Rape cases and sexual assaults hit the newspapers almost every day. Even after the massive outburst of the Nirbhaya case, it is very sad to hear about this kind of thing. Ganesh Toasty, a photographer took up the issue of victim-blaming and expressed it through a series of twenty-three photographs. So here presenting the photo series:
Indian mentality always feels – “She was raped and it is her fault.”
The pot lies safely in her graceful hands. It looks with its non-existent eyes at this beautiful woman whose sparkling eyes gaze with a smile at something or someone. It has heard with its similarly non-existent ears her name being called upon several times and it tries to utter the name with its non-existent lips but it knows that she couldn’t hear it but the old pot still tries to call upon her name one more time, Tanirika!
Tanirika, as her name suggests is an ardent lover of flowers. She spends most of her time taking care of the various plants around her home. She talks to them while watering and together they gaze at the rising sun. Though her curious mind took her to lands far away from home, her legs always found their way back. Those faraway lands taught her what she needs to make the world a better place but she chose home because there’s where her heart lies.
Athreya, Tanirika’s father, or Appa as she prefers to call him is a teacher and has lived his whole life in this small coastal town. In his years of teaching, he has said more ‘goodbyes’ than ‘Welcome backs’ as almost every year the children he taught left town for a better life after graduation. A wise man by all means never blamed them for their choice. He always wished each one of them the best and stood there watching silently as his beautiful town was being deprived of its youth.
He did the same when his lovely daughter, Tanirika left town a few years back for her studies. He never expected her to return but when she did he knew right away that it is the happiest moment of his life. He helped her set up her own garden near their home and watched every day with so much love as she took care of it. He realized that what she misses is a good life partner and expresses his wish to her. She readily agrees as she knows that her father will always do the best for her.
Her eyes look upon the open sky with joy as the light passes by. Her smile reveals to the vast expanse with her eyes the excitement her heart has for the beautiful and infinite possibilities that are going to be rained upon her.
One man a fisherman and the other an office executive, Kathir and Selvam have been friends from their school days. Despite the differences in their fortunes they have managed to sustain their friendship. Born into a pretty well off family, Kathir had a secured life while growing up but everything turned upside down when he reached high school. His father fell into alcoholism and had reached a place where there was no turning back.
They lost almost everything and Kathir had no choice but to take responsibility. He quit his studies early to support his family and his hands never touched a book ever since. Sometimes when he looks at Selvam he couldn’t help but wonder how his life would’ve turned out if he hadn’t sacrificed his education but the feeling never turned into jealousy as he is genuinely happy with what Selvam has achieved.
Selvam is a person who seems calm and gentle on the surface but in him lays another side that his friends on rare occasions have witnessed. A side that’s ugly and violent. When provoked Selvam can change into a totally different person with fuming eyes and strong hands that just want to destruct and his friends are aware that it’s not a pleasant sight and they try their best not to rouse him in any manner.
Kathir and Selvam meet up with their close friends after three months, Rudhra and Vasu. Rudhra is the youngest of the lot and also the most fractured. He lost his dad at a very young age and had to helplessly watch as his grieving mother took over his father’s bakery business. She has worked very hard ever since to make ends meet. The only shining light during those times of darkness was Janavi, his ex-girlfriend.
He loved her with his whole heart and felt with her a kind of happiness that he’s never felt before. She gave his life some meaning and he cherished every moment he spent with her but like the saying goes ‘all good things come to an end’ their relationship perished. Janavi slowly fell out of love with him and eventually found someone else. He felt hurt and betrayed. He spent the months following the breakup with so much denial and kept pursuing her for a valid reason and never being satisfied with what he hears in return.
After a point, he realized that it was over and let the grief take over him. He started visiting sex workers with what little money he made and it eventually became a habit that he couldn’t end. He drove himself to sex addiction trying to forget a memory but with no avail and he’s slowly moving away from the person he could be.
Vasu, a colleague of Selvam is a very knowledgeable and well-read person but has the strange quality of not applying what he has learned as he’s extremely malleable and easily convinced to do something. He has always preferred others to take the lead and it doesn’t take a lot to make him say yes to almost everything.
The four catch up with things that are happening in their lives. It doesn’t take very long for the central topic of conversation to become about women. Selvam boasts about his various escapades in the city while they all make fun of Rudhra for his addiction as he smiles back at them.
Vasu remains silent as always nodding when needed to be nodded and laughing when needed to laugh. All eyes are on Kathir now as he describes this beautiful woman who lives in this town. He tells them that he’s seen her only twice walking along the shore but those brief moments were enough for him to be enticed by her splendor.
Kathir’s eye catches something and he stops gabbing. Confused, the other three follow his gaze, and there she is taking a walk a small distance away from them. Kathir doesn’t take his eyes off her. He just mouths the words ‘She’s the one.’
The moment Selvam laid his eyes on her he knew he’s going to have her at any cost. The seed of lust in him starts to germinate and engulf his body in a fraction of time and through his eyes it can see only one thing, Her. Its roots are craving for her.
Rudhra looks at her with the same wicked smile he had when they were making fun of his addiction. Vasu just looks at her frighteningly as something inside tells him that things are going to get out of hand.
Selvam grabs Kathir by his hand and rushes towards her. Kathir looks at him both confused and surprised but the moment both their eyes met, he knew. Selvam has been provoked, Provoked by her beauty.
Selvam’s grab meant that Kathiris by no means going back. Together they move towards her slowly transforming into animals not knowing that once they transform completely, there is no way they could become humans again.
After tending her garden, Tanirika walks towards her home like every other day but she could feel something different today. Something she couldn’t exactly pinpoint to but after a few moments, she realized that the feeling was more inclined towards her ears.
She could hear a series of thuds behind her getting closer by each second. The moment she turns back, it was too late. A man grabs her from behind and before she could even react from the initial shock he covers her mouth with his hands. Another man joins him as her eyes watch with horror two more men rushing towards them.
Selvam who has a firm hold on her yells at Kathir and Rudhra to hold her and they oblige. Selvam lets go of her and watches as Kathir and Rudhra hold her firmly. Tanirika, with all her might, tries to break off from their hold but to no avail. They are just too strong. Suddenly like a bullet in the head, she realized that her mouth is no longer covered by anyone, and with the last ray of hope, she shouts.
Selvam looks at this woman who’s struggling with all her might to get away from them and run to the safety of her home. But all he sees is a woman who doesn’t want to be with him. He watches as she yells with all the energy she’s got in her. He watches as she keeps trying to break away from his friend’s hold. He watches her horrified eyes that still believed that she can escape. He wants her to look at him and shut up. He knew exactly what to do to make that happen.
When lightning strikes, everything stands still and quiet for a moment. When Selvam’s hand hit Tanirika’s face with all the force he can manage and when some of her blood splashed over Rudhra’s face, everything became silent for an instant. Rudhra watches with shock at Selvama’s he has never seen a woman being hit that way. All they could hear was the thud of Tanirika falling. Rudhra with blood on his eyes saw Tanirika finally letting go.
Tanirika lay down with blood on her face. For a split second, she looks at the raised hand of Selvam and then his fuming eyes. She knew what those eyes want and she also knew that the raised hand will keep hurting her until the eyes get what it wants. She wants to say it out loud but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Despite the blow, the pain, and the shame she still for a moment thought about home and her garden. She thought about how they lay where they are alone as she is right now always waiting for someone to take care of them. She tries to lift her head and move her body. She wants to just crawl all the way home but when she looks again at Selvam and all the other faces she knew that her fall is permanent.
Selvam yells at Kathir and Rudhra. They both come out of the momentary trance they had after Selvam hit her. They keep hearing Selvam’s voice ordering them to drag her deep into the woods. Without any word, they oblige by taking one hand each and drag her towards the woods. The force of their drag creates a small storm around her and tries to cover her completely with pine leaves like she’s already being buried before dying.
Rudhra is still bewildered by what he’s doing. He looks at Tanirika’s eyes as he’s holding her hand and dragging her. Their eyes meet for some time and he couldn’t help but keep looking at it as he feels he sees something familiar in them. She doesn’t move her gaze away from him. Tears flow from her eyes but she still doesn’t take her eyes away from him.
That’s when it hit him, what he sees in them is a part of himself. The part that was hit by grief long ago, the part that left him helpless and stranded in a dungeon with his hands raised above his head begging for light but all they found was darkness everywhere. He held on to darkness and let it drag him everywhere his heart didn’t want to be and finally let it fling him down a spot where he’s about to hurt another human being.
Some hands are meant to be held onto but others are meant to be let go. Though Tanirika’s hands submit to their hold, Rudhra could hear a silent scream from within her hands to be let go. The same scream he has been hearing throughout his life. Holding onto too many things has not made his heart stronger but weaker and he could hear it whisper, ‘Let it go’. He whimpers for a second and let go of her hand.
Here is a man who beholds the name that has been praised as the “mightiest of the mighty” in the Rig Veda. But of course, Rudhra doesn’t know anything about it. He just stares intently as darkness slowly evades him and light fills in drop by drop. The same light whose empathy he longed for a very long time.
When he realized that he’s almost at the end of the tunnel he turned towards Tanirika. He looks at her wounded face and their eyes lock for an instant. His eyes ask her for forgiveness and when her eyes blinked he felt himself falling from the tunnel and keeps moving faster away from it until it becomes just a dot in this vast expanse filled only by light.
Selvam is surprised by what he sees. He could see Rudhara letting go of her hand and directing Kathir to do the same as well. Kathir, whose hand he grabbed earlier that started this entire thing let go of Tanirika’s other hand. Infuriated by what he saw Selvam runs towards them growling like a mad dog. Rudhra turns at the right time to push Selvam away but he’s doesn’t fall, he comes back with his fists pumped with fury to knock Rudhra down once and for all.
Rudhra takes a blow and another but Selvam couldn’t make him tumble. He could see a kind of fortitude in Rudhra’s eyes despite the blows he takes. He tries to ignore it and push him aside to reach Tanirika but he doesn’t. Rudhra with all the force he could gather pins Selvam to the ground and doesn’t let him go. Selvam tries to act tough but Rudhra doesn’t care.
He yells at Vasu for help but from the corner of his right eye, he could see him just standing and doing nothing. He stares at Rudhra’s eyes still struggling with his body to break free but it ceases slowly to nothing. In the midst of the sudden silence he could actually hear Rudhra’s heart beating and it gets louder and louder but he doesn’t feel like shutting his ears, he keeps listening to it and when it reaches its threshold, he realized that it isn’t Rudhra’s heartbeat that he hears but his own. A beat he hasn’t heard for a very long time.
Tanirika with some effort tries to get herself up from the ground. Tears flow from her eyes but she doesn’t do anything about it. She doesn’t say or do anything. She just wants to go home. She is afraid that those hands might touch her again but nothing happens.
She could see the four men still fixed at the same spot right in front of her but she feels them far away from her resembling four identical chess pieces. She tries to find the man who saved her by adjusting her gaze but it doesn’t help. Any of the four could be him but she won’t go back to have a look. She remembers his face. She mentally places it on top of those four chess pieces and whispers, “Thank you.”
When Athreya saw his daughter limping towards home with blood on her face, he ran. He ran towards her like a maniac. During the run, he didn’t for even a second look away from her face. The fact that he couldn’t see because of her hair disguising it completely which reminded him of an old painting hung somewhere in his school whose subject’s face is hidden completely by its long hair whose face he can never see but can only imagine.
When he finally reaches her, he kindly adjusts her hair and looks at her wounded face with horror, and bursts into tears. He looks into her eyes but finds nothing in them other than tears. With tears in his eyes, he wipes the blood off his lovely daughter’s face. He desperately wants to ask her what happened but his weak heart doesn’t allow him to. Tanirika takes her father’s hand and together they start towards their home. She turns to look at him and realizes that he’s in extreme misery. She tightens her grip, lies on his shoulder, and could hear herself whispering “I’m okay Appa. Nothing happened”.
A memory rushes to my head. This happened when I was a very little girl. One day while playing outside my home I tripped over some small pieces of rock and fell headfirst to the ground. My Appa hearing me yell with pain came rushing out to aid. He carried me all the way to the hospital telling me stories about brave little girls to make me stop crying but I didn’t. I stopped crying only when the doctor wiped clean my temple and placed a small bandage over the wound.
The bandage was removed a couple of days later and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a small reddish formation on my temple. My eyes slowly started to water and with those puffy eyes, I ran to my Appa and asked him what it was and whether it will be there always. With a little laugh, he held on to me and explained that the formation is nothing to be afraid of and it’s called a ‘Scar’. He continued by explaining that a scar is just a biological process that helps to repair the wound and it’ll vanish in a few days but I wasn’t convinced. I felt uneasy whenever I looked at a mirror and with the anger, I started to play the blame game.
For the next few days, whenever I saw a rock lying on the lawn I just picked them and threw them out with such a rage a little girl could gather. Noticing what I was up to my Appa called out for me. He calmly asked me what I was doing and I explained. He quietly listened to what I had to say and when I was done he sighed for a moment. He took the stone that I was still carrying in my hand and with his gentle voice, he told me that my fall wasn’t the stone’s fault.
He further elaborated that the rocks are inanimate objects placed wherever they are by the force of nature and that I, unfortunately, stumbled upon one. He called it an accident and advised that I as an animate object should be more careful in the future with my movements so that I don’t fall often as there are so many inanimate objects around us. I remember being angry with him for a while for not taking my side and in a few days the scar vanished and I moved on.
The memory washes all over me like a wave while I sit here with blood on my face and a scar in my heart. Is this my fault too? Is it my fault that I had to take a walk through the woods and stumbled upon those men? Is this an accident too? Are they inanimate objects as well? Should I be more careful whenever I take a walk outside and look from the corner of my eyes always for demons lurking in the dark? Or should I just stay home from now on because I’ll be defenseless when confronted by one of these demons? And most importantly, Will this scar vanish? Will I move on?