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Women across the country, and the world, will take to the streets alone tonight, to drive action against sexual harassment.

The Blank Noise collective, founded by Jasmeen Patheja in 2003, is going global with Walk Alone, their initiative for the safety of women in public spaces. Volunteers from the US to Australia, and across the country, will take to the streets  tonight.

Women are invited to join in at “Any place desired, feared and  unknown”.

“One idea informs and inspires the next,” says Patheja.

“At first, we used to be idle in public spaces (2006). Then we slept in public parks (in the Meet To Sleep event).”

The Walk Alone initiative, last held in September, urges women to be ‘Action Heroes’ by encouraging action against sexual harassment.

“Every participant brings an insight from their experience, which furthers our  collective knowledge,” she says.

“Our environments need to be safe and inclusive, rather than have women carry the weight of fear,” adds the Bengaluru-based activist.

“We have the right to imagine, desire, co-create the world we want.”

On earlier outings, Blank Noise’s Action Heroes were stopped by men and told, “It’s not safe here, go home,” she recalls. “There were strangers warning us of other strangers.”

Things are changing, she reassures. “There is a shifting discourse on safe and inclusive spaces,” she says. “There are new movements, all of which echo a sign of change.”

Earlier this year, Blank Noise joined forces with the groups Girls At Dhabas and Why Loiter.

One of the driving figures behind the Pink Chaddi Campaign in 2009, Patheja says that Blank Noise is also reaching out to regions in rural India. Past interventions were held in Ranchi, Bhopal, Lucknow, Goa, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Delhi, and Vizag.

“Most incidents of sexual violence go unreported due to the fear of being judged, shamed or blamed,” she explains. “Each of us has a role to play — the media, the police, family, friends. No one should be forced to share an experience until they feel ready.”

“There is a growing concern, but that needs to be internalised,” says the TED Fellow, speaking of a recent campaign by actor Ranveer Singh, which faced a backlash for its sexist nature.

“When Ranveer apologises, and says he respects women, I hear him, but we need to spell out what respect is, and what was wrong with the ad, or else it turns into an apology game,” she says.

She admits that she wants Walk Alone to be a conversation about our personal understanding of fear. “When Action Heroes like Atreyee run in downtown Toronto at 5 am, or Lisa walks in Brunswick at 3 am, or Neha walks in Yelahanka at 9 pm, each of them negotiate their own understanding of fear, boundaries and limits,” she says.

The media has a larger role to play, she adds. “I urge journalists not to perpetuate victimhood or sensationalise incidents.”

The proceedings tonight will, hopefully, garner more positive reactions than before.

Tonight. To register email actionhero@blanknoise.org and  #WalkAlone anytime between 9 pm and midnight in your town, city or village.

Details: blog.blanknoise.org

— Team Indulge

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