Times of India reports, “In April and May, of the 3027 complaints received by the National Commission for Women across 22 categories of crime against women, 1428 (47.2%) were related to domestic violence. The data from January to March, on the other hand, show that of a total of 4233 complaints made during that period, about 20.6% (871) were related to domestic violence.”
The nation-wide lockdown to curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a devastating hike in the number of domestic violence cases in India. While, for a lot of us, staying in was a way to be safe, for many others, for whom home is not a safe space, it has been more than difficult.
Storyteller and director Kristy De Cunha, along with producer Rahebar Sonawalla, has created a series of three short digital films in order to create awareness about a ‘Covert Distress Signal’ that can be made on a video call to family members or friends and reach out to them to report and escape domestic abuse.
The ‘Covert Distress Signal’ or the ‘Signal For Help’, which can be made holding the palm up to the phone screen, tucking in the thumb in, and then trapping the thumb, has been designed by the Women’s Funding Network in the USA, along with help from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. According to the Network, “the combination of increased isolation in quarantine, and an increase in the use of video communication, created a critical need for a widely recognised, discrete way a survivor could reach out for help. #SignalForHelp gives survivors of violence who are trapped at home with their abusers a discreet signal to use to get help.”
Kristy’s team says, “Not all violence is visible, hence, the act of violation was kept undisclosed, but its message is assertive. Also, bearing in mind the sensitivity of these films, the treatment has been kept child-sensitive too for viewing.” The three films, ‘That Neighbour’s Wife‘, ‘That Neighbour’s Child’, and ‘That Neighbour’s Window’ capture domestic violence from different angles and perspectives like molestation of minors, rape, and domestic abuse.
The three films have also been shot across different kinds of households – from seemingly upper and upper-middle-class houses to the chawls of Kurla, thus asserting that it’s not just about space and class. Kristy reiterates, “Having shot among the varied demographics for these films, no story was a representation of a crime associated with class. The films are not a class gaze. Sexual crimes are not identified with rich or poor, and not subject to gender either.”
To this effect, their message runs,
“Not All Violence is Visible.
Nor is Violence, subject to Class or Gender.
Marital Rape is not okay.”
Kristy continues, “The intent to make these films was not only to create awareness towards understanding this window for help but to also bring attention to the alarming rise in domestic violence, not just here in India but around the world too. If these films can bring solace to a victim by letting them know that they can reach out and seek help discreetly without endangering themselves any further, then that’s half the battle won there. The need of the hour is to be receptive and responsive.”
One of the most important facets of these films is the inclusion of children. Kristy wanted to let children know that they can reach out for help, and are not alone. ‘That Neighbour’s Child’ and ‘That Neighbour’s Window’ deal with domestic violence against children.
On her Instagram, Kristy writes, “Approximately, 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances, such as “friends” of the family, babysitters, or neighbours; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases. A big part of protecting your child is about creating a dialogue.
Stay alert to physical signs : Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area, bloody, torn, or stained underclothes, Difficulty walking or sitting, and frequent urinary and yeast infections.
Behavioural Signs: Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively, development of phobias, exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, has trouble in school, such as absences or drop in grades. Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviours. Nightmares or bed-wetting.Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role.”
About the films, Kristy further explains, “Fractions of the stories in all the three films have figments of truth from my Life. I may have been brought up in a protected environment like most of us, but, I think I can take the liberty here to speak for a lot of people, young and old, privileged, underprivileged, unbiased of gender, who have been victimised or been witness to such domestic violence or sexual abuse. I think it’s sad to say that some of us silenced ourselves due to these incidents. It’s perplexing for a minor to be subjected to any form of sexual abuse or stand witness to domestic violence, and to understand the magnitude of these crimes.”
The film includes a verse from the song ‘Hum ko man ki shakti dena’, written by Gulzar from Guddi (1971), sung here by singer-songwriter Shefali Alvarez, to resonate the voice of minors subjected to domestic violence. Another song, ‘Bhanwara bada naadaan hai’, sung by Asha Bhosle in the film Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), poetically engulfed the emotions demonstrated by actor Ruhii Singh in the ‘That Neighbour’s Wife’.
There is a need for more people to be aware of this covert sign so that they are able to ask for and respond to calls for help.
Here’s Homegrown telling you, if you are a victim of domestic violence in any form, please use this sign as a discreet covert signal in a video call to family members or friends. Report and reach out. If you are a recipient of this call, reach out and report to help and remove your loved one from the situation.
You can refer to this article for more detailed information on domestic violence helplines across different Indian states.
You can find Kristy on Instagram here.
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