An Indian Documentary Unravels The Horrors Of Patriarchal Violence Against Tribal Women

An Indian Documentary Unravels The Horrors Of Patriarchal Violence Against Tribal Women
Image Courtesy: Testimony Of Ana

Discourses on patriarchy are prevalent on the internet. Feminists and misogynists – all indulge in the debate of privilege and oppression, justice and bigotry, every single day. In the fight for equality vs maintaining the status quo, content is used as a subtle yet compelling messaging tool to change the power dynamics and utilizes every example, anecdote, observation, or critique that we share. It’s safe to say that everyone who participates in these intellectual debates is coming from a place of privilege. While intersectional feminism encourages us to expand its reach in the fight for justice, we often stay disconnected from victims of patriarchal violence in the remote areas of our country where they suffer in silence. It then becomes the duty of storytellers to bring those incidents to light.

Sachin Dheeraj Mudigonda’s ‘Testimony of Ana’ does exactly that. This 24-minute documentary is a bone-chilling tale of Anaben Pawar from the Dang district of Gujrat. In a long monologue format, Ana speaks, rather painfully, about a witchhunt that changed her life forever. It portrays the often unacknowledged violence towards women through an intimate narration.

The documentary won a National Award for Best Non-Feature Film and the award for Best Non-Fiction Film at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala.

In the film, Anaben tells us about the prolonged harassment and violence she faced from her fellow villagers who branded her as a witch and tried to evict her from her house and village. But nowhere in the story do we learn why she was called a witch. The villagers carry out this conspiracy-driven attack to confiscate the land she inherited from her father. However, that’s not particularly mentioned either. It’s implied. The absence of an answer is infuriating and probably a deliberate decision on Sachin’s part.

The documentary starts with Anaben doing her morning prayers. She prays to ‘cleanse this world’ and keep her family safe. As she tells us her story, the camera pans to the lush green landscapes of the village that seem conversely peaceful. Anaben talks about the meeting the villagers held to persecute her and how they called in a witch hunter, locally called a ‘Bhagat’. The Bhagat asked the villagers to hang her upside down from two pillars and burn chilli powder near her face. So that’s what they did. They dragged Anaben from her house, bashed her legs with heated rods so she fell, picked her up and did it again until she couldn’t stand. Anaben’s husband, who tried to stop this, also got thrown around by the attackers. This went on for four nights at the end of which the Bhagat sexually assaulted her. Her body was so damaged that she defecated only blood for days. She speaks about spending two days in the hospital. Not having enough money, the doctor refused to give her the x-rays and she decided to ‘forget about it’.

The villagers asked Anaben to pack her stuff and leave along with her whole family but she refused. She held her ground despite the hate from all her neighbours. So in an attempt to torture her family and make them leave, the villagers collected 50 Rupees from every house in the area to buy alcohol. They then got drunk and the entire village surrounded her house to create a ruckus. They even threatened to strip her daughter. “For what they did they should rot in jail”, Anaben says.

The most triggering scene of the documentary has to be where Anaben takes out a ‘potli’ (a bag) that she keeps on her person and shows us the things that broke and fell off of her when they assaulted her. She rolls it open and it contains broken bangles and beads, and a big lump of hair they pulled out. She collected these items as proof of evidence to show the police and the government.

“How can I let it go? I won’t just let it go.”

Anaben tells Sachin at one point that she looks at him as her son and he shouldn’t make her relive her trauma. She says, crying, that it still aches her heart deeply. The sorrow torments her every day. She wonders how they could do this to her. Anaben’s family farms for a living but she cannot work since the incident and spends most of her days resting in the house. Her husband tells her that he will feed her till he is alive and she won’t have to ask anyone for anything. The only time we see her smiling is when she’s visited by her daughter and her granddaughter, Aarushi. As she plays with Aarushi, she tells her to ‘run away’. She wants her to run away through education, to a better life; one where she doesn’t get victimized by acts of violence committed in ignorance.

As the documentary begins, the shots of the village seem aesthetically tranquil. But as Anaben reveals her story, an ugly feeling wraps itself around the viewer. Scenic views of the village start to appear nightmarish. All the greenery starts emitting a hostility that one would never have imagined at first glance. It becomes repulsive having learnt the continued torture a quiet village like Anaben’s wreaked upon her.

Earning the trust of a traumatised survivor wasn’t easy. Director Sachin Dheeraj and cinematographer Rohin Raveendran Nair didn’t turn on their camera for days and just listened. He explained to Anaben that he was just trying to take her story to the world and immortalize her memories. She eventually opened up and together they created a heart-wrenching film that’s a commentary on the injustice that women across the country face every single day.

Testimony of Ana is a powerful and emotionally stirring narrative. It’s hard to watch and will surely leave the viewer in tears. It can also be triggering to survivors of sexual assault so discretion is advised. This is the one story of patriarchal, misogynistic violence that was told but a multitude of cases of abuse still remain; hidden from view. Marginalised and tribal women face inhumanities that we can’t even imagine. They rarely get protection and support from their community and often the attack comes from within it. The government and police turn a blind eye to them as well.

This documentary is a testament to Ana’s resilience in the face of absolute destruction. She has faced the worst a human possibly can and she’s courageous enough to not forget. She holds on to that anger in her broken beads and her torn hair and still wishes to see her perpetrators face justice. There’s not an iota of pity or despair in her being. In a hateful environment, she still prays for her family and lives fearlessly. There’s strength in her anger. It bleeds through the screen and is revolutionizing, especially for women.

What misogynists on the internet don’t seem to understand when they ask women why we are so angry is that it’s our weapon. We try to protect ourselves by standing up to the hatred and violence we face through that anger. It’s a declaration of self-worth which is physically, emotionally, and psychologically attacked. Anger is our reminder to keep on fighting.

And to never forget what happened to Anaben and thousands of other women like her.

You can watch Testimony Of Ana here.

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