Chronicles of Courage is Indian photojournalist Smita Sharma’s searing portrait series featuring dozens of survivors of sexual violence in India. Her subjects range from six-year-old girls to 70-something nuns. Each harrowing story covers incidents of trafficking, forced marriage, pregnancy and even death. Sharma ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for her project on Kickstarter in order to raise money to continue the series and also to produce a full-length film. “It will give a voice to these girls and women and force people to think,” Sharma says. “I want to show them as fighters, as heroes.”
Fifteen-year-old Beena was kidnapped and raped multiple times by a distant relative in the village of Madhumakhiya, Uttar Pradesh. She was rescued after 10 days when her grandfather lodged a police complaint and received help from a local NGO. The perpetrator and his family blackmailed Beena to marry him and threatened her family to withdraw the case. Beena’s family refused.
In 2012, Mansi, a then 13-year-old from northern Uttar Pradesh, was trafficked by a man of considerable financial influence from a neighbouring village who then raped her behind a railway station in Maharashtra. Mansi ran away from him to avoid being sold into sexual slavery to a brothel. But when she reported the incident to the railway police, Mansi was held in custody for 12 days while they tried to get her to retract her complaint. She refused and the man was charged.
Hemanti is photographed here at her home in Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh. In 2013, Hemanti’s 20-year-old daughter Sumana was repeatedly gang-raped by three men. She was then forced to walk naked in the summer heat before they murdered her. Sumana’s naked body was found two days later, with cuts and acid burns on her face to prevent her from being identified. All three perpetrators are now in prison. Their respective families have made several attempts to pressure Hemanti to withdraw the case.
Parama, 23, is the mother of a four-year-old girl, and works as a nurse at a hospital in Kolkata. During her divorce proceedings, Parama’s ex-husband called her to his house on the pretext of discussing their daughter’s future. He then raped her in front of his four friends. The friends, who were invited to witness her humiliation, clapped and cheered during the ordeal. She filed a complaint and he was arrested in 2013. Parama now has custody of her daughter and they are currently living with her parents. Her ex-husband is currently out on bail and has remarried.
Sonia, 14 (pictured), and her friend Prajuna (also 14) were lured by two truck drivers from a neighbouring town who had befriended their families to go for a ride and "visit the market”. These men had worked alongside the girls’ families in the same brick kiln. The perpetrators waited until dark before driving them back home, stopping midway at an abandoned house on the highway. They raped them side by side and left them there. The girls – shocked by the ordeal – walked back five kilometres in the dark, with blood dripping from their torn clothes. The village leader and the kiln owner’s goons later tried to threaten the families and their case worker to release the rapists and drop the case. The men are currently in prison but the girls, both deeply traumatised, no longer go to school.
Kalpana, 17, was raped by her landlord’s son in 2008. Kalpana remained silent out of shame and fear. After becoming pregnant from the rape, Kalpana’s mother threw her out of the house. She was later pressured to marry her rapist by a local political party [In India, it is not uncommon for politicians and those with political affiliations to receive bribes to help influence or even threaten people]. Kalpana refused to withdraw the case or marry him. Originally from a suburban West Bengal town, she now lives in Kolkata with her son and works as a hair stylist at a salon.
Twenty-year-old Shabina is photographed here at her house near Kolkata. Shabina was raped eight years ago by a man from her community. Her family and neighbours then forced her to marry him. As a result of the rape, she gave birth to a son, Ali, who is now age seven. She was not accepted as a wife by her perpetrator. A year after the incident, her family lodged a police complaint and took the perpetrator to court. Shabina makes puffed rice for a living, working up to 16 hours a day and earns 400 rupees (US$7) a week.
Pinky, 12, had gone to see a wedding procession in a nearby neighbourhood. There, she met a female neighbour who invited Pinky to her home. There, she gagged Pinky and handed her over to her brother-in-law. Pinky was then raped. They then threatened Pinky to remain silent. After a week Pinky informed her parents who reported the case to the police. Both the rapist and his female accomplice were arrested. They are currently out on bail. Pinky continues to go to school.
Read Marina Watson Pelaez’s accompanying article How India’s women are fighting against rape here.