'Bahut dard ho raha hai didi...' says a voice over the phone as Nandita Das helplessly listens.
In just seven minutes, the award-winning actor-director brilliantly addresses two important issues many women are facing during this coronavirus lockdown -- domestic violence and their being overburdened with work.
'Whisper. Speak. Shout. Your Voice Will be Heard!' is what Listen to Her aims to spread.
Nandita Das is a woman who, as expected by the society, is juggling office work, looking after her child and entertaining quite a demanding husband. Though she seems to have accepted this as a daily routine, an unexpected call puts her in a tizzy. On the other side of the phone is a woman who says 'didi meri baat suno'. (Listen to me, sister)
As the film progresses, we come to know that the woman was trying to reach out to a domestic violence helpline number, but had dialled Nandita instead.
We learn what is happening to that woman through the hushed phone conversations. Trust me, it is not pretty. Nandita is worried, yet helpless, but she doesn't hang up. She listens.
The short comes at a time when the pandemic has highlighted how the 'women and girls are much safer at home' belief is but a myth.
Supported by UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and the South Asia Foundation (Madanjeet Singh Foundation), the film is titled Listen to Her and features Das and her son as the only characters with a few voiceovers filling in for different roles.
The National Commission of Women (NCW) statistics revealed that domestic violence complaints have doubled ever since the lockdown in India.
With people confined to their houses, women in abusive relationships found themselves locked-up with their abusive 'partners' or family members 24x7.
'Isiliye mein chutti nahi leti didi'
It all reminded me of the time when we had a domestic help at home. This was a couple of years ago. The help's name was Sudha. She never took a day off from work and we assumed she didn't want to risk her job.
Sudha used to hate Sundays, because my mother asked her to take that day off. But Sudha would always be seen in the colony - all seven days.
One day, she had a black eye and her lips were swollen. We asked her who had done it? She smiled and said, "Isiliye mein chutti nahi leti didi. Ghar pe mard marta hai.' (This is why I don't take holidays didi. Husband beats me at home.)
Nandita's short film made me remember that incident. I wondered if Sudha was still with her husband and if yes, what must have happened to her during the lockdown.
Domestic violence is one of the most ignored problems faced by women in this society. It is treated casually.
It is important to note that 'violence' is not just restricted to physical hurt but also verbal abuse, mental manipulation and being forced to isolate oneself from relatives and friends.
While many helpline numbers have been set up to help women, it is not easy to slip in a call against your abuser when they are present with you all through the day. The cops have also been apathetic towards gender-based violence which is also shown by Nandita Das in the film.
'A call for help'
This situation prevails across the globe and not just in India.
The United Nations Secretary-General had to tweet asking governments around the world to also 'put women's safety first' as they deal with the ongoing pandemic. According to UN statistics, up to 70 per cent of women/girls have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. The pandemic is making it worse.
Peace is not just the absence of war. Many women under lockdown for #COVID19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) April 6, 2020
Today I appeal for peace in homes around the world.
I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/PjDUTrMb9v
It is important to look at problems within the home. It is important to break the silence and create a safe place for women in the society - pandemic or not.
Shot during the lockdown, the film was released on May 25 which also happened to be three months since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown was put in place.
Listen to Her shows us why we need to pay attention to abuse within the 'safe' zone we call 'home'. As Nandita writes in her YouTube channel, the film 'reminds us that speaking up is only possible when women know that there is someone listening'.
Watch Listen to Her here: