A few weeks ago an article in the Irish Indo caught my attention about The Silence of Violence. Whilst reading it I was introduced to the very beautiful Poorna Jagannathan who was bringing her play Nirbhaya to Dublin.
Poorna is an actress and had grown up for some of her early life in Dublin in the late 70’s and early 80’s when her father was working here as a diplomat before moving on.
Poorna has happy memories of her time spent here in Dublin but says “it went pretty south” after the family left here and she was sexually assaulted by a family friend.
Throughout her teenage years in New Delhi she was violated on a daily basis while taking the bus to and from school, a regular occurrence for young girls growing up in India. The statistics are staggering with 53% of children haven been sexually abused and a new rape reported every 20 minutes … and I’m sure these are stats from the rapes that are actually reported!
You may recall the brutal gang rape of a young Indian girl called Jyoti Singh Pandey in India back in December 2012, she had been travelling on a bus with a male friend when he was beaten and mugged and Pandey viciously gang raped by 6 men (including the bus driver). They were later stripped, thrown from the bus and allegedly the driver tried to run her over as she lay injured on the street.
Word of Pandey’s bravery soon spread throughout India with men and women taking to the streets in protest. She had fought back against her attackers, biting and marking them, and as the Indian media were forbidden from publishing her name a judge name her Nirbhaya which means “Fearless One”. She sadly died 13 days later from her horrific injuries which by now had made news around the world. People were repulsed.
One such person was Poorna who decided from that moment that she would finally end the silence and talk about her sexual assault. She contacted South African playwright Yael Farber who she had known through Facebook but had never actually met. Outraged by what had happened in India and was still happening every day they wanted to take action and tell the world and so Nirbhaya came about.
There are seven performers with only one man who plays many roles of victim and abuser, five of the women including Poorna, recount their stories of sexual violence against the backdrop of the Delhi bus rape.
From the moment it starts you feel like the bystander on the bus witnessing these heinous violations as they are happening on a daily basis to young girls and no-one is doing anything to prevent them. Everyone just gets on with their lives. From there the 5 women take you through each of their stories as they tell us of their sexual and violent assaults, again as everyone turns a blind eye to it. It’s harrowing at times and you can feel how the audience is both sad and uncomfortable with what they are witnessing.
No stone is left unturned as they reveal to you every detail, from the child’s voice and trying to make sense of these acts, to the women who married, were beaten and sexually assaulted and this was acceptable. Sadly these acts are not considered a crime in India if you’re married. You can’t help but want to hug these women and give them a voice, to stand up for them and say ENOUGH.
It was a tough watch as you witnessed each assault in great detail and they each told their story, some audience members were visibly upset. As a country that turned a blind eye to a lot over the years it’s a play that everyone should see to show how damaging silence in society is.
As someone who grew up in a violent alcoholic home I could relate to the silence and how as they each told their stories they described it as “this is how we loved” … this really hit home! As a child when you don’t have the words or an understanding of what is going on and your home is meant to be the safest place yet no-one is speaking up about it and saying this is not acceptable …. life just carries on and you think this is how you love? You have all these contradictions and conflict going on inside and yet you love.
Thankfully after I finished my last year in school my mother finally got the courage to get a barring order and we were finally free from the alcoholism and violence and we could finally speak about it. Violence is never acceptable and we need to teach and show our children they have a voice and can speak out when it feels wrong.
After the play the performers wait in the foyer so the audience can speak to them and share their experiences. It was so powerful and you will forever remember their stories and their incredible bravery to finally speak up and give others a voice and #BreakTheSilence
Nirbhaya is running in the Pavilion Theatre, DunLaoghaire until Saturday 2nd August 2014 – Book Your Tickets Here
If you have been affected by sexual or violent assault there are contact details below;
Rape Crisis Centre, Tel: 1800 77 88 88 Website (click here)
Womens Aid, Tel 1800 341 900 Website (click here)