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‘We must keep shouting till we are heard’ – a film tells us why

Shoma A. Chatterji says #Shout, an explosive documentary, deserves to be seen across the country and the world. Despite the #Me Too movement, many women in India continue to remain marginalised and excluded from the change experienced in ‘upper crust India’

If you are born female, the first thing you must learn is to shout and scream and make a scene – because a female is never heard unless and until she raises her voice above those of the men around her whose sole business, apart from their jobs, if they do have one, is to silence the women and the girls in their lives. This feeling, apart from triggering the #MeToo movement, motivated Vinta Nanda to make a feature-length documentary called #Shout.

The former director of programming at ZEE Network is the editor of The Daily Eye, an online media entity. Her critically acclaimed film, White Noise (2004), starring Rahul Bose and Koel Purie, screened across the globe at film festivals like the Karachi, Florence, Seattle and Pune events, is another feather in her cap. Vinta has directed many tele-series for satellite channels that were hits, including Tara, Raahein, Raahat, Aur Phir Ek Din, and Milee. Her educative entertainment work includes serials like Sheila, Kasbah, films like Anant and Aparajita and documentaries. She is a Trustee at CORO India.

“From the #MeToo movement mobilised by social media and the Internet in 2018, to grassroots activist movements and women’s advocacy collectives fighting for women’s rights and justice in remote villages, the tides are turning to torrents. The symphony of voices heralding the change is dynamic and more potent than the silence that occupied the space before. “This 95-minute film captures a momentous fragment of feminist history in India,” states a brochure from One Life Studios that has made this film possible. The catch-phrase “be fierce, be fabulous” is used as its introduction to the film.

Bant Singh. Right: Bhanwari Devi.

Elaborating on the strange title of the film that uses a hashtag as its starting point, Vinta says, “The title emerged while making the film. We were grappling with what to call the film and there were various titles that were tossed around. But, on completion of the edit, we, the producers, Gayatri Gill, Siddharth Kumar Tewary, and I, saw that the protests we had covered, and included, were signatures to the narrative and that’s how #SHOUT came to us as the title. There were people, crowds, heaving populations, and then there were individuals speaking amid the frenzy we had captured – as it came together, the sound was building up to a crescendo and we realised that calling the film #Shout would be best. The hashtag gave it resonance with the #MeToo movement, and it is also a sign of the times we live in. We need to keep the issue trending and irrespective of [whether] people [are] listening to what we are saying or not, we must keep shouting until we are heard.”

So, the film goes on to interview women, cutting across divides such as age, class, education, status, and victim-position – women such as Rajasthan’s Bhanwari Devi, retired Supreme Court Judge Sujata Manohar and Naseema Bano, the mother of the little girl who was gang-raped and killed, adding another dimension to the film. The young Tara Kaushal, who has authored the book Why Men Rape, Urvashi Butalia, publisher of Kali for Women, Bant Singh, the Dalit leader who lost his limbs while fighting with the ruffians who raped his daughter, and continues his fight, are among others interviewed.

The focus is mainly on the different perspectives on rape, such as Dalit versus upper class, Muslim versus Hindu, weak versus powerful, and so on. Says Vinta, “Violence, suppression, dominance, discrimination, inequality and exclusion are generic terms for women’s issues, be it domestic violence, be it rape. The politics of the suppression of women and casual dismissal of women’s rights is pervasive. The thread binding us through the narrative of this film was Bhanwari Devi’s case and how the battle she fought relentlessly for years led to the promulgation of the Vishakha Guidelines in 1997, which were then superseded in 2013 by Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.

Naseema Banu. Right: Vinta Nanda.

“It was during the #MeToo movement of 2018 that finally, especially in the industry of media and entertainment, the Prevention Of Sexual Harassment (POSH) committees were mandated to be implemented in all places of work. This thread provided us the arc and therefore everything we covered was pertinent to the primary story we were telling. Domestic violence is important to address and cannot be made secondary or tertiary to another narrative. #SHOUT 2 is in discussion, so we have plans to go wider with the narration.”

In Why Men Rape, Tara Kaushal embarks on a detailed investigation which includes meetings with nine men who have an inclination to commit acts of sexual violence. These men come from various sections of society: a doctor who raped his twelve-year-old patient; an unemployed youth who decided to kill his former lover; a youth who gang-raped; a serial gang rapist who doesn’t believe rape exists. Alongside, the author gives myriad insights from world-famous experts, a jail inmate who observes and provides us with a commentary on the worldview of rape convicts inside a prison; and many more.

Naseema Bano laments that she could not save her little girl from her tormentors. But the child Asifa Bano’s case is just one of hundreds, differentiated only in terms of the degree of torture.

Manisha Mashaal, director of Maha Dalit Women’s Andolan, Kurukshetra, speaks out powerfully in #Shout. She says, “I don’t know when the media will turn to us, when there will be a #MeToo movement for us as well.” In India, the #MeToo movement has just touched the surface. No doubt it has had a massive impact in terms of bringing issues surrounding sexual harassment of women at the workplace to the fore, and the establishment of POSH committees at workplaces, but we cannot ignore the fact that the woman, Bhanwari Devi, whose case triggered the promulgation of the Vishakha Guidelines, is still where she is – marginalised and excluded from the change that we are experiencing in upper crust India. That’s the challenge that lies ahead of us – how do we make the two ends meet is what we need to discuss and resolve.”

The Unnao and the Hathras rapes are not there in the film nor does it even refer to the young Muslim researcher Siddique Kappan who had come to cover the Hathras incident and was imprisoned for 28 months without any written complaint. But Vinta assures us that they have plans to shoot #Shout 2 and #Shout 3. #Shout deserves wide viewing across the country and the world, to focus on the terrorism against the female of the species.

(The writer is a senior journalist and film historian based in Kolkata.)