A series of rape cases in India have sparked global debate on Women’s Rights.
Sometimes you see things that rock your world and you’re never sure if you’ll feel the same again. Nirbhaya (which means “fearless” in Hindi), a powerful piece of testimonial theatre during which four survivors of sexual violence from India tell their personal stories, presented me with one of those moments.
Next week, the theatre production is going to be shown in India for the first time. These four women, some of whom haven’t even told their own families that they were victims of abuse and rape, are about to go back to their home country and tell their story to thousands of strangers. “There is something easier about that,” laughed one of the actresses.
But how will their stories be received in India? Will it rock other people’s worlds’? Has India become desensitised to such issues? Has sexual violence become normalised?
2014 got off to a bleak start for India’s women’s rights movement. On New Years Eve, a 16-year-old girl from Kolkata died from injuries after being raped twice by the same group of men. After the first incident, the young girl was courageous enough to go and report the assault to the police, only to be turned away. She was then raped a second time on her way home, as a punishment for daring to speak out.
In January, 2014, a 20-year-old girl from Birbhum district, about 120 miles from Kolkata, was tied to a tree overnight and raped by 12 men, many of whom were her neighbours, uncles, and other men known to her. This time the allegation was having an “unauthorised relationship” with a married man from another village. The rape was ordered by the village head after the girl failed to pay a fine of 50,000 rupees (£490).
These cases are the most recent in a wave of sexual violence across India. The most prominent being the Delhi rape case, which sparked global outrage and saw many women’s rights activists take to the streets to demand greater protection for India’s women. The South African director of Nirbhaya, Yael Farber, described this case as “the tipping point for women’s rights activists across the globe”. Indeed it was the news story that popped up on her Facebook feed and compelled her to quit her job and produce a piece of theatre about it.
But even before this case brought India’s sexual violence problem to the media’s attention, many, many other women across the country were being raped every year. Perhaps the most affected are Dalit women, who face discrimination on the basis of both their gender and class.
As a proud British Indian woman I find myself asking, what is India’s problem? Why such a fervent disrespect of women? How can we make this stop?
Click here to find out why there is so much violence against women in India.