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Jan 14, 2016 4:38 EST

Stories of Rape And Sexual Violence in India: The project is about the survivors of rape and sexual violence in India.

iCrowdNewswire - Jan 14, 2016

With 15 days into the launch of my Kickstarter, I have some good news to share. I will be collaborating with three organisation across India to raise awareness and help some of the girls. I am collaborating with Delhi and Mumbai based “SafeCity” http://safecity.in/and London-based “Action Breaks Silence” http://www.actionbreakssilence.org/ who are doing very important community work in South India. Both these organisations are a small team of dedicated individuals who are conducting workshops in cities, towns and rural areas in community centers, neighborhoods, schools and colleges, to sensitize people on sexual violence. 

I will be donating a multimedia piece that I will be specially making to throw light on the lives of survivors and their families and the subject of shaming and ostracisation. The multimedia piece will be shown through a projector to these communities to open a discussion and break the silence. I am also collaborating with Varanasi based PVCHR,http://www.pvchr.net/ in their campaign – “Bicycles for Freedom” – and will be using some of the money which I hope to raise in the next 30 days. 

With that fund, I will be buying bicycles and will distribute along with PVCHR to some of the survivors of sexual assault and rape. Many girls drop out of school out of fear and shame and are vulnerable to kidnapping and rape when they commute to school, which is often very far away from their homes. I hope giving them the bicycles will empower them and motivate them to continue their education.

My stretch goal is $30,000 and I hope to use this money for my project and the community programs. Please keep pledges coming in and help me reach my new goal.

My project is about the survivors of rape and sexual violence in India. I chose to work on this sensitive subject, as I care about it and have been deeply affected by the culture of victim-blaming.

At the age of 18, I was molested by one of my college professors. When I spoke up against it, I was pressured to remain silent and given a lecture on respecting elders. I was judged and ostracized by some of my own colleagues. After suffering silently for more than ten years, I finally shared it to my teenaged cousin when she was molested by a boy from her class. We could feel each other’s pain.  

Beena (15) was going to be married in eight days, when a distant relative, volunteered to  take her to meet her mother. Instead, she was abducted and taken to a neighboring district. There, she was raped repeatedly for weeks.
Beena (15) was going to be married in eight days, when a distant relative, volunteered to take her to meet her mother. Instead, she was abducted and taken to a neighboring district. There, she was raped repeatedly for weeks.

Earlier this year, while working on this project, I received the tragic news that my cousin had killed herself. After she filed a molestation complaint, she too was victimized, just like I had been. Her school principal and teachers, who claimed she was “desperate for attention” and was “spoiling the school’s reputation”, made her school experience unbearable. The school was more concerned with its image instead of punishing the boy and protecting the female students. After several years of paying the price that came with calling attention to her attack, she lost hope and took her own life.

This kind of victim blaming is the norm in India. If you turn a blind eye, the problem won’t go away. It needs to be discussed and the problem must be addressed. There are many forms of sexual violence; ranging from sexual harassment and molestation, to sexual abuse and assault, and rape. Rape, being the most brutal of all, kills a woman emotionally and physically. It leaves behind trauma and shock that is difficult to accept and live with. 

Pinky (12) had gone to see a wedding procession in her neighborhood. There she met a woman who invited Pinky to her home. She gagged Pinky and handed her over to her brother-in-law who would eventually rape the minor girl
Pinky (12) had gone to see a wedding procession in her neighborhood. There she met a woman who invited Pinky to her home. She gagged Pinky and handed her over to her brother-in-law who would eventually rape the minor girl

In the past year, I have met twenty-four rape survivors and their families. Regardless of their individual stories they each expressed one common sentiment, “Why is this our fault? Why are we being harassed, ostracized and victimized?”  

 A woman is raped every twenty minutes in India according to the National Crime Record Bureau. However, when I started working on this project a year ago, I discovered the number is thought to be much higher. Thousands of cases go unreported. Many more charges are withdrawn after pressure from the perpetrator’s family, one’s own families or friends, and the community at large.  

Shama (20) lies in the burn ward of a hospital in Varanasi. She was attacked by three men who tried to rape her when she had gone out to fetch water. She put up a brave fight, the men, unable to rape her, doused her in  kerosene. Shama died a week later.
Shama (20) lies in the burn ward of a hospital in Varanasi. She was attacked by three men who tried to rape her when she had gone out to fetch water. She put up a brave fight, the men, unable to rape her, doused her in kerosene. Shama died a week later.

These attacks on women in India are a crime against basic human rights and a violation of the Right to Life which is enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This fact does not change the way women are perceived and treated. The government continues to do little to help women combat any form of sexual violence. We have to change the way women are valued in the country by empowering them in a way that they feel they have control over their lives and are no longer seen as a burden. 

Target

My goal is to give voice to the survivors who are so often treated as living corpses, shamed and ostracized for the remainder of their lives. It is important to stand with them, support them, and change this perception. This perception is so strong that it is it is necessary to change the survivors’ names and their exact locations over fear of retribution and further stigmatisation. 

Shanti (15) was called out of school by a family friend and raped. She was threatened with murder if she spoke about being violated. At the time of this photo, she was seven months pregnant.
Shanti (15) was called out of school by a family friend and raped. She was threatened with murder if she spoke about being violated. At the time of this photo, she was seven months pregnant.

India is a diverse nation of over one billion people, but all these diverse people share one common problem: the issue of sexual violence and victim blaming. By documenting rape survivors’ testimonials, I want to identify the common denominators that lead to rape. I also hope to discover regional nuances that contribute to this mindset. By doing so, we can open discussions, build empathy, change mindsets, and work towards solutions that are most appropriate for a given region.

By telling the stories of these women, I hope to show the world the horrors they have been through. I intend to produce testimonials in the form of photographs and multimedia, and distribute them to local NGO’s in India. These can be used to train teachers, parents, doctors, police, community leaders, and other stakeholders on sexual violence response and prevention.

This will help build empathy and sensitivity among them. I am also in the process of arranging presentations at schools and universities in both small towns and major cities in India. It is important to open a dialogue with the students who are the future of the country.  

- “When I came to my senses and opened my eyes there was darkness all around. I was bleeding and had to drag myself to walk home. Else I would have died there” - Sonia (14) was raped by an acquaintance and left to die in an abandoned building.
– “When I came to my senses and opened my eyes there was darkness all around. I was bleeding and had to drag myself to walk home. Else I would have died there” – Sonia (14) was raped by an acquaintance and left to die in an abandoned building.

Violence against women is not a recent phenomenon in India. So far, they have always been told to keep quiet. And even if they want to speak up, they have few options to do so. The good news is that the situation is improving slowly, and the strongest women are beginning to speak up. However, they represent only a fraction of those who have been abused. By continuing the discussion, more will be inspired to talk, further raising awareness.

The project has already been shown at a solo exhibitions in Delhi, at a TEDx conference in Saudi Arabia, and during the CSW-59 at the UN Headquarters in New York. I plan on continuing to exhibit the work as it progresses, and for the photographs to be periodically published in different publications across the world and in India. At the end of my project, I intend to make a full-length documentary film. The project will appear in the New York Times (NYT) website, and in the international print addition of the NYT. 

(The survivors’ names and their exact location has been changed to protect their identity adhering to the laws of India)

Contact Information:

Smita Sharma

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