A woman scarred by sexual assaults as a child.
A woman burned alive by her abusive husband.
A woman assaulted multiple times by her husband facing a terrible dilemma.
A woman raped by multiple family members.
A woman brutally gang raped, sodomized, and assaulted in a New Delhi bus.
What do all these women have in common?
They are Nirbhaya (Fearless).
When I first entered the Lynn Redgrave Theater, I was hit with the smell of incense. Many think that incense is only used in church, but in South Asia, we use incense to make our homes smell better. Because of the smell and the smoky interior, I felt as if I were home. Besides the smell, I also noticed five people sitting in the audience. Four woman sported a red tikka and a black costume, and the man wore a simple black t-shirt and pants. Each was crying, but I didn't know why… little did I know that in minutes they would expose their stories of horror and terror.
One story in particular that struck me was Jagannathan’s story of being burned alive by her husband in front of her child. She did not speak English, but Bose (who stood in the far back of the stage) translated her story. When she talked about her abusive marriage her voice felt heavier, she described the events leading to her current disfigured face. Despite being burned alive, her son, who was five at the time of the incident, continued to love her and described her as “a newborn baby with pink flesh.” I was touched by the compassion of the child and his innocence. Acts and words of this nature seem so rare that it is ingrained in my memory of the show. However, like all things, this happiness ended because Jagannathan's son was taken from her. When she looks in the face of the audience she looks for her son because she hopes to see him again one day. Unlike the other performers, Jagannathan’s words speak levels that do not require any physical form of expression. Her story deeply touched my heart and showed the beauty of spoken word.
Listening to each woman tell her story was upsetting and shocking. I am from Bangladesh and there are many stories of sexual assaults but they aren't as frequent as in India. It shocked me that these women were so used to getting groped and assaulted on the bus. You know there is a problem with society, when getting sexually assaulted on your way to any destination is completely normal.
When I left this show, I felt an overwhelming sense of duty. There will always be the occasional eye rolls when you say you want to improve women's’ rights; however, this show highlighted that we really need to do something. Toward the end, all the performers raised their hands to show solidarity for Jyoti, the fearless one.
I, too, raised my hand, not only for Jyoti, but for every woman or man who has been a victim of any sort of sexual violation.