The ‘mirror mob’, organised by Hyderabad for Feminism, added a much-needed perspective to the issue of street harassment

The beats of a drum cut through the busy hustle and bustle of Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station attracting curious commuters to gather round as a group of men and women begin a performance that leaves many onlookers shocked, confused or even amused, in some cases.

The ‘mirror mob’ organised by Hyderabad for Feminism, on the occasion of Women’s Day, addressed the common but serious issue of street harassment in a way that made people stop and take notice.

Part street theatre and part flash mob; what made the act or ‘mirror mob’ really different was the reversal of gender roles - men and women looked on as a group of female performers stared down their male counterpart, a few feet away a man falls to the floor as women physically assault him. Placards held up by group members provided an explanation about what was going on.

The performance brought to mind ‘Oppressed Majority’, the sensitively executed French short film that went viral a month ago. However, taken to the very streets and spaces where this harassment takes place, it was at once a social experiment and an awareness campaign.

“The role reversal was so that people would stop and take notice and start asking questions,” says lawyer and activist, Greeshma Rai. “Many people still think that street harassment is a non-issue because they have not experienced it or they live in denial. This was why we had to go beyond talking about the issue to actually showing the act,” she adds. Greeshma also points out that while men are not completely safe from street harassment, “If men faced as much street harassment as women did, the issue would definitely be discussed more,” she says, explaining why it was important to have the women harass men.

Following the performance, members of the group also went around speaking with groups of people, explaining to them what they have witnessed and talking to them about the issue in general. “When asked about why they don’t stop harassment when it happens, many men responded saying they’ll be the only one doing anything, and often against four-five other men. Some of them also thought the women will turn against them,” says Vivek Nemana.

Supriya Shukla, the woman who directed the simple but powerful sequences, explained to us that she chose to combine different aspects of street theatre, including sounds, an action sequence and a freeze mob to attract attention and make it easier for people to understand.

The group started at Nizam College bus stop and took the mirror mob to Cherma’s bus stop, Big Bazaar and Koti Women’s College bus stop before reaching MGBS where they performed in three locations. The thirteenth and final performance was at Nampally Railway Station. Tejaswini Madabhushi of Hyderabad for Feminism informs us that 52 people were present; of which more than 40 were women. “We had over 70 entries through the online form but only five of those were men,” says Tejaswini, “The fact that the role included being harassed and facing discomfort could have been a deterrent for men.”

Despite several awareness campaigns directed at ending the menace, street harassment continues to be an issue that is affecting free and safe mobility of many women and men. Perhaps it’s time to take more drastic and hard-hitting steps like this one.