Sketching for solidarity
An artist shows how gender-based violence by partners shrinks spaces for women online through real-life stories, while trying to build online support for them
Sometimes it takes months, even years, to understand and accept intimate partner abuse, especially if it's an intrusion into one's online space. Whether it's being coerced to share a password with your partner, or allowing them to check your messages, women, transpersons and those with non-normative sexual orientations are most often taught it's normal under the guise of love. As one of the fallouts of these gender-based violations, their space in the online world shrinks, and what remains is a sense of isolation, says Navi Mumbai-based artist Indu Harikumar. "As someone who has faced gender-based violence and seen the way my space online shrunk, I know that it makes you feel like you don't belong. So, I wanted to study it and build a space for solidarity," says the artist, who has started a people-powered project called #LoveSexandTech to illustrate such real-life experiences of women.
The project is part of a global campaign called Take Back The Tech! by the Association for Progressive Communications that empowers women to take control of technology to prevent violence against them. Harikumar started working on the project in August, after getting the grant in July, and sought help from women to share their stories. Illustrated as standalone comics, she has posted four of the eight stories, each documenting all sorts of restrictions placed by partners on women.
Elaborating on these restrictions, Harikumar shared, "In one of the stories, the girl mentioned how she and her partner were insecure about who was commenting on or liking their posts, and how it later led to him being sullen about the appreciation her work got, her being in touch with her friends, etc. She withdrew to keep him happy. Women have talked about being shamed for posts, their photographs being called dirty, and being questioned on the number of posts they put up because their partners didn't approve. There are also stories of people installing spyware on women's phones, asking them for live locations, and more."
To understand how women navigate the digital world, the artist has also been posting stickers, prompts and questions. The responses have revealed how women think up ways to be almost invisible to men or find a way to be safe from their aggression, she says. "I asked women about the things they don't do online because of their gender, and it had a variety of responses, for instance not posting photos, never sharing a political opinion, no cleavage, cigarettes or alcohol, never mentioning location, etc."
While the stories have been emotionally draining, they've struck a chord with many women, who've confided with the artist that it felt good to be heard. Harikumar says, "The idea is to create a space for women to share their experiences, see that they are not alone, and help them reclaim their space online."
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