Bengaluru: For the past three months, members of Maraa, a Bengaluru-based media and arts collective, have been going around with a purse collecting stories of sexual harassment from students in the city.
Called ‘Radio in a Purse’, the initiative gives youngsters a platform to their share experiences, testimonials, challenges and confusions about sexual harassment and violence in and around colleges.
The purse is a physical purse which has different audio equipment inside, such as recorders and headphones, and other tools to create informal spaces of listening and sharing.
The idea was borrowed from the ‘Radio in a Backback’ method used by community radios in conflict or disaster zones.
The purse travels to different parts of the city where a listening and recording booth each are set up. Students can then talk about their views and personal stories in anonymity.
Over the last few years, Maraa has been engaging with students on a variety of issues.
“One of the things that kept persisting was the kind of discriminating environment that exists in campuses in Bengaluru. Also, most of the colleges are situated far away from one another; there’s very little inter-student interaction that happens in the city. Plus, there are only one or two public universities, so there is not much of a public university culture,” says Angarika Guha, who works with Maraa.
After Raya Sarkar’s list of alleged sexual offenders in academic institutions became a hot topic of discussion last year, Maraa started talking to students on how to deal with sexual harassment within universities.
The sessions take place outside college campuses where the conversation is varied and not limited to one issue, since sexual harassment cannot be seen in isolation.
“It could be of sexual harassment, but not necessarily in terms of a physical act. What we’ve also realised is that a lot of it is a culture that prevails in and outside the classrooms that breeds an environment for acts of violence. A lot of it is conversation around peer pressure, bullying or stereotyping,” she says.
The stories are recorded and some of those are put up on a SoundCloud page on the collective’s website.
“What we’ve also learnt through the sessions is that colleges, for the most part, are very hostile spaces. It doesn’t just have to be in terms of incidents of sexual harassment, but also in terms of censorship and suppression if one wants to talk about anything to do with these issues. Whether it is organising a workshop or doing an event, there’s a lot of stonewalling that happens from the college administration and teachers,” Angarika says.
Those who wish to take up a case formally can also be assisted by the lawyers and activists that Maraa closely works with.
The collective wants to use to the recordings in the future to create more discussions among students and, perhaps, even help create a student radio channel in the city.
“Our plan as we go ahead is also to talk to students in science and engineering colleges. Because often most narratives happen in and around the humanities department, where it is the easiest to have these conversations,” she says.