In an interview with the Dhaka Tribune, Jeenat Jahan Nisha, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who designed the t-shirt, opened up about how a t-shirt turned into a campaign and sparked a debate on social media
It all started after an online fashion store BJNS’ launched a t-shirt line with the slogan “Ga Gheshe Daraben Na,” which roughly translates to “Don’t stand too close.”
After the photos of models sporting the t-shirt were recently released on Facebook, the social networking site was flooded with both support and criticism for the idea, while some netizens started spreading doctored images of the t-shirt with different, and sometimes obscene, slogans.
In an interview with the Dhaka Tribune, Jeenat Jahan Nisha, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who designed the t-shirt, opened up about how a t-shirt turned into a campaign and sparked a debate on social media.
Did you imagine that the t-shirt would get this much response?
I had no desire to become viral. It was not something in my mind when we launched this product. My motive was simple. All I wanted is to send a strong message to those who think they can get away with groping or harassing women in public transport. Ironically, it is that very section of the society which could not take this simple tag-line and made it viral.
Why do you think it irked so many people?
Some people are feeling that they have been exposed. They see themselves in that message. Most women shy away from protesting against groping in public transport. People who are criticising the t-shirt are unable to process why women should raise their voice against these abusers. Some people are saying it is very normal to ‘stand too close’ to women passengers because public buses in this city are always over-crowded. Nobody knows the difference between an intentional and unintentional ‘touch’ better than women.
What do you want to say to the naysayers?
I want my message heard. We are not backing out from loudly protesting our abuse in public transports. I am not saying that this t-shirt will work like magic and save us from unwanted touching. This is indeed a form of protest. Instead of criticizing, they should give this much attention and focus on something more important. Why they are not talking about the girl from Feni who is fighting for her life in the hospital?
Is this debate affecting your business?
Yes, this is affecting both my professional and personal lives. Pohela Boishakh is almost here. This is a peak season for entrepreneurs like us. My first priority should be delivering the products to the customers. But, this whole thing is keeping me occupied. I am always on phone or online nowadays explaining the situation to people.
Was the t-shirt a business move or campaign from the start?
I generally design and sell traditional wears, such as sarees and kurti, through the BJNS page. But this t-shirt was more like a statement and movement against harassment of women in public buses. I came up with the idea after a bitter personal experience.
Tell us more about it
Last year I was harassed by a man on a bus. When I confronted him, most people on the bus took his side, saying a man his age could not do something like this. Two years ago I felt somebody pulling my dress from the back seat on a bus. To my horror, I found that the man was trying to cut my dress with a blade. These incidents acted as a catalyst, and at the end I came up with the slogan on the t-shirt. I know that my stories echo with most women who ride the city buses.
Are you going to design more t-shirts that convey such messages?
Why not? I am an artist. I express everything through my work. T-shirt has become a common medium now to relay messages against social injustice all over the world. People are taking photos from my page and doctoring them with vile and obscene words. However, these derogatory comments against my work are not affecting my creativity. I will not stop coming up with more similar ideas that will shake the society.