The Deafening Silence of the Rape Survivor


The Deafening Silence of the Rape Survivor

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré


n a remote village in West Bengal, 140 kilometres from the nearest state highway, a young Indian photojournalist from New York is making her way across the fields in the dark. She is dressed as a village angandwadi worker in a decrepit salwar kameez, with her hair coiled into an oily bun. The fierce sun has set on this parched land, but heat still rises from the earth, as Smita Sharma makes her way, hiding her SLR camera as much as she can. Fireflies flit madly in the distant peepal tree, as she approaches the dimly lit hut where Shanta lives.

Smita has been in the village for three days now and it hasn’t been easy. Her first day was spent standing outside the government hospital in the Diamond Harbour area in the hope that she’d get a chance to meet Shanta. The local health worker had tipped her off about the name, but Smita had to identify her from the crowd and make contact herself. Smita identifies these women from their body language – their tentative walk, drooping shoulders, and fearful faces give them away. Recognising Shanta wasn’t the tough part; it was getting her to talk.