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#HerVoice Protesting to help Indian rape survivors

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has arrived in Britain for a visit. Here, Jenn Selby of the #HerVoice campaign explains why, tomorrow, women are staging a protest as he speaks at Wembley Stadium

Being raped doesn’t just throw you into a deep, black depression. It kills off the person you knew yourself to be and forces you to become a new one.

The struggle to find this alternate identity can take years, if you are able to accept your loss of self at all. Suicide becomes something you have to convince yourself is not the answer. It is no longer clear what is.

I was attacked in my sleep two years ago, so sadly, I speak from experience.

What has become clear to me since I’ve been stationed in Mumbai and Ahmednagar - in the Maharashtra state of west-central India - as part of the UK team covering the #HerVoice campaign, is that survivors are survivors anywhere.

We all go through the same mental battery, the victim blaming, and the social stigmas that would never be inflicted on a victim of GBH, attempted murder, or even a victim of theft.

In India, however, the issue is amplified. Not only do sex crimes occur with alarming frequency (a woman is raped here every 34 minutes), but survivors are often rejected by their families, mocked and bribed by corrupt police officials, and cast out by their communities.

Marital rape does not exist as a concept. As Priti Paktar, founder of anti-sex trafficking organisation Prerana told me, rape culture is such that “many people do not even know that it is wrong”.

Already, the stories I’ve heard from survivors here are beyond belief. A premature baby girl dumped in a toilet. A 15-year-old mother, who gave birth after she was raped by a cab driver while escaping her father, who had sexually abused her as soon as she hit puberty.

Two teenage girls who were groomed and taken from their families, trafficked from state-to-state and forced into prostitution. A three-year-old baby girl who was doped and sexually exploited. A destitute mother offering her five-year-old child for sex as she sat in rags and squalor in a brothel in Mumbai.

The #HerVoice campaign aims to address it by raising social awareness and lobbying the Indian government. It's spearheaded by nine Indian Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), which are often the only means of support and refuge for survivors.

Together, they are calling on Prime Minister Modi’s leadership to actively tackle rape culture and better enforce existing anti-rape laws, of which India already has some of the strongest in the world.

It is our job to give #HerVoice as much exposure as possible to an international audience, as well as an Indian one. Human rights lawyers, renowned social activists, actors, journalists, and even chiefs of police in India have already pledged their support to the campaign by signing the petition and sharing photographs of themselves holding the message ‘End The Violence’ on social media.

The UK has also shown its support for the campaign, which coincides withPrime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to England this week.

Feminist groups, universities in London, and India’s Daughter director Leslee Udwin will be among those protesting on behalf of #HerVoice outside of Wembley Stadium on Friday, where Modi is due to address thousands.

India’s Daughter - a BBC documentary made to tell the story of the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012 - was banned by Modi’s government earlier this year because they believed highlighting the issue of rape and sexual violence gave India a poor image.

Speaking about the necessity of the campaign, Udwin told us:
Changing the mindset is the only answer to dealing with the root cause of gender-based violence. We now need to stop being reactive to the fallout of gender inequality, and start rooting out the cause.”

At #HerVoice, we strongly believe we owe it to the women of India, not just as survivors but as fellow human beings, to stand in solidarity with them until their right to a life free from fear is at least acknowledged by those in power.

By ourselves, our voices can cause but ripples. But together, we are louder and stronger than we realise. Together, we can give India back #HerVoice.

#HerVoice: Why we're protesting Prime Minister Modi to help Indian rape survivors Jenn Selby 12 Nov 2015

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