Sugandha Bansal is the creator and animator of a short film called "The Touch" that challenges the misconception in India (as elsewhere) that rapists are strangers who prey on unfamiliar and unprotected girls in public spaces. The final assignment to second year university students at Cambridge School of Art in England was a short animated film on a topic of their choosing. Sugandha was stirred by the recent uptick in coverage of brutal sexual assault in India and the way the ensuing panic manifested in counter-productive efforts and reinforced inequalities. "At the time I was very disturbed by the rapes happening in India and all over the world. So, I just decided to do something about it,” calling the journey of making the film "quite hard, really.” Watch Sugandha's stirring piece here and read on below for more about the film's backstory:
Before Sugandha began writing the poem and creating the animation, she researched statistics on rape in India and found that 98% of rapes were committed by "a neighbor, or a relative, or parents or family.” Sugandha was "shocked” because of how that contrasted starkly with the overriding belief that the time and place to fear sexual assault is outside of the home for unchaperoned girls and women. She describes the “terror and fear inside you” instilled in Indian parents and girls by the public outcry and hype / panic spurred by the recent spike of coverage of brutal and public rapes. When she found out that most rapes are occurring between known peoples in the literal and figurative home of family and trusted others she wanted her project to deliver the message that "It doesn’t just take place outside your home.”
Sugandha isn't able to show her film yet due to qualifying restraints for submission, but she plans to. One of the places she could show it is in a school run by her mother. There students have a curriculum that includes education about rape and sexual assault.
"I think it’s very important to provide sex education in India, because many parents feel uncomfortable talking about it, and kids don't realize there’s something wrong,” Sugandha said.
She goes on to say that while her mother is extraordinary in her commitment to teaching sex ed in her school, she is but one committed individual for so many needy pupils. "I know that she personally has talked to all the kids. The teachers have talked to all the kids about it and taught them what’s right and what’s not. And they take it very seriously, but there’s just so many students! India is a very, very populated country and the schools are hugely populated.”
This brings us to talking about how certain mediums can reach children and youth who might not otherwise get this education and support in their schools or homes. Animated media like Sugandha’s could join the likes of Priya’s Shakti as a way to educate youth about rape and sexual assault in formats that they already enjoy as well as understand.
"What do you do when a lot of people who are very uncomfortable talking about it and then you have huge populations and it’s just hard to actually get messages to them?” I suggest that Sugandha’s film could be a powerful tool to do just that. By using a medium that is both engaging and easily consumed like her animated film the message could be broadcast to groups in a format that they are more inclined to engage with and trust.
Sugandha embarked on this project because she wanted to show that "the touch that is supposed to be tender can also be brutal, and dirty [...] In a way that is short and effective.” And while she is buoyed by growing numbers of activists and supporters joining the fight to end rape and sexual assault in India, she recognizes there is still much more to be done. "The good thing is that many people are standing against it, because there were so many protests and many organizations did come together to protest against it. But the sad thing is it’s still happening.”
Sugandha’s film and others like hers could be a way to message young minds about a traumatic topic in a medium that is familiar and easy for them to understand. We hope she gets cleared to share this with her mother’s school and any other outlets willing and eager to use it as a sex education tool soon. We also hope that she creates more in the same service, joining the growing number of individuals and organizations using creative outlets to spread messages of support and awareness to challenge India’s rape culture.