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Talking about the incident made me a hashtag such as #rape, #victim, says Sapna Bhavnani

As her online post goes viral, Sapna Bhavnani says she doesn’t want to become just a hashtag.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul |
Updated: July 11, 2015 12:50:56 pm
talk, Sapna Moti Bhavnani, Humans of Bombay, #rape, hashtag, gangraped, , celebrity hairstylist, Nirbhaya, #victim,  #feminist, social media, Indian Express Bhavnani has acted in Yael Farber’s award-winning play Nirbhaya

A partition in glass and wood separates the air-conditioned section from the outdoor seating of the cafe. Pointing to the table near the exit, Sapna Moti Bhavnani says it’s where two days ago she shared her story on Humans of Bombay. “And we shot the picture right outside. After that, I went for my yoga session. When I came out, my post was all over the internet,” she says.

Bhavnani cannot fathom what made the post go viral for it isn’t the first time she has spoken about being gang raped outside a bar in Chicago about 20 years ago. “I’ve often voiced it as part of my spoken word poetry performances, albeit in third person,” says the 44-year-old celebrity hairstylist, who runs her salon Mad O Wot in Bandra. Born and brought up in the US in a Sindhi business family, Bhavnani moved to India a little more than a decade ago. An avid biker and fitness freak, Bhavnani has trained as a yoga instructor and has been writing and performing since the age of 14. However, the first time she narrated the incident as a rape survivor was as part of international theatre director Yael Farber’s award-winning play Nirbhaya. Since then she has spoken about it several times, across platforms.

Her narrative in the play shows as though she is being targetted by her perpetrators because of her bold appearance. She details her dress, the red lipstick she wore among other things. “It would have been easy for me to skip that bit and not mention I was drunk. But it’s important to talk about why the way a woman looks, dresses or behaves doesn’t make it okay to rape them,” says Bhavnani, who dismisses politicians who demand that women dress “modestly” to ensure their safety or blame their appearance for sexual crimes against them. Today, she’s dressed in a crop top and track pants, a dozen-odd tattooed embellishing her arms, neck and belly. The traditional gold studs and nose ring stand out against the current colour of her short crop, white.

While her writing and yoga helped Bhavnani overcome the trauma, the experience of being judged by her looks has continued in the form of quiet stares, and as verbal abuse. But it doesn’t bother her anymore. “When I moved to India a decade ago, people would react like that because I was an uncommon sight, so I don’t blame them. Today, there’s great acceptability,” admits Bhavnani, who was a participant on Bigg Boss Season 6.

Her post has since received over 75,000 likes and has been widely shared across social media. “In Ireland for a show of Nirbhaya, I met a woman who had watched my performance. She told me, when she saw me tell my story on stage, I came across as vulnerable, as if it were rotting me from within. I realised she was right,” says Bhavnani, who has since stopped performing in Nirbhaya. Recounting the traumatic experience on stage was like reliving the trauma each time, making her feel like a “victim”, which she says she isn’t. “Besides, the play was about talking of the incident. I realise that talking about it has made me a series of hashtags, such as #rape, #victim. Whereas, all I want is to be #feminist.”

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