Got stared at?
Founded in January 2012, GotStaredAt, is a unique initiative that started off as a reaction to the prevailing notion that women bring on harassment because of the clothes they wear. The founder, Dhruv Arora, exhorted women to send in photos of themselves in the outfits they were wearing, along with the location that they ‘got stared at’. This would show society that it wasn’t about the outfit, it was about the mindset. “Because clothes don’t matter, intentions do” as it says on their Facebook page. Let’s see what Dhruv Arora, the founder of the initiative, has to say.
Who is Dhruv Arora?
He is another outraged citizen, he is trying to get people together, trying to build a common voice against the atrocities that have been going on in society. Not just now but for many many years. I am happy because I think finally people are standing up against such crimes and the movement against this is coming together because of the recent incident of brutality.
There are a lot of problems yes, in the way the protests are happening – I do not condone violence at all, but the fact remains that I have never ever seen so many people attack a social issue like this, together, ever before. It’s beautiful
What is the story behind Gotstaredat?
It was launched in January this year. We wanted to invite people to post pictures of what they were wearing when they were harassed on the streets in a bid to see if it was really the clothes that were the reason behind the harassment as is commonly claimed by authorities and police. We weren’t surprised because we got a response from many, many people and they were wearing all kinds of clothing – western, Indian, cultural etc. and they were not necessarily short or revealing – at best, they were daily wear clothes.
We branched out into the fb page where we started posting bold slogans and pictures about meaningful issues with an intent to create awareness and the response was huge. Many of them started going viral and discussions started on closeted issues and people started talking about it openly.
It started off because at that time, my colleague and I were watching the news and influential people – heads of universities and suchlike – were talking about how Indian women should wear saris and they are the ones provoking the males with their short western outfits. And we were aghast! We though – is this the culture that we are handing out to the next generation? For the women to be told that they are at fault because a man sexually assaulted them? These men are the teachers! And they were talking this way. So we wanted a tangible record of how the situation was really not that – sexual harassment of any kind was not because of the clothes women were wearing. That’s how the initial initiative took off.
What was the response to this initiative and what is the larger picture?
The response has been huge. The agitation is a spark – we are trying to invite and provoke issues. Everyone is talking about capital punishment for the molester, that’s what happens every single time such a case happens. We are not talking about educating society or changing the outlook – capital punishment is taking care of the men who did this yes, but what about the scores of men who will do it again because of a wrong cultural thought process? We want to look at the larger problem – why are so many cases happening. What are we doing as responsible people to change it? That is the larger picture – we need to change the outlook that causes these incidents. It is important to have open discussions – not where everyone is agreeing with each other. We have to address issues such as – what is wrong with short clothes, why should they induce brutality and harassment, what goes on in men’s minds, etc. We do have many people who disagree – they have long intricate discussions on the posts and pictures,that means at least, people are talking, and people are trying to change ideas. It’s very difficult to make a 360 degree turn in the span of a year but there definitely is a change. People are protesting against crime but they also are voicing their needs for safety not punishment etc.
Were women the most enthusiastic or was there support from men too?
Yes we have both women and men who are an active part of our community but it’s a 60-40 ratio. It varies from post to post because there are posts targeted specifically towards women etc. it depends.
What are the issues you typically seek to address?
All kinds of harassment. Everything we do is connected to the culture that we are trying to change. We address homosexuality, intervention – a lot of things, a mindset that harassment is okay – can be condoned – we work against this culture.
Recently there was a fracas with Facebook I believe, regarding the blocking of certain posts? Could you please elaborate on that?
That was during the Guwahati incident – we had circulated the photo of Amarjyoti Kalita, the prime accused in the case. That was blocked by Facebook because it was against their policies. Our intention was not to defame. At that time he was absconding. The idea was to spread his image everywhere so that he is familiar to public and he could be identified and apprehended anywhere. This went viral and there were about 12000 shares – before it was removed. There was a very positive response, and this is my personal belief – that it’s not wrong to identify and shame people who are not ashamed of themselves when they are committing such a heinous crime.
You recently spoke at the Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women at The United Nations in New York. Tell us about it.
It was a wonderful experience to see the kind of work people are engaging in all over the world. You can see that violence against women is not an India specific problem; it is rampant all over the world. You can see different cultures and different contexts, but the problem is the same. It was really exciting to be there and I learned a lot about how others are formulating solutions to this issue. The learning process helped me understand what I can do, and what I can do differently and that was very important.
What is your ultimate aim? What heights do you want this community to achieve?
This is my job. And my ultimate goal is that I should be completely jobless soon! (laughs)
I want there to come a day when working against crime against women and working for women empowerment is not available as an option – because there are no incidences of crimes and brutality and women are empowered in their own rights. I want to work towards a situation where there should be no such job.
But yes, we are doing good work – we won the UN World Summit Youth Award, in the category – Power 2 Women.
What is the toughest campaign you have conducted?
Very honestly, initially it was very difficult to drive home the basic idea of “It’s not your fault”. Many women were also opposing this sentiment saying there is no requirement for us to wear short clothes, why should we? This entire campaign thus, was tough. However, we got a brilliant response from people.
Also, we ran into certain difficulties – like, the language we were using, we tried to keep it very neutral – we did not want to promote anti-men sentiments. We are not anti-men, I am a man myself! We are against crimes that are being committed and largely the criminals are men – that’s the only problem. So I had to keep a very strict watch on the tone of our campaign and once or twice I had to step back and view it from an outside perspective – else it ran the danger of sounding as though we were saying all men were evil. But that is a challenge we have mastered well enough now- especially in situations where neutrality is required!
What is your message to our community members?
People are scared of getting into activism because of the dirty reputation it has – don’t be scared. It does not entail wearing a kurta-pyajama and yelling and screaming. Times have changed, the least you can do is go on social media and support a cause. Even if you don’t have the time to physically go out and protest, the idea is to intervene and stop something that is wrong. If people can just take care of the people immediately around them – then they are set. By that I don’t mean just family, but anyone you see in front of you. We don’t need to go out and change the world; we just need to change ourselves and the people around us. That’s all.