You are here: Home People Speak Fading in the background: Women in free India
Fading in the background: Women in free India

Aug 17, 2009

A film, Lightning Testimonies, captures the haunting images of violence against women spanning over six decades of independent India. Aanchal Kapoor, a cultural activist based in Delhi, writes her impressions about the documentary – frame by frame.

New Delhi: As India celebrates her freedom, won over six decades ago, it could seem easy to forget the violence perpetrated on the women in the context of the Independence struggle at the time, and even more to overlook the violence that has continued in some form or other ever since.

It needed a sensitive and socially conscious documentary filmmaker like Delhi-based Amar Kanwar – whose documentaries almost invariably challenge popular notions of the 'state', the 'nation' and 'democracy' – to unspool those often forgotten moments in a film evocatively titled Roshan Bayaan (Lightning Testimonies).

As a cultural activist and communications person, I found myself particularly impressed by the way the filmmaker has juxtaposed the text and sub-text on sexual violence against women with a 'herstorical' imagery that is brilliant.

Different testimonies

Created two years ago, this documentary traverses across different testimonies by women in the subcontinent, as they experience the violence that came with Partition, communalism, ethnicity, and caste and land struggles.

The film is poetic in its projection of the voice of the woman who is both witness and victim to the violence on her body from 1947 to 2006 – the film's timeframe spans six decades.

"The film is poetic in its projection of the voice of the woman who is both witness and victim to the violence on her body from 1947 to 2006 – the film's timeframe spans six decades"

Presented in both Hindi and English language versions, the 113-minute film forces the viewer to confront some very important questions. How is a woman's body defined? Who defines it and for what purpose? What is hidden, what should be hidden? What is safe and what should be safeguarded? Who uses it and how? What does the body mean to the woman herself?

The answers to these questions can be located in the experiences of several known and unknown women and girls living across the Indian subcontinent. Sadly, many of these questions remain unanswered.

Let me take you through this film. As it begins, the filmmaker takes us to the borders of Partition. The year is 1947, a time that witnessed the abduction and disappearance of several thousand women. Women were 'rescued' on both sides of the border – some were Hindu, some Muslim. As the camera searches for these 'rescued women' in one of the camps, it only finds broken walls, standing still, lying dead with their memories.

I begin to recount and remember the...
Moving trains,
Women and men fleeing
Amidst silence and 'lightening' rape,
Killing, abduction, disappearance
For family honour and religion,
And ask
Is this about Nationhood?
Is this Freedom?

Moving to the next frame, we hear testimonies from Bangladesh (1971) – of women raped by soldiers from the other side. The attackers and victims are from the 'same' religion. A postcard comes into view written by a father, who asks if his daughter – who came back a day after Bangladesh's independence after having been sexually assaulted – could be rehabilitated by the government as a Veerangana (the brave woman).

Appearing to disappear

The camera starts to type several letters onto the screen, of names that appear to disappear... unending numbers... in Kashmir. Dead, displaced, missing, and injured women and girls.

As a viewer, I begin to understand how sexual violence is used as an easy weapon in times of war and conflict. Images of the attackers flash before my eyes and I wonder if the gunshots will ever end in this paradise on earth?

"I begin to understand how sexual violence is used as an easy weapon in times of war and conflict. Images of the attackers flash before my eyes and I wonder if the gunshots will ever end in this paradise on earth?"

Then filmmaker Kanwar makes us cross over to the western region of India and we are witness to the hatred and genocide that was let loose on ordinary people living across the cities, towns and villages of Gujarat, who happen to belong to one faith. I hear voices speaking of brutal rapes, humiliation and the murder of women and girls.

I get to know the pregnant woman who went to the court of justice to prove her rape. Watching her, my heart cries out in anger and pain. I want justice to be done. Outside of the film, I know it has been done to some extent, many years later.

The site of violence then shifts once again. We are introduced to a Scheduled Caste woman, a dalit woman, a young adivasi (Tribal) woman, a woman from the barber community, a woman panch (village head), from across rural Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. All being paraded naked... humiliated before their brothers, husbands and fathers. Defined by the multiple identities of caste, tribe, age, occupation, community and position, they face the same violation.

1947...1957...1971...

This time round I also witness their resistance, against the injustice and hierarchies of power, questioning the territory and ownership of their resources, challenging patriarchs who control the land and make decisions on their 'place' in society.

1947, 1957, 1971, 1986, 1998, 2002... The years roll on, each a witness to injustice, deceit, violence.

How does one remember? What remains and what gets submerged? These words are spoken again and again, in every frame of this film as it changes location.

Now we are in the Northeast. Testimonies of women who have faced violence from the 'so-called' defenders of the country in places like Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur.

I listen to the story that is being woven into a sarong by a grieving mother. And as the story ends, I am witness to the disrobed protest of 12 'imas' (mothers) at Kangla Fort. I feel empowered by their attempt to break the silence, to fight against violence, to fight for honour and dignity – not just of themselves but of all women.

And yet, as I see the images from the film fading in the background, I want to be sure that, along with you I have understood who the enemy is. It is only then that we can fight the 'enemy' together.

Most Read
Most Shared
You May Like
search

blank.gif

blank.gif

CRFC: Toll free number

Global Goals 2030
 
OneWorld South Asia Group of Websites