Jyoti Singh Pandey walks quietly across the stage, humming softly to herself. She has been dead for two years, a victim of violent sexual assault on a bus in New Dehli that eventually took her life, and made her an international face for abuse in India and beyond. “Nirbhaya,” Hindi for fearless, is a play by Yael Farber which documents five different Indian women’s tales of abuse, and what the aftermath means for a changing face of rights and actions that can be taken against perpetrators.
Traditionally, media and public opinion has put shame on the victims while those responsible are typically given no attention or diminish the act as a passing petty crime. “The objective of the play is to smash the cone of silence that often envelops victims of sexual abuse in India,” says Poorna Jagannathan, an actress in Mumbai who stars in the play. The burden of these heinous acts should not fall with the victims. The story of Singh Pandley brought a women’s perspective into the light, overturning centuries of majority patriarchal thought.
The play’s intentions also go beyond just the streets of India. “Sexual violence against women and children is a global crisis. Nirbhaya’s death has brought that fact front-center,” says Jagannathan. Plays and performances such as these bring a seemingly distant problem to attention with anecdotes and the women who have endured it.
Visit the “Nirbhaya” website for more information about the show. Nirbhaya is touring in NYC and in the UK.