According to the stats provided by the UN, it is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced violence or sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Some nations estimate up to 70 per cent of women have experienced such violence. It is a problem of epidemic proportions.
On December 16, 2012, 23 year old Jyoti Singh Pandey, initially known to the media as Nirbhaya, (meaning fearless in Hindi), became one of these victims. Due to extensive media coverage, masses of people heard about this horrific, and gruesome crime occurring in South Delhi. Pandey and her male friend Awindra Pratap boarded a bus together, and for 84 minutes Pratap was beaten while Pandey was brutally, continuously raped, and tortured. Pandey died 13 days later as a result of her injuries.
It’s almost incomprehensible that women are still being abused, raped, tortured, beaten, and killed on a daily basis, in all parts of the world, but this particularly devastating crime resulted in a worldwide outcry for justice. In this highly publicized case, the men who raped, and tortured Pandey were convicted, and sentenced to hanging. One of the accused died in jail, and the youth involved in the crime was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in a reformatory. There were widespread protests in India, and around the world. As a result of the protests a number of actions were taken to protect women, and offer help to victims of abuse. There are many areas of the world where women still do not come forward to report abuse, or sometimes suffer further abuse as a result of seeking help. That is why Nightwood Theatre’s Nirbhaya written by Yaël Farber is such an important piece of art.
Using the story of this crime, Farber weaves in five other personal stories of abuse. I applaud the courageous women who shared their stories—Poorna Jagannathan, Sneha Jawale, Rukhsar Kabir, Japjit Kaur, and Pamela Mala Sinha. The cast also included Priyanka Bose who played Pandey, as well as singing haunting musical numbers throughout the show. As soon as the play started, and Bose took the stage bathed in a white light singing a beautiful melody, my hair stood on end, goose bumps erupting all over my body. I knew for certain that this show was going to transform me, and it did. Ankur Vikal played all the male characters—abusers, friend, brother, father.
Nirbhaya is a ferocious piece of theatre. This is a piece of theatre that is difficult to watch. At times, the imagery was so upsetting that I covered my face, and I spent the latter half of the show sobbing. As upsetting as it is, this play must be seen because the only way that abuse can be stopped is if we dare to talk about it, bring it to light, and to allow ourselves to feel the suffering of others. So often abuse is hidden in dark corners and spoken in whispers, and this show calls us to cry out, say enough, no more, this must be stopped, we can no longer be complicit by inaction to another’s suffering.
I don’t want to give the ending notes of Nirbhaya away because it is profoundly beautiful and must be experienced. The end left me feeling cleansed, because the horror transformed into something else. These women prove that they were victims but they are also courageous, fierce, resilient, and fearless. They turned their pain into art and for that I am truly grateful.
I have seen many shows, but there are a few where the feelings created are so powerful that years later when I think about them, they continue to give me chills. This will be one of those, it is going to stay with me for a long time.
Go see Nirbhaya and bear witness to these tremendously powerful female voices.