“When I was 18, I was molested by my college professor,” Smita Sharma tells Quartz. “He was a very respected man, and when I tried to share what happened, no one was ready to listen. They asked me to keep my mouth shut. I lost my self-confidence and buried all the anger inside of me.”
So the young photographer took up her camera. Since 2014, the now-35-year-old photographer has called on lawyers, NGOs and friends to help her find, hear and document the stories of rape and sexual assault across India.
Her project, called “Chronicles of Courage,” is a portrait series of Indian rape survivors. According to Amnesty International, almost 322,000 sex crimes were recorded against women in India in 2014, including almost 37,000 cases of rape.
“My cousin, Kamalika Das, was 13 years old when she was molested by one of her classmates inside the school during school hours,” Sharma tells Quartz. “When she filed a complaint against the boy, the school principal humiliated her and asked her to keep her mouth shut.”
“For the next four years, every time my cousin did something wrong—even the smallest thing—she was accused of “looking for attention.” In Jan. 2015, she did not complete an assignment, and she and her mother were called to the principal’s office and were humiliated. Her mother was told that she had done a terrible job raising her daughter, who would likely have a very dark future. That day, my cousin went home, wrote a suicide note, and jumped from the top of a building.”
Sharma’s cousin died that day, aged 17. ”What happened with me and my cousin happens on daily basis in India,” she says. “My goal of this project is to show the faces of survivors, and to show them as human beings. When the Indian media report a rape, they never show the victim’s face. They only focus on where the rape happened and when.”
“Sexism exists in every country, but the levels are different,” says Sharma. “If you want to make a change, you have to change the mindset of both men and women. Start by treating sons and daughters equally.”