In a world that has often silenced the voices of the oppressed, a glimmer of hope emerges as a growing number of individuals find the courage to break their silence. Fortunately, in our current societal context, it has become rather accessible, although not inherently easy, for many people to come forward with their stories. Of course, it goes without saying that it will always be difficult for survivors of abuse and assault to share their experiences. However, the sharing of such issues becomes more convenient and slightly more endurable when they feel heard without being thrust into a harsh spotlight, often under the safe veil of anonymity.
This is what documentary filmmaker and animator, Nitya Mehrotra, seeks to do with her platform and particularly, with her series, Stories by Strangers, where she provides a voice for survivors of abuse and mental illness. With a focus on security and fostering crucial conversations, Nitya offers the possibility for these individuals to share their personal narratives in a safe, and when required, anonymous space.
Her project took root in 2020 when she received an email with the subject line, "Would you be willing to tell my story?". The email was about a young girl trapped in a painfully gut-wrenching situation, feeling helpless and unable to find support from the police, family, or friends. To compound her distress, nobody believed her pleas for aid at home, leaving her feeling unsafe, especially in the presence of her own father.
This prompted Nitya to open up her email to more people which resulted in creating a huge online community of survivors. Through her unique approach, she transforms these stories into captivating animations, providing a visual perspective that ignites important discourse and raises awareness. Above all, Nitya's primary goal is to give a voice to these individuals and ensure that they are truly heard.
Today, the series has led to the creation of 26 videos, each showcasing the battles fought by individuals who have faced a range of challenges. These stories delve into deeply personal experiences, encompassing domestic violence, queer discrimination, sexual abuse, and mental illness.
Interestingly, after sharing 22 of these powerful stories, Nitya took a step further by incorporating her own reflections and experiences into the animations. This decision stemmed from her desire to provide a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the project and share her unique perspective. The weight of these profound narratives can be overwhelming, as she encounters individuals on the verge of giving up after sharing their stories, which understandably takes a toll on her own well-being. While giving her take, she often emphasises the importance of kindness, urging viewers to offer love and support to everyone who bravely steps forward.
Nitya's videos are not solely drawn from stories of pain and suffering. While these narratives shed light on crucial issues and navigate sensitive terrain, she also draws inspiration from tales of love and warmth, infusing her work with a balance of emotions and experiences.
The courage required to speak up in the face of such trauma cannot be overstated, but the burden becomes somewhat more bearable when survivors feel heard and supported with the help of such a project. While the path ahead remains arduous, the journey becomes somewhat less daunting when people discover a supportive environment where their voices are not only heard but embraced. Stories by Strangers serves as a testament to the power of storytelling and a beacon for empowerment. With each story shared and animation created, Nitya's mission is clear — to give a voice to the voiceless and ensure that their stories, their struggles, and their triumphs resonate far and wide.