Chennai's tryst with 'Reclaim the Night'

Chennai's tryst with 'Reclaim the Night'

This is not just the cry of radical feminists protesting against sexual and all other forms of violence against women, but may well be the cornerstone of a more inclusive, democratic discourse worldwide.

The heightening tensions of urban life, one’s boss screaming at the office echoing back at home at night to give domestic violence against women an added edge, new technologies, newer electronic products that mesmerise surreal human forms as being too close to everyday life, the listlessness among the youth in college and university campuses, and many more such problems are crying for a humane solution.

While more women joining the workforce have come as an economic counterforce to help quell violence against women, the deeper sociological and psychological problems of finding meaning and love in life, harmony in inter-personal relationships and fulfilment in cultural tasks, still persist.


No wonder, the renewed vigour with which a movement like ‘Take Back The Night (TBTN)’, also known as ‘Reclaim the Night’ — which had its origins in the mid-1970s with women consciously using rallies, marches and candle-light vigils at nights to protest against rapes and other forms of violence them — has begun to redraw their ‘resistance’ contours.

A whiff of this new approach wafted across Chennai recently, when Dr Suraiya Baluch, a psychologist and director of Princeton’s University’s sexual harassment/assault, advising, resources and education (SHARE) centre in the US, quietly transported her audience at the Madras University to ‘Bombay (now Mumbai) in March 1978.

“Imagine, a pregnant woman has been gang-raped and a group of women get together to protest the outrage in Bombay, the first documented case of ‘Reclaim the Night’ in India,” she extolled in her soft voice. It was not just a prescription for how to put oneself in a suffering woman’s shoes, but also a subtle delineation of the possibilities of action open to women now.

“Everybody has a right to feel safe and that is a basic human right,” Suraiya stressed, when a participant, to a flutter in the audience, candidly posed whether women’s appearance was also a factor in the causal chain of abuses.

However, that would still be missing the woods for the trees in Suraiya’s own assessment for, as she shared some of the findings of long years of research in the US with an Indian audience for the first time in ostensibly conservative Chennai, everyone listening to her were stunned.

Almost 61 per cent of college women report ‘sexual harassment’ in the US. Though men in colleges and university campuses tend to say they were only ‘teasing and joking,’ “women did not find it funny,” she noted. Again, one-third of women in college campuses in the US have experienced domestic violence, she added.

Another disturbing trend is men “after looking at pornography are more prone to rape-supporting attitudes,” she disclosed. As these issues encompass the totality of human emotional matrix, any prevention strategy calls for “changing the mindset of both men and women”, she sought to drive home.

So, in your own little neighbourhood, a ‘Take Back The Night’ initiative could be just a silent vigil all night, a woman speak-out about their experiences, or even a survivor sharing her story to give it a cathartic effect.

But what is equally important in Suraiya’s view is to bring men into this kind of work, as allies, so that everyone gets involved as a human rights issue. Such are the strands of a new inclusive approach in any strategy to prevent violence against women, which should inevitably lead to larger questions of friendship, love and harmony in human inter-relationships as people simply sit down and discuss.