The Ajala Project presents Dipesh Tank, founder of Youth For People and War Against Railway Rowdies.
In response to the 2012 gang rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi, Dipesh launched WARR. The group works as a vigilante crew to eradicate sexual assault on railway stations and trains. He’s also the co founder of Youth For People, an organization recruiting the youth’s involvement in community issues.
Whenever Dipesh Tank sets out to recruit volunteers for community service, he finds “I have no time” to be the most common excuse. But for Tank, community service and improving society is not about the time.
“I feel really accountable towards this country and this planet in someway,” Tank said. “If there is a problem, [I wonder] what am I doing…what can I do about it?”
In 2006, when Mumbai’s railways were hit by terrorist attacks, Tank and his friends rushed to the hospital to donate blood. To show that “it is not difficult [for the youth] to be socially responsible in [their] own way”, Tank then founded Youth4People, a non profit channeling the energy of today’s youth towards the betterment of society. Taking the lead, Tank and his friends worked the night shift at call centres and donated blood during the day to continue helping victims of the attack.
Under YFP, Tank has led notebook donation drives for children from poor communities, partnered with organizations helping cancer patients and started War against Railway Rowdies (WARR), a group fighting the sexual harassment of women on the city’s local trains.
This is all in addition to his day job as project director for Take Her Back, a non government organization rescuing girls and women from sexual trafficking. Tank started WARR after noticing a group of men harassing women on a moving train. At the time, the Nirbhaya case had brought the fragility of women’s security in India to the forefront. When Tank approached the police for help against the railway harassers, the police acknowledged the problem, but resigned the issue as an ongoing menace in society. Not satisfied, Tank spent the next month recording instances of harassment on his phone and uploading videos on Facebook. His friends joined him in documenting and surveying the women to understand the extent of the issue. The media soon picked up on his work and WARR vigilante groups spread across Mumbai.
“Maybe one Dipesh Tank cannot solve this problem, but my objective is to keep this issue alive in mainstream society,” Tank said. “We are immune to accepting things the way they are. I don’t want people to get immune to it. I want to create that urgency of doing something all the time.”
In uploading the videos on Facebook, Tank wanted to invite others to do the same. “The idea is to get more and more people doing this so that every time they see something happening, they will not stay quiet.”
Tank’s mission has landed him a few bloody noses and in plenty scuffles. The times he has tried to be polite, like when he respectfully asked a gentleman to not litter on the railway tracks, he was told to mind his business. Though when he sees someone being hurt, his approach is far from quiet.
“I’m no super human, I get scared too,” he admitted. “I catch their neck and I ask ‘How dare you touch her?’… it just ends up into a fight. Unfortunately in our country people who are peaceful and polite are seen as weak and helpless.” Tank knows that violence is never the right solution, but when caught in the moment, there is no time to sit and explain to the harassers that what they are doing is wrong. Action, sometimes violent, is necessary.
Tank never graduated from high school. He dropped out at 16 to work and add another paycheck to the family of four’s income. Starting out as an office boy in a computer hardware store, Tank then moved to events and worked at a call centre before becoming an advertising professional. Bound by his need to serve, Tank soon left advertising to become a communications manager at Kotak Education Foundation, a non governmental organization where he worked for a few years.
“[My parents always told me, “Don’t get into wrong things, don’t get into things that are not ethically correct. But there was nothing [saying] go and start a nonprofit,” Tank said. While the problem of sexual harassment is deep rooted in society, Tank believes men and women need to educate themselves, learn self defense, and not allow a single instance of harassment. Tank has personally caught more than 70 men harassing women on trains. WARR has led to increased police patrolling on trains and reduced incidents of harassment.
“What we want is a much larger change in society,” he explained. “The problem is in the way we see women in our country. [For now,] the closest thing [to change] is to start educating your sons and family members to start respecting women… it starts from schools and colleges.
“Harassment gets stopped only when there is gender sensitization,” he continued. “It is the mother of all jobs. We have to go down to people’s mindset and change it, which is a massive job and I don’t know how long it will take.”
YFP currently needs more volunteers and funds. In addition to working 10-12 hours a day, Tank also answers calls for blood donation thanks to Google search queries that still lead to his cell number. For Tank, the work needs to keep happening and the only way to do that is to increase the number of people dedicated to positive change.
“The fact that this country has a lot of problems always bothers me,” Tank said. “If we are all going to say someone has to come and do it, then who is that someone? I’m saying that should start from you.”
About the author: Archana is an independent journalist, creative writing trainer and a forever wanderer. She is the creator of the Wandering Local, a project exploring the impact of home on individual identity. You can read her work at wanderinglocal.com and follow her on Instagram @thewanderinglocal.