“I raise my hand because silences are what make us complicit in the violence. So our silence is not ours to keep.”
In Yaël Farber’s Nirbhaya, now on stage at The Cultch’s York Theatre, that silence is broken as we bear witness to five women’s stories of horrendous sexual and physical violence. What makes Nirbhaya that much more powerful is that four of the stories are told by the very women who survived them.
Farber was inspired to write Nirbhaya as a result of the 2012 gang-rape of 23-year old Jyoti Singh Pandey aboard a bus in Dehli, India. Before her real name became known, Pandey was known simply as Nirbhaya, which is Hindi for fearless. Ultimately succumbing to her injuries, Nirbhaya went on to become a rallying cry in India and elsewhere in the world to end the culture of rape and the long-held practice of blaming the victim.
It is Pandey’s story that is intricately and inextricably weaved through the stories of the four other women on stage. Through a beautiful, and sometimes haunting, performance by Japjit Kaur, these other woman look to Pandey’s story for the strength to tell their own.
While Pandey’s story must be told through Kaur’s performance, the other women are survivors, and each night stand on the York stage to tell their own horrific real-life tales of rape, beatings and attempted murder. These women – Priyanka Bose, Rukhsar Kabir, Sneha Jawale, Pamela Mala Sinha – are not only the embodiment of the show’s title, the hope is that their bravery in breaking their silence will become catalyst for others to find similar courage.
But while the power of Nirbhaya is undeniable, and it is impossible not to be moved by these women’s stories, it feels like something is missing: a desperate need to hear how these women survived their ordeals. And even as I found my eyes filled with tears for a third time on the way home from the theatre last night, I wanted more. I wanted the survivor’s guide. I wanted to understand what it takes to overcome.
Nirbhaya written and directed by Yaël Farber. A Cultch presentation of an Assembly, Riverside Studios, and Poorna Jagannathan production. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until November 14. Visit https://thecultch.com for tickets and information.