December 16th marks a gruesome date in Indian history, but also a cornerstone for the women’ rights movement and victims of rape across the nation. For the past 3 years, rape and sexual violence has gotten much more attention, and outrage and has inspired men and women across the nation and the world to take action. Smita Sharma is one of them. Her project “Unearthed stories of Moral Courage In The Face Of Sexual Violence”, funded by the non-profit PROOF: Media for Social Justice, is a photo exhibit showcasing the legacy of sexual violence in India. The exhibit was launched yesterday on the historic day of December 16th at the IHC in Delhi, marking Jyoti Singh’s, better known as Nirbhaya, horrible rape and the commemoration of her death.
Ms. Sharma has befriended and photographed dozens of rape victims and their families, collecting their horrifying testimonies, which include gang rapes of children and young teenagers, murder, police indifference and victims being forced to marry their attackers. Ms. Sharma traveled widely to meet her subjects, spending hundreds of hours outside courtrooms and government hospitals, reading books while waiting for victims and their families to pass by. She also traveled to remote villages where small local nongovernmental organizations or health workers helped her contact rape survivors.
With the help of PROOF, they have been working on bringing the internationally recognized Legacy of Rape exhibit (renamed, ‘Unearthed: Stories of Courage in the Face of Sexual Violence’) to India to raise awareness on sexual violence, and to inspire young people to think about the choices they make daily. Survivors of rape have bravely stepped forward to detail their stories to unveil the true legacy of violence against women. The exhibit incorporates oral testimonies, photographs designed to raise awareness on rape prevention and the need for stringent laws. It intends to lead to the swift and just prosecution of perpetrators, and capture the strength and resilience of survivors. The exhibit showcases rape survivors, but also the “upstanders” – those who have stood up against the injustice in their communities and spoken out.
“They are shamed and victimized for life,” she said. “I want to give them a voice and start a discussion. We have to talk about this and we have to come up with a solution.” Ms Sharma says
Ms. Sharma is crowdfunding her project on Kickstarter to continue photographing and also to make a full-length film. It is well worth the detour to IHC to show some support to the amazing photographer and the inspiring women whose stories she has captured.
The exhibit was launched by PROOF and the Centre for Social Research with a panel discussion on ‘Sexual Violence: A global epidemic’, with Dr Ranjana Kumari, Lalitha Kumaramangalam NCW Chairperson, Nirbhaya’s parents, and Smita Sharma and Poulomi Basu a photojournalist from the Rape in India project.
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