Last Friday, I rose to the sound of banging drums and blaring music. It was Holi – a spring festival known as the festival of colour! People armed themselves with white t-shirts and powdered colour. On this day, anyone and everyone is fair game. Ash, Prishuk and I met up with a group of friends and the 20 of us started the free-for-all colour war! The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, the end of winter, and for many it is a festive day to meet others, play and laugh. Since it was my first Holi, my friends made sure every nook, cranny and crevice of my body saw paint. Once coloured, our group headed to a big outdoor party for an afternoon of rain dancing! DJ’s spun popular beats and everyone danced under shower heads for hours. By 5:30pm, the stain severity was revealed. Although you left the rain dance party slightly ‘cleaner’, at this point the paint had settled into your skin, hair and clothes. Days later, I am still rinsing pink from my hair and scrubbing green off my back BUT it was a colourful expereince!
India’s Daughter, a documentary film based on the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, was recently released to the world as part of BBC’s Storyville series. The film chronicles the rape and murder of a young girl named Jyoti, which led to a huge movement in India. While Delhi is considered the ‘rape’ capital, current statistic state that across India a woman is raped every 20 minutes. The initial incident sent shock waves through the Indian society causing a massive uproar among the people. Now that the film is released, the incident, and issues, has been getting a lot of attention around the world yet, YouTube complied with the Indian government’s orders to block the broadcast of the film in India.
Jyoti is a Hindi name meaning ‘light’. After seeing the documentary that’s exactly how I see Jyoti, I see her and her life as a light; lighting the path around the topic of rape which is a universal subject that has been experienced by many – both women and men – around the world. Although the documentary recounts an arduous moment in Indian history, this experience, and Jyoti’s testimony, created a connection among people about an important, on-going global issue.
When I started the Passion over Past project a year ago (March 2014), I did not know where it would lead. I knew that because I had the confidence to share my testimony, it was my responsibility to be a light, to speak openly and to share my experience with others. The more I shared, the more others opened up and shared. What I’ve learned and has shocked me most over the last 12 months is how prevalent rape, sexual assault and abuse are. It happens in countries all over the world and to people from all walks of life. While my project specifically focused on women, along the way I met many men who shared their painful stories of abuse and rape. Although at one point I did consider doing a collective project which consisted of both male and female testimonies, in the end I chose to specifically focus on women.
However, what I’ve learned throughout the process is men, like women, were equally supportive of the project because they connected to the notion of ‘having had an experience’. They too have experienced upset and have faced difficulty. Having had those experiences themselves, they know it takes ‘something’ to get over it and move forward; as such, they have been very supportive and several of them have been key leaders for my project.
Jyoti’s incident led to a huge movement in India – it broke the silence and allowed people to come together and stand as a collective for a purpose. The power of the PEOPLE, not just the women, is what turned the ripples into waves and I think this is important to acknowledge. Often, the topic of women’s empowerment is one sided – it includes women working ‘against’ something instead of working in collaboration with. Lacking unity among ALL people – both male and female.
I consider the Passion over Past book to be a project about personal-development rather than women’s empowerment. While my intent is to empower women to speak openly about their experiences and self-express, I believe we need to empower all human beings in order to maintain the balance. We need to live in paradoxical unity. We need to practice living a unified life. As humans, we are constantly compartmentalizing everything instead of creating a space of oneness. Consider eliminating opposites is what unifies them…
Although these young men gang-raped this girl, I liked the part of the film where they explained and showed the type of upbringing those men came from. I don’t believe their upbringing was showed to justify or give ‘reason’ for their abusive actions. But, I believe we often fail to consider the journey of the other – even those who have been compartmentalized as ‘rapist’.
About two years after my last sexual harassment incident with my Professor, I had a dream… I remember it so clearly. I was on my computer scrolling through Facebook and suddenly an inbox message popped up – it was from my Professor. He started to ichat with me. He asked how things were and how I was doing. I remember I could feel myself getting upset in my dream. I began to wonder Why is he contacting me? Does he know the damage he did? Does he know much I have cried and hurt in the last 2 years?! The nerve!!!! I remember I could feel myself becoming enraged with angry thoughts. I placed my fingers on the keyboard, with the intent to respond with hurtful words, but then I stopped myself and instead clicked on his profile picture – it was a photo of him with his children. I then proceeded to click through all his photos… One after the other my screen filled with his family photos. Of course, I have never seen his family in real life, but that’s who they were supposed to be in my dream. Suddenly, I calmed down and I remember thinking ‘he is loved too’.
I woke up, and for the first time I felt a real sense of peace and calm come over me. Although I do not agree with what happened and his actions toward me, I realized that he is equally as human. We want the same things; like me, he wants to be loved and loves others. Like me, he has experienced pain, hardship and the death of a loved one. Like me, he has goals and dreams. For years I was so concerned with what happened to me that I failed to even consider what may have happened to him.
It is not easy to live and breathe paradox in every moment of your life. Trust me, it took me a long time to have THIS understanding. But if we claim that love is the strongest force that can transform anything and everything, in order to prove it we must practice it.
There is a part in the documentary when Jyoti’s friend tells the story when a boy snatched Jyoti’s purse from her. A cop caught the boy and started to beat him. Jyoti approached the cop and said “that will not teach him anything”. She then spoke to the boy and asked him why he stole her purse. The boy told her that he wanted clothes and shoes just like her. So Jyoti went out and bought the boy clothes and shoes and made him promise not to repeat his actions. Her solution was to be loving and compassionate instead of being angry and resentful. While we will never know the results of her actions, the point is she stood for something.
I have not had contact with my Professor since August 2012 and I don’t know what I would say if I ever saw him again. But when I look at my life now and recognize I have gotten to this amazing place because of love and compassion, I suppose the only thing to do would be to send my Professor love and compassion. We are all equal, and by eliminating the label that he is a ‘harasser’ instantly makes our world a safer place. I believe there are consequences to our actions, but I believe in the power of people and by assisting, educating and loving eachother we can live a unified life!