At a time when each new week brings a sensational headline about sexual violence, the sheer repetition can render the reader numb. However, in the midst of intense media coverage, narratives and personal testimonials come as a welcome change; to be able to read about relevant social topics from a subjective point of view
Out of Print magazine, an online platform for short fiction stories and narratives, has done a special issue that focuses specifically on stories, fiction and non-fiction around the theme of sexual and gender violence. The issue has been guest edited by writer and poet Meena Kandasamy in partnership with author and Out of Print editor Samhita Arni, and features the writings by Urvashi Bhutalia, Kuzhali Manickave, Salil Tripathi and Neha Dixit to name a few.
The editor’s note is perhaps one of the more incisive analyses of the challenges of writing about sexual violence. Written by Meena Kandasamy and Samhita Arni, the editorial begins with a series of very relevant questions: “Must any discussion of rape or sexual violence be confined to television news and crime statistics? Or, do we wield our fiction in a way that allows us to wear the wounds of rape and assault? Do we only listen to the lived experience of first-person testimonies? Do our stories have the power to call for justice? Or can we break our silence as we mask ourselves in the voice of a protagonist who has endured sexual violence?”
The editorial also reveals that when the magazine called out to writers everywhere to send in their submission, the result was overwhelming.
Author Kuzali Manickave’s gripping short Whore talks about the violation of women in a public space, moving back and forth teasingly between two narrative voices: one of the person being violated and one of the person who violates.
Contributing Editor at Mint and Caravan Magazine, Salil Tripathi’s The Brave Ones is a series of testimonials by women who were caught in the middle of the Bangladesh War. In it, we read of soldiers who use rape as a weapon of war.
Gayatri Jayaraman, a senior editor at India Today, writes a deeply personalized short story Women Without Womb, on writing about the anatomy of a woman. In it she details accounts of many women who were recognised through their lives as a womb.
Urvashi Butalia and Navsharan Singh from Zubaan have provided an window into an ongoing Zubaan project that aims to create a body of solid and multi-faceted knowledge abotu sexual violence. Their essay is titled ‘Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia”
Incidentally, the idea of headlining an issue dedicated to sexual violence also paved the way to another, more enduring initiative. Mapping Sexual Violence, is a website being developed by the Out of Print team, where all users can share their accounts of, or responses to, sexual violence.
The agenda behind this extensively detailed issue was to get people talking. “We hope that these stories and essays will provoke discussion, engender multiple ways of looking at sexual violence, and help us break the silence. This issue, we hope, will illuminate how pervasive sexual violence is in different situations and contexts, how it influences all our lives, how it interacts with existing inequities, how it is used as a weapon, and how it is often erased out of public debate,” write Kandasamy and Arni.
No mean feat, indeed.