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Thursday, Aug 06, 2020 13:45 [IST]

Last Update: Thursday, Aug 06, 2020 08:14 [IST]

I Accept the Black & White Photo Challenge #Challengeaccepted

Not just for Turkey and the US. Crime against women cuts across boundaries with India being one of the most unsafe countries for women. But tomorrow can be all about global sisterhood

RINZINGONGMU SHERPA
My initial years were with my maternal grandparents in Darjeeling, where I went to a nearby school there. I usually returned home from school with a friend from the neighbourhood. One day a man who might then be in his teens approached us with sweets, a ping pong ball and a pink balloon, just so we would be willing to spend some time with him. We were soon caught up playing and watching his magic tricks in fascination “how did he make the coin disappear from his palm?” I returned home late that evening and had my grandmother waiting at the front door to thrash me. As I couldn’t really lie to her, I confessed about the young man, his tricks and how I wanted to learn it myself. She got furious and asked me to never speak to him again. That day I could not come to terms with why would she not let me play with the man? Not until I wept aloud andshe thereafter exposed me to the plight of the cruel world we live in. When I recall it now, she exposed me to child trafficking, child molestation, a ‘bad touch’and a‘good touch’. It was difficult for a six year old to take in every detail, which only made me cry further. I was however happy that the man had only given us a ‘good touch’ in the cheek anda tapon our heads. But what my grandmother exposed me to that day was there to stay.
Maybe that was the very day I started looking at everything with suspicion. I learned about the ordeals that came with being born a woman in a place so unsafe for her. I grew up being exposed to more horrific cases each day on gender disparity and women atrocities such as rape, murder, femicide, trafficking, you name it. I was also taught to ‘trim and tailor’ myself to ensure my safety amidst a misogynist and a sexist society. As every move that goes beyond such ‘safety net’ boundaries would ensure full authority to the society totear me apart.
However, what I was never taught was to question these safety nets. As they were not making me any stronger, independent or safer but was instead making me a mere meek conformist. They were not leading me to bring up questions such as why not start practicing gender equality from our families?Why not change the way men look at women? Why not bring fear in them before they even think of touching or passing a sexist remark at us? Why not make our societies a safer place both for our women and children?
One such platform to voice our dissent towards age old patriarchal setups, was provided by the huge upsurge that came into being two weeks ago, with women posting black and white pictures of them with the caption #challengeaccepted or #womensupportingwomen. First such uploadwas made by Ana Paula Padrao, a Brazilian journalist on the 17th of July 2020. The challenge further gained worldwide momentum among celebrities, politicians, journalists you name it.
Today there are over 53 million images on Instagramunder the caption #challengeacceptedand 7.8 million under #womensupportingwomen. Such a huge digital roar was last seen with the hashtag #MeToo, which brought forth the dark realities of misogyny and sexism engrained within academia, Hollywood, Bollywood, politics and other work spaces.
This time the challenge came forth due toseries of atrocities and femicide against women in Turkey which is increasing specifically after the lockdown. As per the 2019 report of ‘We Will Stop Femicides Platform’, catering to gender-based violence, 474 women were murdered owing to male violence. Up recent a 27-year-old woman, Pinar Gultekin was brutally murdered by her former partner on 20th July 2020. Such frustration of Turkish women frequentlyseeing black and white pictures of murdered women in media, further led them to post a picture of oneself,putting forth the point that it can be any one of us tomorrow.
There is also a speculation that such a digital outrage was to extend solidarity to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,a Congresswoman who was outrightly called a ‘fucking bitch’ by a Republican, Ted Yoho in the House. Hollywood actress such as Susan Sarandon, associated the challenge as voice against racial injustice on an African American Breonna Taylor who was shot dead by Louisville Metro Department police officers in March 2020.
Coming to our own home country, India was considered the most dangerous country for women by the survey of The Thompson Reuters Foundation in 2018. The National Commission for Women (NCW) recorded 1500 complaints of crime against women in the month of May. It saw a steep rise the next month in June with complaints reaching 2,043, highest in the last eight months. Out of this 452 were of domestic violence alone. Also these figures only indicate and reflect those voices who could reach out for help, with many still not being able to do so.
Acts of domestic violence are rooted in power and control, which is influenced more when we consider it legitimate to beat or abuse a woman. Also most often domestic violence is only described aswife beating or physical violence. But women facemultiple other abuses every day, specifically more so after the lockdown, behind those ‘homes’ they share with ‘frustrated men’. A woman facesemotional violence when she is belittled or made to feel guilty or insecure about herself. Sexual abuse is when her resistance to any sexual act is not respected, which usually leads to marital rape,molestation and unwanted pregnancies. Mental or psychological abuse is when a person is indulged in gas lighting the other. Lastly, economic abuse occurs when she is economically exploited with no command over her own resources. They are all mentioned in Section III of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005. It is of utmost importance to make women recognize them, to understand that domestic violence is not something to be normalised and to further remove the social stigma associated with it.
Further as sexual and gender based violence are on the rise, unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortion, unsafe child birth and chances of increase in STDs are also rising. Sexual, reproductive, psychological and other women’s health care services are still overlooked and underfunded amidst the pandemic. So more gender inclusive health care services need to be made available and tagged as essential services.
Women and children are also victims of cyber stalking and bullying, the cases of which are high in India than elsewhere. Infact there has been significant increase in sextortion, mental harassment and blackmailing with "caged criminals" targeting themonline. The National Commission for Women (NCW) reported 21 complaints in February, 37 in March, 215 between April and May. Such trend shows a monthly spike in cyber crime ever since the lockdown. The Cyber experts, however, claim that the numbers are just the 'tip of the iceberg', with many ofcourse going unreported. The #BoisLockerRoomwas the most recent heard of case where naked images of minor girls were forwarded and further plans were made by boys on raping them.
Thus, the black and white challengequestions every such atrocities, injustices and crime against women by giving voices to the voiceless. By bringing awareness among women about the injustices faced by their female counterparts. By creating a space further towards the path of global sisterhood cutting across boundaries, cultures and languages. Yet thereare few taking up the challengewithout knowing the reason behind, which is further causing it to be misrepresented or misunderstood. Critics of the challengealso called it out being ‘meaningless’ and mostly glamour oriented. However, any act which has a noble cause behind and does no harm is not something to be pointed finger at. Such criticism itself reflects how the society has time and again tried to hush up and suppress women unconsciously in every unique stepthey take towards the path of equality and empowerment. 
As, who knows, the future may all be about a shift from rallies, gatherings and marches to digital protests.
RinzingOngmu Sherpa is a Doctoral Candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She hails from Pelling, West Sikkim- rinzing.ongmu93@gmail.com

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi