Using a wide range of communication tools, Blank Noise is interventionist and critically reflective of the issue of street sexual harassment ("eve teasing") in an effort to spur action around an offence that organisers feel has often been ignored or trivialised. The motivating claim shaping the initiative's strategies is as follows: "Eve teasing, therefore, despite its rather misleading nomenclature, is not an all-girl issue but a societal one. By being a mute witness, by teasing (sexually harassing) or by ignoring/ denying the issue, we are responsible for it."
Here is a brief summary of the phases of the project, which serve as an initial introduction to the project approach:
- The first phase of the Blank Noise Project dealt with victimhood. The Blank Noise founder led a series of workshops to explore the public and private identities of 9 women. This collective participatory experience evolved into an installation that included video, sound, and photographs.
- The next phase involved public confrontation: a participatory, public art project where the project's founder could take the issue to the streets, while including a wider base of participants.
- As of this writing, the project's current phase involves public interventions that are performative in nature. This stage of the project has also involved disseminating and questioning the law (particularly Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with outraging the 'modesty' of a woman). Through online opinion polls, participants are also attempting to be able to define eve teasing, which is an open-ended term.
Specifically, Blank Noise works with media that is both mainstream and alternative, depending on the nature of the project undertaken. A few examples of interventions that have been undertaken follow:
- Street interventions:
- Mapping - Blank Noise volunteers in Delhi map "harassment spots" on a city map. Women place a red thumb print on a city map to mark an area they have been harassed and, once volunteers have marked the map, it is offered to passersby who add to the map. Testimonials are handed out during this process and also serve as an opening for dialogue on issues that are the focus of Blank Noise.
- Night walks - "Women can stop to eat at roadside dhabas, or just run along the streets, enjoying the public space and revelling in the feeling of being out at a time usually considered taboo." Some night walks have been more narrowly focused, with women using stencils and posters to publicise Blank Noise and talk to people about it on their way.
- "Did you ask for it?" - Blank Noise asks participants to discard the clothes worn at the time they were sexually harassed on the streets. This collective building of an installation of clothes seeks, primarily, to erase the assumption that a person "asked for it" because of what she was wearing. By gathering clothes across different cities as testimonials of eve teasing and installing them on the streets, Blank Noise hopes that women will stop blaming themselves through a collective intervention to defy the notion of "modesty". Clothes are contributed with a note by the volunteer which explains the circumstances under which she was harassed and includes a description, usually intimate, of what the participant was feeling, serving as a possible outlet for a kind of purging of experience, as well.
- "Why R U Looking at Me?" - Here, groups of people (sometimes joining the group spontaneously moments before it begins) wear one letter each of the phrase Y R U LOOKING AT ME on their breasts in shiny red reflective tape. The group appears and disappears at traffic lights and at major public crossings and is completely silent, maintaining eye contact with the stream of traffic lined up at the signal. "Often when challenged by a frank and fearless female gaze, onlookers tend to look away or feel embarrassed; thus the ubiquitous male gaze is countered and an interest is generated which allows for dialogue to open up." When the light turns green, volunteers disappear into the sidewalk, distributing pamphlets and answering questions. In conjunction with this, tee-shirts were created that are meant to be read off the reflection from a rear view mirror in an auto; they ask "Y RU LOOKING AT ME?" in Hindi and Kannada script so that it's what meets the viewers eyes through a mirror.
- "One Night Stand" - Groups of women gather to stand on the street, at specific sites, significant to each city and simply stare. This is experiential for both the performers and the public on the site."
- Opinion Polls - In an effort to elicit responses on the act of eve teasing from people on the streets where these acts take place, Blank Noise volunteers, armed with dictaphones and opinion charts, engaged people in dialogues about street harassment. Having asked questions in a non-confrontational manner, the volunteers mapped out the various responses onto chart paper. Conducted in Bangalore and Delhi, there are now attempts to make permanent some of these polls so that people will find charts at their neighbourhood paan store or bus stand.
- Testimonials - Letters begin with the words "Dear Stranger" and go on to detail an experience of street harassment from the victim's point of view. Recipients are usually passersby - e.g., the letters are distributed at night walks or at interventions such as Y R U LOOKING AT ME. Sometimes, volunteers knock at apartment doors to deliver the testimonials to area residents who might not frequently leave their domains.
- Online action:
- Blank Noise This Place is an ongoing project which invites those who have experienced street sexual harassment to revisit that locale and photograph it. A participant then emails the photo, along with an account of what occurred there, to Blank Noise, which will then upload it, place a dot on a world map, and invite online discussion about the incident.
- On International Women's Day (March 8) 2006, Blank Noise extrapolated its intervention at the time onto its blog. In 2007, a "blog-a-thon" invited women to pick up the imaginary baton from the Blank Noise blog and write a post about a personal experience of harassment on their own blog, linking back to Blank Noise. Organisers say that "[m]any women from across the world shared intimate experiences that they had buried or forgotten. The anonymity of the internet granted safety and a sense of power and women shared frankly experiences that resounded with other participants, thus creating an online community that shared universal experiences despite being separated by miles of physical space!"
- "UNWANTED: Photographing the Perpetrator" - This project is based on the notion that "[t]he action of taking a picture of a perpetrator leching/ groping/ whistling/ catcalling is empowering in itself....[T]hrough this simple act we reverse the gaze." Women take photos of perpetrators and then post them online. "We have had experiences where people have apologized, admitted, felt shame for sexually harassing us."
- "TALES OF LOVE AND LUST" - Recognising the need to build a dictionary of "eve teasing", Blank Noise asked participants to email in comments and remarks they had heard addressed to them on the street. This vocabulary is represented in the form of school-style charts featuring simple lettering and graphics in an attempt to desexualise and remove obscene reference from the terms that are used leerily on the streets. This was an online project, but posters have been printed and put up in offices in Bangalore.
- "I WISH" - This campaign asked people to email us what they wished from their cities, looking beyond the reality of unsafe streets into an ideal world (People wrote in with wishes as simple as "I wish I could sit under a tree and read"). This campaign was, in part, designed to provide organisers with indications for what direction future work might take.
Blank Noise website; and emails from Jasmeen Patheja to The Communication Initiative on June 21 2008 and November 14 2008.