On the night of December 16 2012, Jyothi – a young, vibrant and intelligent 23-year old medical student’s life came crashing as she was brutally gang raped inside a bus in the capital of Delhi. After watching the Life of Pi with a male friend, searching for a way home late night, both were lured by the rapists on a bus on the road to hell. After being severely tortured for 30 minutes on a moving bus, being raped and beaten up by six men, thrown out of the bus and narrowly escaping death from being driven over by the bus, she was tossed on a public road. 30 long minutes. She battled for her life for two long weeks, until her light was finally taken away December 29, 2012.
This horrific incident caused international outrage and broke the long hidden secrets and silence near and far. The women in a community and rape capital that had been silenced for ages finally gained the strength to speak up.
News articles described the gruesome details as:
“the woman was not only raped and beaten, but was also “violated with a metal rod.”
“It appears to be that a rod was inserted into her and it was pulled out with so much force that the act brought out her intestines… That is probably the only thing that explains such severe damage to her intestines,” said a doctor at Safdarjung Hospital
The doctor went on to praise the young woman and her fighting spirit.
“She is a brave girl,” he said. “Withstanding…everything.”
The woman’s brother told the newspaper his sister had written the words “Mother, I want to live” on a piece of paper.
See article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/20/delhi-bus-gang-rape-victim-intestines-shocking-details_n_2340721.html
A headline story and tragedy that brought an entire nation to its feet. A woman who was not seen as a victim, but a fighter. She became known as India’s Daughter – Nirbhaya, otherwise translated from Hindi to meaning Fearless.
This past weekend, thanks to a couple friends I was blessed with the opportunity to see the play Nirbhaya on the very last day that it would be performed in Toronto at the Harbour Front Theatre. Nirbaya is a play that was written and directed by the internationally acclaimed Yaël Farber which documented this 2012 Delhi rape case along with the stories of five other South Asian women who had experienced some form of sexual abuse and rape throughout their lives. Let me tell you that I absolutely had no idea what I was in for when I sat down for this play nor was I prepared for what I witnessed. You could say I might have been blinded by the incidents that go on within my own community before seeing this play but, leaving that theatre my eyes were open to the brutal realities that lay behind the screens.
As the lights went out and the small intimate auditorium I was seated in turned pitch black, a hauntingly white image of a female floated across the stage singing in the most beautiful voice leaving me with goosebumps as her high pitch and ghostly appearance sent chills throughout my body. I felt like I was seated in a horror film and anything would pop out and you wouldn’t know from what direction. And trust me, there was no way out because once you left that theatre there was no way back in, so from the upper first row seat of the balcony auditorium I clenched my fists and stay put awaiting what was to come next. What came next was definitely a surprise. I saw 6 members of the audience, five female, one male raising their arms to the sky as if it were a recreation of the symbolic hand jesture from the Black Power movement and slowly make their way to the stage. They all seemed possessed, but walked with a sense of confidence and determination. I kid you not, I started looking to see if the person next to me was suddenly going to get up and do the zombie walk to the stage, but that didn’t happen.
If I could describe every detail of this play, every single action had significance and its something I really look for in theatre. But, this was more than just theatre and art, it was real life. The way in which this play branched off the 2012 Delhi rape case and transitioned into each of the female stories really astonished me as it seemed like a light was being passed on from one women to the next. Moreover the power of art and theatre really left me speachless, yet surprisingly it was not until the third story that I came to a stark realization. A woman approached the stage with what looked like acid burns on her face. As she started to tell her story, even she couldn’t bear the pain in the harsh realities, which to me felt so real. In that very moment, I turned over to friend and whispered tell me this is not real as tears rolled down my face. She responded, “It is”. That’s when I first realized that all these stories were real life experiences of the ‘survivors’, themselves. I was horrified.
Sneha Jawale’s story was a first hand account of abuse by her husband’s family for dowry, in addition to rape and brutal abuse by her husband to the point she finally had kerosene poured on her by her husband and his brother in an attempt to murder her in front of her own son. In her last dying moments her husband pours water and spreads rumours to the neighbors that his wife tried to kill herself. After fighting a month in the hospital and returning home, her husband beat her until all the surgeries performed on her came out, as she had no other choice than to flee with one of her children. Imagine having to make the decision between choosing between your son or daughter. In the end, she chose the girl because she saw herself in that female child. The whole story brought the entire auditorium to tears, including myself who supposedly never cries, the amount of emotion and hearing the victim herself describe the torturous events and weeping herself left everyone heart broken.
“We are not just watching, we are bearing witness” – The Guardian
Five different personal first-hand accounts accounting for five different cases of rape, abuse and violence which really knocked the day lights out of you, leaving you in that “shit this is real” moment, I’ve been living under a rock. That feeling that makes me question what happened to humanity. That feeling that makes me realize how blessed I am to be living in such a multicultural and diverse country like Canada. I cannot imagine the amount of women like these five strong females who have a voice to share but have been silenced in the name of tradition, culture and shame. I cannot imagine how each of these females and many more have bared the pain and how they had the courage to fight against a system of abuse and oppression. A system and culture that devalued a female and dehumanized her.
But after having seen this play, I witnessed a light of hope.
In moments of despair I was proud to stand in solidarity with these women. I was proud. I was proud to see the diversity in that auditorium of culture. A strong representation of Canada’s multicultural community and support. I was proud to see that this message was being delivered to a sea of cultures who might not know the realities faced by the other. I was proud to see members of my own community display and project their voices, which have been hidden and silenced for so long. Looking through the play brochure and reading about the accomplishments and social justice efforts and community involvement of each of these five women made me extremely proud. These women were not only mothers, sisters, and only actors but also survivors and social justice advocates. They were not victims, but fighters. They were prominent Voices. At the end of the day, I was a proud South Asian woman. But moreover, I was a proud human.
Moving on from this play, it really made me realize how much passion I have for social justice issues growing up. It made me realize how much taking those 95 minutes out of my day to educate myself on things that happen in my own community’s background and share this story with friends, family and you plays a role in keeping the flame of humanity alive. Sometimes we ignore news headlines if they aren’t applicable to us, and truth is, sometimes social media outlets can be deceiving. But what I experienced in that play was real. What I saw in that play were current social issues that still haunts not only my community but also other communities alike. So the question becomes what can we do hereon? Are you really going to be able to stop all the rape cases that occur all over the world? No, but you can definitely do something. That day Jyothi was raped and tossed out onto Delhi streets like a pile of trash, was a day that human life was degraded. The police officers wouldn’t touch her because of her blood, the same human blood that flowed in theirs yet which they refused to acknowledge. Her cries along with the many women’s cries of a nation were ignored. Obviously we weren’t present that day, December 16, 2012 to rewrite and change the past, to ultimately undo a great error. But, we can look to creating a brighter future where women, life and freedom are valued.
Ask yourself what you can do. Me? I see my role in not being a bystander. As a member of the audience having witnessed and heard from these brave women, I stand in solidarity with them and their Voice. The power of the voice is a movement that is so destructible it will flow like small rivers that channel it’s way to the larger sea. The power of your voice is so strong that once all these rivers converge through the spreading of one story to the next, a current so powerful will channel a tsunami. Unity in collective thought, propelling action. Now you are a tsunami, that’s a force to be reckoned with. So be that tsunami, get angry, be aggressive, channel your voice and speak out. As members of society, as humans we all have a part to play. How will you stop violence against women?