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Nirbhaya – fearless women break the silence

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IMG_20150602_083149A shorter, amended version of this review was first published in the Oldham Chronicle on June 2

When a young woman was brutally gang-raped in the Indian capital Delhi on December 16, 2012, and subsequently died 13 days later, there was a  worldwide outcry.

What followed was even more harrowing, that being the countless women who broke the silence to tell us that this was not the exception, but the norm.

Nirbhaya marries real-life testimonies with a dramatised recreation of what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old student whom the media dubbed “Nirbhaya”, or fearless.

Internationally acclaimed playwright and director Yael Farber brings a blistering evocation of that terrible night and the ripples of change it set in motion. Presented by the Southbank Centre, the play came to Oldham’s Grange Theatre as part of the Alchemy Festival 2015.

Priyanka Bose, Poorna Jagannathan, Sneha Jawale and Pamela Sinha describe their bodies as no longer being their own, as we witness the daily harassment and groping in the bustling streets of a city littered with the relics of lost empires, a city now described as “hell on earth for women”.

                                                      Poorna Jaggannathan

The play uses the rape and death of Jyoti as a catalyst to break the silence around sexual violence. The women, too, are fearless, as each tells her account of being sexually violated one by one. In a culture where the fear of shame can be overpowering, breaking the silence is a courageous act.

Ankur Vikal darts in and out of every male role, a bystander, an abuser, a father, brother, and even Pandey’s friend, Awindra Pandey.

Farber’s language, interwoven with the real stories, is violent, angry and poetic. “I want to pull my tongue from my mouth like a tree. I want to pull out its roots,” Bose says.

Jyoti herself does not speak but sings eerily throughout the play, a ghost who cannot tell her own story but has it told for her. She is now forever mythologised, a symbol of everything that is wrong in Indian society.

A woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. According to the country’s National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1 percent since 2010. The number of rapes reported has also risen.Nearly a third of rape victims in India are under the age of 18. One in 10 are under 14.

Too often women are told that they should stay at home, where they would be much safer. What was she doing out of the house in the first place, is a question directed at these women. What, then, would they say to Sinha, a Canadian actress of Indian heritage, who was raped in Toronto 20 years ago by a stranger who broke into her apartment? Or to Bose who was raped by several men working in her family home?

Nirbhaya is not an easy watch, and nor should it be. Prepare to be shocked, horrified, and bring plenty of tissues with you. The silence of the audience  was punctuated by sniffs and sobs. One young woman sitting nearby was wiping away tears as she listened to the story of Jawale, a dowry-bride whose family tried to kill her by setting her on fire. Her heavily scarred face streamed with tears as she mourned the loss of a son was snatched away from her by her husband.

While the men who raped and killed Jyoti Pandey were charged and convicted, the men who abused the women in the play have gotten away with their crimes, which emphasises how deep-rooted the problem is.

Nirbhaya ends with each woman standing up, saying her name and slowly raising a fist in the air. They are no longer broken women, ashamed of their bodies or what has happened to them (nor should they be). They are no longer victims, but survivors.

“Bring it the fuck on,” Jagannathan roars. They are fearless. They are Nirbhaya.

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2 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on khoujetelkhilcatherine.

    catherinekhoudelkhil

    July 6, 2015 at 3:51 pm

  2. very much apalling.Every twenty minutes , a woman is raped in India! Does anyone ponder upon the possible causes both related to males and female???

    abeerhafiz

    July 9, 2015 at 8:00 am


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