Meerut Girls Troupe Tells Women To Get Up, Stand Up…

Dr Neera Tomar, principal of Malhu Singh Arya Kanya Inter College in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, speaks about the #letmespeak squad which organises street plays that challenge the patriarchal mindset and urge women to speak up for their rights. The troupe also has a ‘thali wing’ which gathers to beat metal plates in front of repeat offenders. Dr Tomar explains the initiative:

 In March this year (2018), the national conscience was shaken by two gruesome rapes incidents, one in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir and another in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. The girls in our school were disturbed by these incidents. Many of them spoke to me about it. The universal feeling was: ‘what do we do about it? We cannot remain silent. We have to speak up!’ And thus, was born our #letmespeak campaign.

A band of girl students and teachers was formed. Their job over the next few weeks was to reach out to the far end of the society and sensitise people about women’s rights and the need for their empowerment. We realised the best and the most effective way of reaching out to our target audience effectively was to stage a Nukkad Natak (street play).

We all got busy. While teachers and seniors girls prepared scripts for our plays, the male staff in the college identified venues suitable for street theatre. Within a few days, our script was ready. The theme was simple: do not avoid eve-teasers on the road, confront them. Eve teasing is the most common of nuisance faced by women in our society, so that was our beginning point.

Our first play was about a group of schoolgirls who were being harassed by eve teasers. The victims avoided the culprits at first. But then, after watching a scene from Aamir Khan’s film Dangal, they decided to raise their voice and ensured that the crooks went behind the bars. The play was an instant hit because it presented what was in front of us; both the problem and the remedy.

Encouraged, we took our play to venues farther from the city. Our initiative was getting noticed and we got positive coverage in the local media too. As a result, girls’ institutions in neighbouring districts such as Hapur, Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar also started approaching us and offered to join the #letmespeak campaign. We were happy to train them about the script, character sketches, messages and target audience.

A few NGOs also come forward to offer their assistance in identifying venues and arranging for the transportation of the squad. We have also been receiving requests to take the campaign online. Social media has taken activism to a new level and we must cash in on the opportunity it presents. We are in the process of making our presence felt online.

A new addition to our armoury is adding a `Thali Gang’. The idea is to shame the perpetrators. On several occasions, the perpetrators are let scot-free by the police. At other times, they are out on bail and sometimes they go absconding. We have decided to gather outside the house of the accused and bang thalis (metal plates) to let the world know about the crime he has committed. Whatever we do remains within our legal rights to protests and spread awareness. 

The reporting of crimes against women, and subsequent media coverage, has risen in the region due to our efforts, but to truly mitigate these crimes, the mindset needs to be changed. It should be a collective responsibility of our society to stand up against such incidents. We hope our initiative is able to sensitise people to speak up.

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