Malayalam actor Bhavana, who was abducted and sexually assaulted in 2017, a case in which actor Dileep is one of the accused, on Sunday said the idea of victims of sexual assault coming out in public and voicing their experiences should be normalised.
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Speaking at ‘We the Women Global Townhall 2020’, a show hosted by journalist Barkha Dutt on her digital platform Mojo Story, Bhavana, when asked where she draws her courage from, said, “It makes me very angry and very sad (that perpetrators of sexual assault get rehabilitated)… It’s not every day that I feel empowered and ready to fight. So many days, I have wanted to give up… We must normalize the idea of the person who has gone through a trauma coming out in public and voicing it out. We must normalize that as a society, normalize that courage.”
The actor was kidnapped and assaulted by a group of men in February 2017 while she was traveling from Thrissur to Kochi. The investigation led to Dileep, one of Malayalam industry’s biggest actors, being named as an accused.
On Sunday, Bhavana spoke about the trauma and the finger-pointing that followed in the days after the incident. “When it happened, my whole life turned upside down. My mind was constantly searching for somebody or something I can put the blame on. It was a constant chaos in my mind… Why did this happen? Why me?… So many questions…”
Speaking about the trial, which began in 2020 and is on at a special court in Kochi, she said, “When my trial (in the court) happened, I had to go to court for 15 days. It was a different, dramatic experience altogether. On the 15th day of the trial, I came out of the court feeling like a survivor. I realized that I am a survivor, not a victim anymore. I am not just standing up for myself, (but) also for the dignity of all the girls who come after me. That was the time my mind convinced me that I am a survivor, not a victim.”
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Earlier this year, Bhavana had shared an Instagram post, revealing her identity as the “survivor” of the sexual attack and speaking up about the toll the incident took on her. “This has not been an easy journey. The journey from being a victim to becoming a survivor. For 5 years now, my name and my identity have been suppressed under the weight of the assault inflicted on me…To see justice prevail, to get wrongdoers punished and to ensure no one else goes through such an ordeal again, I shall continue this journey ,” she wrote.
Speaking on the show on Sunday, Bhavana said that while several people stood by her following the assault, others blamed her, with some even saying she should not have traveled that late in the night. “There was also propaganda that I staged it, and that the case is fake… I was devastated… While I was trying to pick up the pieces, trying to stand up and face life again, these kinds of things were pulling me down… It was hurting and painful,” she said, adding that she faced a lot of abuse on social media.
But support too has poured in from friends, family, the Women’s Collective in Cinema (WCC) and even people from the industry, she said. “After the incident, many offered me work and insisted I come back (to work). Aashiq Abu, Prithviraj, Jayasurya and others offered me work but I turned them down because I couldn’t come back to this industry and work as if nothing had happened. I was not in the right state of mind. I worked in other language films. Now, I have also started listening to Malayalam scripts,” she said.
Saying she would fight till the end, Bhavana said, “I would rather give a strong fight without worrying about the outcome. It is really overwhelming to see the kind of support and love from my family, friends and audience. I had to go to the court for 15 days, sitting in the court from morning to evening. …I was trying to prove that I didn’t do anything wrong and that I am innocent.”
When asked what is the primary emotion she feels now — hope, rage, sadness or fear — Bhavana said, “Everything. I am still scared… fighting for justice is never easy.”