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Nandita Das’ Short Film ‘Listen To Her’ Shows That Domestic Violence Victims Need To Feel Heard For Them To Speak Up

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My nani’s domestic help was an outspoken and humourous woman, who used to frequently quarrel with us but also chatted a lot. She was mischievous but had her heart in the right place. However, behind that smile was the pain she tolerated each time she got beaten up by her husband. She wasn’t beaten blue and never had any fractures, and according to the social conditioning she had, it was reason enough to not report the abuse. In fact, she had learned to live with the occasional beating. My nani often asked her why she was so fierce outside but accepted abuse at home. There are so many women who have been dealing with domestic violence if not daily then occasionally, which doesn’t make it any less of a crime.

However, with the lockdown in place for more than two months now, India has seen a surge in domestic violence behind closed doors. As several women are stuck with their out-of-work, frustrated husbands, they are made into punching bags to bear all their frustration. Nandita Das’s short film Listen To Her deals with this very issue as it encourages women to speak up and be heard.

The film opens with Nandita Das being on a video work meeting, and constantly having to multitask. She is interrupted intermittently by her son, who is waiting for his mom to wrap work up so she can give him attention. Why is the father not catering to the child? Because obviously it’s not his job and he has his wife as his personal butler. To further establish his feeling of privilege, he is heard asking her to make him a cup of coffee – while she is in the middle of a work call and he is simply chilling.

She is a boss babe but somehow she has accepted the unfair division of duties here with her having all of it and her husband had none. In the middle of all that misogynistic chaos she is in, she receives an SOS call from another woman, who is trying to reach a women’s NGO but ends up dialling Nandita Das by mistake. Initially not paying attention, Nandita’s character then gets deeply disturbed by the sounds of violence she hears as the woman cries and screams

Nandita Das is moved and wants to help her out. As the woman calls again, she lends her a sympathetic ear and asks her to tell her everything, so she can help her. And as the doorbell rings, her husband is still not willing to get up and asks her to get the door. At that point, while empowering another woman, she finds it in her to tell him to do it himself and quite sternly.

This short film wonderfully shows two women, both dealing with different levels of misogyny in their own way. And even though Nandita Das’ character isn’t shown dealing with violence, it does come from the same place of gender inequality in our country. In the end, the short film concludes with information on helplines and a message that says women will speak when they feel they are heard. With years of being shut down by society, a lot of women have lost their voice. But this short film empowers women to speak up and inspires us a society to give them our support.

Listen To Her has gained a great response from critics and Instagram users and is supported by UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, and the South Asia Foundation (Madanjeet Singh Foundation). “The film is a spontaneous response to the irony of ‘STAY HOME, STAY SAFE’ for millions of women in India and around the world,” Das wrote on sharing a few stills from the film. She urged people to share it and “help break the silence.”

The National Commission Of Women has been working for safeguarding such women and has introduced a WhatsApp messaging initiative. NCW Chief, Rekha Sharma said in an interview, “The situation around pandemic lockdown is difficult times for women living in abusive relationships as one can only imagine the circumstances faced by the survivors under these lockdown circumstances. It is unfortunate, but they don’t need to suffer, and we would like to help them in every possible way we can. That’s why we felt that the WhatsApp messaging initiative was needed. Besides all our other means of communication (emails, online portal, social media) are functional, except for postal and phone calls which are not in place because of the lockdown as of now.”

ALSO READ: The Number Of Cases Of Domestic Violence Have Increased During Lockdown. The NCW Is Taking Initiatives To Fight It. But Is It Enough?

Meanwhile, lockdown or no lockdown, this is part of a bigger problem that won’t be solved once we are out of this. Maybe the frequency of attacks will decrease or the women will be able to run to their parents’ house. But it is just a stop gap solution, right? Hopefully, Listen To Her and other such initiatives will create an impact that doesn’t die down with the lockdown.

ALSO READ: Kartik Aaryan Said His TikTok Video Wasn’t Misogynistic Because His Sister Was Okay With It. Ask A Domestic Violence Victim Instead

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