When a usual day became a nightmare,
People become a mere crowd.
Nights reminded them of the evil laughter
that stripped not only their clothes apart
but also their lives.
Their soul is trenched and
Their existence is snatched.
Left with tears, perhaps
their identity is forever lost!
When we talk about sexual harassment by default, we picture a woman getting harassed. For our society, it is difficult to accept, that a man can also face sexual harassment. Be it a workplace, at home or among friends, men as well face harassment, but due to social belief, they feel ashamed to raise their voice. Be it any gender, harassment is not a joke, and we should not take it carelessly. One incident can impact a person’s mental state and hamper their stability. Despite the laws and punishments against the harassment, we see the graph growing and come across more horrifying incidents.
Life is a beautiful gift given to all human beings but, one incident not only makes the world upside down of that person, but the person loses his/her identity completely. Nature very commendably depicts these changes, when the sudden flowering in a plant or a dry tree refreshes the surroundings and the change makes things very different as to how we used to experience it before.
The incident which inspired me to take up the subject of sexual harassment was the sudden flowering of the Tabebuia or Trumpet tree. The landscape which looked empty and was neglected by many people every day was filled with beautiful flowers. It changed the overall scenery and mood around us. That was the moment when it struck me how the incidents of sexual harassment are also very sudden, and in the same way, they change the life of the person drastically.
Women are a symbol of beauty and fertility, and they were worshipped in every form. I say ‘were’ because of the horrifying incidents we witness or listen to nowadays. While we were engrossed in the shoot, I suddenly realised it was International Women’s Day, that coincidence didn’t only make me emotional but also added a great significance to this project.
With this photo series, I want to convey the turns a woman has to face in life after being through a tragic accident. We all are very well aware of the rape incident that took place in Delhi back in 2012 with a 23-year-old, Nirbhaya. One sudden evening became the worst nightmare when she was raped by six men in a private bus while returning home with a male friend. How brutally she was raped and her organs were injured, yet she wished to live but lost the battle against life. Nirbhaya has influenced me to present my views on female sexual harassment.
Temples of Khajuraho, are known for their erotic sculptures, back then sex was part of daily life. Over the years the topic of sexual harassment has become taboo and evolved bitterly. Cloth or dressing choice has been a top factor of criticism. Whenever people hear about harassment incidents, they always question the type of clothes a woman is wearing. And ultimately they blame a woman in such cases saying, “She has invited the trouble herself. “, then it doesn’t matter if a woman is wearing a saree, short dress or a burkha.
The cloth here holds the emotions of Nirbhaya, which started with happiness and in a blink changed to the tears and pain. The cloth that was shredded from her body, raised questions all over the country.
The pink colour of the cloth here signifies the tenderness of a woman. It explains her softness and versatility. On the other hand, pink colour is by default considered as a women’s pick.
Now I start with my photo series, where the frames shown have the stories associated with them. They convey the graph of emotions Nirbhaya went through.
Though we are living in the modern world, some occurrences make me ponder harder about the freedom a woman gets about her choices in any field. Here, the photo portrays the freedom of her choices while she relishes her life and moves freely in them.
Nirbhaya met her friend, spent her day with laughter, and exploring the joyous moments of life. Even today if a woman laughs aloud, it is taken as a wrong signal by men in our society. But Nirbhaya believed living life on her terms. For her, it was a usual day, wherein she met her friend and they planned their day.
Nirbhaya was happy to explore the patterns and colours of her clothes. The photo here imitates Nirbhaya’s happiness about who she is. She is in love with her clothes and stands poised in it. She feels content. When she stepped out of her house, she was comfortable and confident in her clothes, which makes her fearless in the world.
We say that every citizen has the right to live their own life in their way, but the question is, how many of us follow it, especially in terms of a woman? Exactly this is what happened in the case of Nirbhaya, people questioned her choice of clothes, and why she was out late at night. Nirbhaya believed that her choice of wearing any piece of cloth is justified as long as she is warm. If we talk about time, it was only 9:30 pm when she was returning home that night. As she has the freedom to lead her life, she also has the freedom to choose till what time she wishes to stay out or return home, society is no one to question her.
When Nirbhaya was cherishing the moments of her joyous day, six men in the bus were planning the scandal. They knocked her friend and made him unconscious and turned towards her. She was trembling in fear.
They grabbed her hair and pushed her down. Accused ripped her clothes forcibly. This act doesn’t only hamper her physical state but also fills her with terror.
They dragged her to the rear of the bus and beat her with the rod. Nirbhaya was raped by all six of them one by one. The cruelty didn’t stop, a rod was suspected to be used for penetration which caused serious injuries to her abdomen, intestines and genitals.
Why? What is this brutal act for? Just because they couldn’t control their lust, they decided to ruin her life, her dreams, her existence? Those unheard screams, unseen tears and unbearable pain are much beyond our imagination. Not for once did they realise she is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister and above all, that she is not a public property to touch without her consent.
It is said that the strength of a woman is the backbone that holds everything together. It was Nirbhaya’s strength that she kept fighting even after the injuries caused to her. She fought back, mustering all the power she had and tried to bite three of the attackers. She tried to resist and screamed for help, but since the bus was moving her voice was never heard.
At a point in life, we all think of giving up upon the struggles and wait for some miracle. Nirbhaya fought until her last nerve, but they ripped her body apart. According to reports, one of the accused men confessed to having seen a rope-like object, assumed to be her intestines, being pulled out of Nirbhaya’s body. There were monstrous bite marks all over Nirbhaya’s body, and pieces of her hair and saliva were found on the accused body.
There are only stains left on her clothes now, stains of blood, stains of those impure hands. She is not only broken physically, but her soul has also shredded apart. The private bus wasn’t allowed to use on the weekends, but these accused wanted ‘to have fun’. The bus kept moving through the city with her blood flowing, while Nirbhaya suffered through immense pain.
Nirbhaya and her friend were thrown out of the bus. She was found in partially naked condition before both of them were admitted in the hospital. Fighting for her life for days in the hospital the darkest morning came on 29 December 2012, when we lost another daughter of India. Though Nirbhaya died, she lived in her mother, who fought for seven years, for her daughter’s justice. Nirbhaya was alive, in every daughter waiting for justice. The boldness in the photo here depicts the confidence and power she conveyed and filled within every woman to fight and stand for themselves.
The accused that day killed her and tried to destroy Nirbhaya’s identity, but she became the voice of India. After the incident, lots of protests were done, across the world, thousands of people silently marched in various cities. On 20 March 2020 rose the sun of justice when all the accused were hanged till death, and that day Nirbhaya slept peacefully forever. But one question still remains, could all this bring her back? Unfortunately no, but the fire she started is still burning, and that is keeping her alive in every woman of our country.
Even after this incident, we heard various other and more horrifying occurrences which included girls like 8 months old. What is the impact of these protests, marches and political speeches then?
There are certain ways in which our society needs to change. Society needs to understand that blaming the victim is totally incorrect, rather the perpetrator is responsible for an assault. We need to know what masculinity really signifies.
We cannot neglect the point that sexual assault doesn’t see gender. This series was one part of it, and I’ll be coming up with the next part soon!
Content writer: Prachi Chavan
Photographer of the series: Divya Dugar