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9th Anniversary of the Nirbhaya Case: A Chicago-based Artist Creates an Anti-memorial

December 16, 2021 marked the ninth anniversary of the dreadful Nirbhaya Case. The incidence of 2012 galvanized India in a way that had not been seen before and has not been seen since. The street demonstrations, protests, outrage, and surging idealism was unique and paved the way for the #MeTooIndia movement.

Nirbhaya the Superheroine

The Nirbhaya Case

9 years ago, on December 16, 2012, a 23-year old woman was brutally gang-raped in a moving bus in Munirka, Delhi, India. She was returning home with a friend after watching a movie, at about 8:30 at night. There were six men in the bus including the driver. They drove the bus around for 2 hours, during which she was brutally beaten, sexually tortured, and gang-raped repeatedly. At about 9:54 pm, she and her friend were thrown on the roadside naked in the cold December night. In India, it is against the law to identify a rape victim. So the media named the young woman, “Nirbhaya” which means fearless in Sanskrit. This given name, “Nirbhaya” became a rallying cry for the nation.

She fought for her life in the hospital, gave testimony about her attack, and identified the attackers. Unfortunately, after 13 days, despite the surgeries and round-the-clock care, Nirbhaya succumbed to her extensive injuries and died on December 29, 2012.

The brutality of the rape jolted the apathetic Indian public. Their protest further intensified after Nirbhaya’s death. It took 8 years of long and arduous legal battle fought by Nrbhaya’s parents to get the rapists prosecuted through India’s notoriously slow judicial system.

The most brutal of the rapists was 17 and got off with three years of remand custody in a detention juvenile center. One of the remaining five rapists committed suicide in jail while the remaining four rapists were hanged on March 20, 2020.

The Nirbhaya Project by Pritika Chowdhry

A Chicago-based socio-political artist and curator, Pritika Chowdhry, has created an anti-memorial as a fitting memorialization for Nirbhaya so that she may never be forgotten. Chowdhry acknowledges the courage with which Nirbhaya fought and how her brutal rape inspired a nation. She says, “While the number of rape cases every year is still disappointingly high, the Nirbhaya case is a landmark for India and a beacon of hope for what is possible when people come together to demand deep social and legal changes.” She recognizes the protests made for the Nirbhaya Case as “India’s Arab Spring, a unique Occupy movement”.

Chowdhry has used phrases like “The Fearless One”, “The Shero” and “The Superheroine” for Nirbhaya. She reimagines Nirbhaya as a Superheroine, whose superpower is that she can eradicate rape and sexual violence.

Nirbhaya reimagined as a Superheroine, drawing of an enlarged comic book panel, titled, “KAPOW”

She smartly connects the Nirbhaya case with the Me Too Movement by giving it new dimensions. Chowdhary makes a drawing of the superheroine Nirbhaya on an enlarged comic book panel, in which she states, “I’m becoming fearless.” Nirbhaya is answered by other budding Nirbhayas, “Me too!” This call-and-response interaction is inspiring and inclusive of other women to claim their inner superheroines and transform into fearless Nirbhayas.

Nirbhaya Superheroine says in an enlarged comic book panel, “I am Becoming Fearless,” and she is replied by many Nirbhayas, “#MeToo”

Nirbhaya’s Costume

Unlike traditional “Superheroines” presented as scantily clothed with perfectly sculpted bodies, Chowdhry presents Superheroine Nirbhaya as a strong woman, wearing comfortable clothes that would offer her agility and protection in combat. She has a cape that doubles as a coat, so it is practical. Her costume is all black and eschews the colorful and impractical costumes of conventional superheroine comics. Superheroine Nirbhaya’s costume is more like a Ninja’s costume, more authentic to her new role as a warrior.

Nirbhaya’s superheroine costume with mask overlaid. This drawing illustrates her transition into a superheroine, as she thinks, “I will become Nirbhaya.”

Nirbhaya’s Mask

Since Nirbhaya’s face was never revealed by her parents, Chowdhry chose to have Superheroine Nirbhaya wear a mask similar to the Anonymous mask. Chowdhry explains, “The Anonymous mask is an iconic symbol of protesters in the West and Middle East, and I felt that this would be a fitting way to depict Nirbhaya as representing an anonymous multitude of Indian women who have experienced rape and sexual violence.”

Nirbhaya reimagined as a Superheroine, drawing of an enlarged comic book panel, titled, “Who is Nibhaya?”

Chowdhry chooses to keep Nirbhaya’s mask distinctly feminine and Indian – adorned with a bindi, kohl, nose stud, and lip color.

Drawing of Nirbhaya’s mask

In her artwork, Chowdhry also pays tribute to the Sheroes like Asha Devi (Nirbhaya’s mother), Seema Kushwara (her lawyer), and activist, Yogita Bhayana, who fought hard to get justice for Nirbhaya. Chowdhry acknowledges Asha Devi as “the new face of Mother India”.

Asha Devi, Nirbhaya’s Mother

Chowdhry gives her voice to all the anonymous Nirbhayas through a prominent quote-

“We are the Anonymous Nirbhayas. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

Apart from the Nirbhaya project, some of the other anti-memorials of Pritika from her Partition Memorial Project seek to raise consciousness about the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war, particularly in ethno-religious conflicts. She says, “In historical narratives, the large-scale rapes are either not mentioned or if they are, they are alluded to euphemistically. This erasure of women’s experience of rape and sexual violence from national discourse and monuments is troubling, at many levels.”

About the Artist

The artist, Pritika Chowdhry, is a socio-political, activist artist, curator, and writer who make art about traumatic geopolitical events. Born and brought up in India, Pritika is currently based in Chicago, IL, USA. She has an MFA in Studio Art, and an MA in Visual Culture and Gender Studies. Pritika’s works are featured in prestigious museum and corporate collections. Through her art projects, Pritika makes anti-memorials, which flips the idea of traditional memorialization. ​Her large-scale sculptures and site-sensitive installations reference the body to memorialize unbearable and difficult memories.

Photo Credits

All Photos © Pritika Chowdhry, All Rights Reserved


Guest Author Bio
Akriti Khanna

The author, Akriti Khanna is a multi-venturer personified — she’s a lawyer, influencer, YouTuber, blogger, hobbyist, and an altruist. Her daily adventures focus on helping solopreneurs and individuals grow in their pursuit while achieving the best versions of themselves.

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