By: Lasantha David
It’s not every day that the staff at the Moonstone Ballroom of the Continental Hotel, get to see a live view of a girl getting harassed by 3 greasy guys, but it is something people see on the buses everyday and in most cases ignore. MAN UP: The Forum, conducted by Reach Out in conjunction with Beyond Borders, on the 29th of June was a big step towards combating this most inhuman of crimes; the harassment of women. The forum brought together activists rallying for the cause, the police and the media, for an evening of change. And of course, some good food on the side. Proceedings started off with the Forum Theatre production by Beyond Borders, depicting an everyday occurrence aboard a bus in which an innocent girl is harassed by a group of boys. Mind you, these were all professional actors.The performance showed the extent of discomfort the girl has to face on what would seem like an otherwise normal commute on a bus, while highlighting the inaction of bystanders and others in the bus, and climaxing with the girl left in a trauma struck state. For those who don’t know, Forum Theatre is designed to end in a bad way, so that in the subsequent re-run, the audience can intervene and replace characters and change the way they act to affect the final outcome, in hope of improving it for the better. And when it came intervention time, the audience just erupted, hands in the air, suggestions flying about, even the occasional slap on stage and oddly, an impromptu psychological counselling session too.
With the theatre performance drawing out the emotions and reactions, at times fierce, the forum proceeded towards the panel discussion which included SSP of the Colombo Police, Women’s and children’s bureau, Mr. Cicil De Silva, who in the middle had to tackle questions fired at him by the rest of the audience. Not to be outdone by his audience, the SSP rose to the occasion and drove home some important points and warnings that would send shivers down the spine of any would-be harasser! With the penalties for the crime explained and understood, the forum moved into the panel discussion featuring big names in the movement to prevent harassment against women, Attorney-at-law Shymala Gomez and Dr. Mario Gomez.
The discussion brought up important points on the causes of the crime and difficulties in bringing an end to it. It re-iterated some of the points that Reach Out had gathered while doing research in schools around Colombo and promoting awareness of the problem. In the end, the evening was a success, the theatre performance was executed successfully, which means the audience got involved and a solution was found, and the panel discussion insightful, leaving everyone there with much food for thought, and weapons for war, in the war against harassment. It was only the beginning, the first arrow in the drive to rid our society of such behaviour. So remember, in that bus, it could be your mother, your sister, or even someone else, it does not matter, what does is that person is a human, and does not deserve to be treated that way. Question is, will you reach out and help them? Man Up, join the fight against harassment. Be the change you want to see in your society, or at least in your bus.