This is what makes the experience of speaking out so cathartic. “We were told by many of our respondents that they found this therapeutic in some ways. We’ve had women share incidents from over a decade ago which they hadn’t with anybody until they shared it in the middle of the streets of Connaught Place in New Delhi,” Rachel says.

Urmila and Rachel say that there is an urgent need for an accessible medium where people can talk about such experiences. “It is very clear that there is a need for a dedicated portal to record stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment that functions as an outlet for the complex emotions associated with sexual violence,” the former explains.

Because both these platforms are online and inherently interactive in nature, reader responses are of utmost importance to gauge how effective their work is. Rachel says, “The responses have been encouraging; some viewers have reached out and expressed the need to share their stories.” She adds that some comments lead to larger discussions about topics, and that a majority of comments are empathetic in nature. Urmila has received a lot of appreciation for starting her initiative. “But there is also sadness and despair at the nature of stories we have been receiving,” she says.

"Last week around 9:30pm after i finished wrapping up dinner at my employers place. On my way home as i got out of the gate I noticed a car which was parked right outside. But didn't think of it as unusual. The next thing i know the car-door flies open and the driver says "come on get-in" while winking at me. I froze and started walking towards my house. The driver was now on the phone and following me in his car. I panicked and started walking faster. Thankfully some people from the dhobi-ghat were coming towards me from the other side, seeing this the driver sped away. I didn't even have my phone on me that night. I couldn't even run back to the gate of my employers house since, the car was blocking my way. I was consumed by fear and just wanted to rush home to my children. I usually get off from work around 10pm so, its not an odd-time for me to be leaving this late since, my quarter falls right behind theirs. This is the first time in 7 years something like this has ever happened to me. This house is in a posh locality and is considered to be one of the safest areas in Delhi. Now i make sure my phone is on me the entire time. Ever since, I confided in my employer she makes sure I'm seen off till outside he gate to make sure there are no cars lurking around the corner" . . . #streetharassment #sexualassaultawarenessmonth #storiesofstreetharassment #krantikali #theliminallens #gender #safety #delhi #india #whyweneedfeminism #instagram #indiaphotoproject

A post shared by KrantiKālī (@krantikali) on

When it comes to confessions of this kind, anonymity plays an integral role, and it is a choice that both Liminal Lens and How Revealing! offer. “There is a lot of stigma attached to speaking openly about sexual abuse and a lot of shame and fear, and this can prevent people from speaking about it openly. Therefore, allowing for anonymous posting helps people share and let it out without being afraid that there will be repercussions,” Urmila asserts.

Rachel says that the reason why some of her subjects can choose not to show their faces is because the project wants to focus on the story being told rather than the physical looks of the person narrating it. That being said, people who tell their stories can also choose to mention their names. “Most women who choose to show their faces do it out of choice because they feel that by hiding their faces, they are just proving the society right and further stigmatising the issue of sexual harassment,” Rachel explains.

How deeply involved are they in the lives of those who speak to them? Both assert that first and foremost, their initiatives exist to serve as platforms. Urmila adds that she places a large value on psychological care for these victims. “Disclosure of this nature can lead to a lot of buried or unknown feelings coming out and post that, psychologists recommend that people seek closure,” she explains.

Screengrab from How Revealing!

Screengrab from How Revealing!

Liminal Lens also extends its involvement to encouraging effective action on the part of its participants. Apart from letting them know that they are not alone, Rachel finds that the project also empowered to take action the next time something happens to them or someone they know, because they end up narrating stories of incidents that they regrettably did not report. She also recommends that her subjects not hesitate to report any violation of their rights.

You can follow Liminal Lens here, and check out How Revealing! here.

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Updated Date: Apr 04, 2017 11:36:51 IST

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