Author Sujata Parashar voices the anger of a victim of sexual violence through her novel

Sujata Parashar feels that fiction can help to articulate sentiments on contentious issues. Photo: M. Moorthy/THE HINDU  

At the threshold of a new year, the lack of women’s safety remains unresolved in India, buried under problems like citizenship registers and the failing economy. Stories of brutalisation and gang rapes of women, sadly, continue to make national headlines.

December is a particularly harsh month, because this is when in 2012, physiotherapy intern ‘Nirbhaya’ was raped and fatally assaulted by six men on a public bus in Delhi. Though Nirbhaya succumbed to her injuries after a few weeks, the case continues to make news notably for the legal moves being made by the 3 surviving convicts against capital punishment.

The outrage sparked by the incident led to an overhaul of Indian laws on women’s safety, but as later reports of gang rapes and assaults show, much more can be done.

But what if the survivor was given a chance to settle scores, not through kangaroo courts or a long-drawn judicial process, but through a well-planned revenge saga?

That’s the basic premise of The Temple Bar Woman, a racy novel by Delhi-based author Sujata Parashar, where the protagonist Radha is a rape survivor who takes it upon herself to hunt down her attacker, a powerful politician.

Inspired by the Nirbhaya rape incident, The Temple Bar Woman’s thematic immediacy makes it a page-turner. “While the whole country stood for Nirbhaya, sharing her anguish as she struggled for her life, a section of people still blamed her for going out to watch a movie with her male friend at night, despite clear evidence against her perpetrators,” Sujata writes in the introductory note to her book.

But a new era of openness has made it possible for gender parity and sexual harassment to be discussed more widely, she adds.

“The #MeToo movement has made women go public with the trauma that they have undergone silently for years. Potential sexual predators are more wary now, because there’s a new element of accountability,” says Sujata, who was in Tiruchi recently for a conference organised by Bishop Heber College. “Men have now to be very careful about how they approach women, and the respect that should be given to them, which wasn’t there before. Corporate culture is changing as well. New Age parents have started to re-examine the values that they instil in their children.”

Departure from usual

Sujata worked in the travel and tourism industry in India and Singapore before becoming a full-time novelist and poet. Much of her work is also influenced by her experience in social development projects.

Known initially for her In Pursuit... series of novels that explore modern mores among city dwellers, The Temple Bar Woman (published in 2018) is a departure in both style and theme for Sujata.

“The trigger for all my books has been an observation, a question, (to which I could not find a satisfactory answer) or a disturbing event and its possible impact on the human mind and emotional state. The Temple Bar Woman, for instance, is a story of a brave sexual assault survivor who refuses to play the victim card and persists in her mission despite all odds,” she says.

The novel is set in a fictional province called Agria Pradesh. “As a writer of popular fiction, I have to entertain my readers with a good story. Two of my books have been signed up to be adapted as films. You could call them Bollywoodish stories, but all of them have a serious message or subtle theme,” she says.

Originally published as a short story in 2015, research for the full-fledged novel took her into rural India, and also to the red light areas in Delhi and Singapore.

“Of course, my publishers do nudge me to write stories (in the genre) I’m popular for. However with The Temple Bar Woman, I wanted to bring out a story of female fortitude and gumption. The book is my tribute to the ‘Nirbhayas’ of this world,” she says.

Need to get real

Sujata is also the founder of Talk It Out Express, a platform mediated by a team of therapists and counsellors to encourage people to have real conversations and identify distress triggers.

Social media has led to a lot of public posturing at the cost of real emotions, she says. “Everything is done with the aim of showing how cool our lives are or how accomplished, beautiful, talented or great we are. While that is fine to an extent, life is not all about happy stuff. There are challenges and struggles that do have an impact on our emotional health. To suppress, hide or ignore our emotional well-being is harmful. My platform aims to assist people recognise, understand and express their emotions effectively for better living through expressive art and talk therapy,” Sujata explains.

The Temple Bar Woman, published by Vishwakarma Publications, is available in all leading bookstores and online.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 7:13:42 PM |

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