Nandita Das

My nightmare: rapists get away and say, ‘Hey that’s easy’

  • October 16, 2003

Her house overlooks the parking lot, she was at the film fest too, she’s played rape victim in films. Actor Nandita Das on why she’s angry.

I am confused as I write this piece because I am angry, I am frustrated, and I feel helpless.

I have gone beyond the stage of consoling myself with the myths about rape that are so prevalent all around us despite the figures, despite the facts. You know how people think, this happens only to others. Or it happens only to women from the lower classes. Or it happens only in certain far-flung localities. Not in South Delhi, not involving the Presidentís Body Guards, certainly not in the parking lot of the International Film Festival. Not the night when the Minister felicitates Liv Ullman before her film about a woman who refuses to play society’s victim.

I cannot dismiss last night’s rape outside Siri Fort auditorium as an incident that just happened to a person like me in a place where I might have been. I was at that very same parking lot just the other day at the festival! My house actually overlooks the parking lot of Siri Fort!

I have worked with women who have suffered sexual abuse but I don’t want to get into telling you how they feel. Because I don’t know. I can’t know. But like every woman in every society across cultures irrespective of whether physical violence has actually been inflicted upon her I can tell you what it feels to be violated and to feel fear.

I have acted in three films that deal with the subject of rape: Bawandar, Pitaah and Lal Salaam. Bawandar was, of course, the film inspired by the life of Bhanwari Devi, the brave Rajasthan saathin who was gangraped for trying to introduce progressive thoughts into the minds of her fellow villagers.

So in Bawandar I was actually playing a rape victim. I remember how difficult it was to film the gangrape scene. I kept telling myself that I was just an actor playing a part, and so were the men who were acting as rapists.

But every time a spotboy sniggered, or someone nudged someone else, or some crew member leeringly tried to get a look at how the shot had worked out, or someone seemed to be deriving some sort of vicarious pleasure from watching us, I squirmed.

I am not Bhanwari Devi. I have had a relatively privileged existence, living in the capital city, being an actress now, and living in south Delhi. But I know that squirming. I know the fear of walking up to a barsaati flat late in the evening, thinking suddenly, “What if there is a man hiding there in wait for me? I have my key in my hand. He could attack me, open the door, do whatever he wants and nobody would know till the next morning.”

I had rather think of myself as a human being, but our society doesnít permit that. I have to be conscious of being a woman, if for no other reason than to protect myself.

But how far do you do that? Can a police escort be provided to every woman in the city? And what if there is a police escort? Our men in vardi don’t exactly inspire confidence. And you hear about cases where women were raped in police stations.

I read the other day in The Indian Express about a man who tried to rape his minor sister-in-law, and stabbed his wife when she protested. A woman goes to a hospital and an attendant rapes her. A girl visits a doctor for a check-up and he rapes her. A girl takes a walk in a park with a friend, and the President’s Body Guards rape her. Where does it stop? I’m angry and repulsed. Sometimes I just want to speak to the mothers, sisters and wives of these men and find out what they think. How do they continue living with these men?

No doubt we should be furious with the film festival organisers for the lackadaisical security that led to this incident that has shamed us as a nation, but the questions here are much larger.

It’s like asking for the resignation of the Railway Minister every time there is a train accident and forgetting that it’s equally important to ensure that there are no accidents in the future.

Or we could go on and on discussing why we have to look over our shoulders more often in Delhi than say in Mumbai or Chennai.

But there are so many other questions here. What kind of upbringing did these perpetrators have? Why do we so rarely read about rapists being convicted? And why is it that it’s the victim, not the rapist, who is made to feel humiliated?

Somewhere there is also the fact that we pull up our socks only when something happens. Imagine what a rapist must think when he gets away with his crime so easily in this country. “Hey, that was easy.” And imagine what other men like him think, when they see him get away. “Could be easy for us too.”

To me, that’s the most frightening thought of all.

This article was published by The Indian Express on October 16,2003

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11