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Silence is not an answer: The slight problem with Sapna Bhavnani's brave FB post on rape

Humans of Bombay, like its highly popular American counterpart Humans of New York, regularly features the aam aadmi with not-so-aam stories to tell. Occasionally, however, they feature a familiar face from the pool of celebrities in India.

The reason the page has garnered a huge following is because some of the stories featured on it are moving and at times even inspiring. In the same vein, the page featured Sapna Bhavnani on Tuesday.

Bhavnani's may not be a name that strikes you as familiar immediately. People in Mumbai know her as a quirky hairstylist who owns a popular salon in Bandra. She also did a small stint in one season of Bigg Boss. On screen and off it, Bhavnani is known as a person who doesn't believe in mincing too many words, as someone who is spunky and engaging.

She earned a few hundred more admirers that she already has with her post on the Humans of Bombay page today, where she talked about hypocritical Indian morality, sexual violence in America and domestic violence back home. Believe it or not, Bhavnani has been a victim of all of it.

"When I was 14, I used to talk to boys; drive motor cycles, smoke cigarettes and people in Bandra would often call me a whore because of those things. I never understood the term back then, but sure if doing all those things made me a whore-- I'd take it gladly," she says in her candid introduction.

 Silence is not an answer: The slight problem with Sapna Bhavnanis brave FB post on rape

Sapna Bhavnani from the Human of Bombay post.

She then goes on to recall an incident that occurred in Chicago where she was gang-raped after she stepped out of a pub following an evening of drinking.  She was 24 years old then.

Bhavnani then recounts how she married her childhood sweetheart, but the marriage dissolved into a saga of violence.

From her choice of words to the courage she has mustered to talk about such trauma, Bhavnani's post will have you hooked. No wonder then the post has garnered  65,000 likes and 6000 shares on Facebook alone, within a day of getting posted.

"I remember walking home, showering and pushing this incident to the back of my mind for years and never letting it break my spirit – I still wear short dresses and the brightest red on my lips," writes Bhavnani.

It's difficult to fathom the kind of courage that is needed to recount such traumatic events in a very public forum and Bhavnani deserves a pat on the back for the same. Her post should come as a beacon of hope for people who struggle to talk about the many atrocities they have faced, some within the confines of their own home.

However, at the end of the post, Bhavnani says something that we have to disagree with.

She writes: "It took me 20 years to voice my incident, but for me a woman keeping it all within her because she has no other choice isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a mark of strength and something we need to start respecting.

It is true that it takes immense courage to speak about sexual violence, even more publicly. So women like Bhavnani speaking up should ideally come as both reassuring and comforting. However, we get that she is exhorting us to understand why people keep quiet about violence, it would have been much more encouraging had she not identified silence as a mark of strength.

The reason that sexual violence and domestic violence is rampant in our country and elsewhere is because hundred's of women choose to rather live with trhe trauma than invite the moral scrutiny that follows reporting incidents of rape and violence. Perpetrators of violence draw their courage to inflict hurt because they hope, sometimes with gumption, that the victim won't have the courage to report them to police. Unfortunately, more often than not, the victims actually don't.

Silence over rape, at any time, is a mark of resignation and fear. Not strength. And it is only human to be scared or ashamed, nobody should to be criticised for the same. However, we could do with every bit of encouragement for women to report violence and act against it. And that won't happen if we say staying silent is equivalent to being brave.

We love your spirit, Sapna, and you are very brave to talk about something so traumatic. But we wish you had said that alongwith 'respecting' silence, one should also encourage people to break it.


"When I was 14, I used to talk to boys; drive motor cycles, smoke cigarettes and people in Bandra would often call me a...

Posted by Humans of Bombay on Wednesday, July 8, 2015

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Updated Date: Jul 09, 2015 13:25:00 IST