Interview with Dhruv Arora, One of the Minds Behind GotStared and #ItsNotYourFault

BY CATHERINE FAVORITE

Meet Dhruv, one of the creators behind GotStared, an online movement based in Delhi, India that he and his friend, Kuber, created earlier this year. They started GotStared as a way to provide an outlet for people’s experiences with street harassment and as a way of targeting the myth that a woman is responsible for her own harassment based on what she wears. Additionally, they have created some fantastic graphics to support the movement

How long have you been using social media to advocate the idea that “It’s not your fault”?

GotStared is not too old. We started the website and Facebook page towards the end of January, up till which we weren’t sure of what direction we wanted to take the Facebook page in. Owing to my obsession with Photoshop, we created the first original poster on 1st of February, in which we first advocated the idea that “it’s not your fault”.   Since February 1st (and it’s been about 60 days now), we’ve held on to using the phrase “it’s not your fault” on our posters and the hashtag #ItsNotYourFault on Twitter.

Where did the inspiration for creating Got Stared and the #ItsNotYourFault come from?

A couple of days before GotStared was created, Kuber and I were sitting and discussing how ridiculous the comments of certain prominent people in India were turning out to be. It was almost saddening that female professors at reputed Universities (such as K.K. Seethamma from Karnataka University) were going on record saying that “women today are becoming shameless. If you expose skin, of course you will get harassed. If you wear traditional Indian suits and hide your skin, you won’t get harassed”. This was outrageous, and we were discussing what we individuals could do about this. Then we came up with this idea about creating a website where people can come and post the pictures of what they were wearing when they got harassed on the streets. We wanted to see what kind of submissions we’d get, whether it would just be the “revealing Western outfits” or other clothes as well. We wanted to see if it mattered what you wore or where you were at. Not surprisingly, the results were as we expected. We were getting entries in Indian wear, western where, from India, and everywhere else as well.

About the Facebook page, as I mentioned, we hadn’t planned on what we would want to do with it. The idea for using posters wasn’t really an idea, per se. We just happened to create the poster and while doing that, we were thinking of what message we could use in it. We decided to go with #ItsNotYourFault, because it just made sense, since everywhere you look, you see messages (either subliminal or direct) where people are being held accountable for mundane and insane things like being dark skinned, not being tall, blaming you if you got harassed (through messages that tell you how to not get harassed instead of telling people to not rape). Most importantly, that was also the time when the clothes vs harassment debate was going on in India and quite a few prominent figures had gone on record saying “if you’re not dressed modestly, then you will get raped”.

What has the response been like to this idea in Delhi, specifically, as well as internationally?

Ever since we’ve started creating posters, you can actually see the exponential increase in people’s participation. Initially, the response from Delhi wasn’t overwhelming to say the least. Surprisingly, the initial splurge of followers wasn’t from India at all, but internationally. Then, as the posters started growing, there was a sudden inflow of supporters from Delhi, especially as a few known organizations and initiatives based in India started picking up the posters and sharing them as well. Today, the largest number of supporters from any city are from Delhi. At the end of the day though, numbers are just numbers. What is really heartening is to see the things people have to say. Our intention has always been to not be politically correct and try to spark debates on these issues, which really has worked.

Can you talk about a story you have received (be it inspiring, infuriating or mind boggling) that sticks out in your minds the most?

Funny you should ask, actually. I will talk about about last entry that we received. I’m sure it’s going to stick out in my mind for a very very long time. I’m talking about this one: http://bit.ly/Hlkjjr

It’s about a white woman who came to New Delhi to work. She cites a couple of instances where she got harassed. Reading the post, I literally felt fear. That’s the thing about reading written pieces, for that moment, you are what you’re reading, so you can feel like the person you’re reading about may have been feeling. In each of the instances, you feel fear, you feel helpless, scared and alone. Unsafe becomes just another word. What really hit me was that at the very end, she points out how her employers (who were also actively involved in one of the instances) said “what were you wearing? why were you walking in the dark? what did you say to him?”

She has returned from Delhi to her home now, earlier than she expected. And I, being an Indian citizen, never felt more ashamed of being a part of such a crowd. I am sure this woman will never come to Delhi again, because it will remind her of the times she was on the streets being followed by random men, unsure of what extent they would go to, helpless, alone and scared. And the most interesting thing about the stories are, a whole bunch of them are wearing a traditional Indian Suit.


What do you say to people who blame victims of street harassment for what they were wearing, where they were walking or what time of day it was when it happened?

I don’t wish to say anything, I wish to show. The reason we started GotStared was to be able to bring out these instances like the one I’ve highlighted above. I wish to show them these posts by normal Indian citizens and ask them, what of these women? I wish to ask them what they would suggest to these women, who are working, supporting themselves, minding their own business, and even dressed modestly, who are still getting harassed. I would like for them to implore and tell me what about the countless people, like the one above, who have left the country we are so proud of because they felt downright unsafe? If this is the condition of women in our country after imposing so many restrictions on them, maybe it is time to rethink the restrictions and see where we may be wrong. Maybe instead of imposing more and more restrictions on Women which isn’t working at all, maybe we can divert our attention to devising more strategical means of dealing with the perpetrators. Through these instances, through the posters, We only wish to point out the ridiculousness of the way we’re dealing with the problem.

What advice would you give to people in dealing with getting stared at, yelled at, groped, followed or other forms street harassment?

I would like to say that I understand. I understand that it is very very difficult for a woman in this situation to react, because of the sheer possibilities and the “what-ifs”. I understand that it may not be possible to “do something” in that moment itself. But having said that, it is important that we do something. The reason people are able to go ahead with these heinous crimes without fear is because not enough pressure is put on them yet. So even if we aren’t able to react in that situation, it is important to learn from the situation and follow that up with putting pressure on the people responsible. The police, the authorities that are constantly trying to dodge responsibility, getting away with saying absurd things like “If you got harassed at night, don’t go out after 8″. And as we can see from the recent rape case in the city of Gurgaon, it was followed up by action, pressure was put on the authorities who not only rolled back on their absurd statement, but suspended the responsible police officials and arrested the perpetrators as well. As long as we keep shut, the people will feel that they have the liberty to do whatever they like. Lastly, I would like to say that speaking for every self-respecting man in this world, I’m sorry for the horrible things some men do, and the bunch of us fighting the good fight will keep trying to change not just the actions, but the thoughts as well. And that’s what it says on the GotStared page as well, “because it’s not the clothes that matter, it’s the intentions”.

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