Supported by IDRC and Goethe-Institut/MMB



In 2016 Zubaan completed a three-and-a-half year IDRC-supported research project entitled the Sexual Violence and Impunity (SVI) project, which looked at recent histories of sexual violence in five countries in South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka). It examined the silences that exist around the issue, as well as the structures that enable a lack of accountability on the part of perpetrators. The extensive research conducted by participants in the project illuminated existing blind spots in law, police, medical and court practices, and the taboos that exist is families, communities and educational institutions around sexuality, violence and harassment and which ensure that sexual violence remains unspoken and unaddressed. It also explored the different articulations of justice for individual victims/survivors and their communities. Fifty-five research papers were commissioned that covered law, medical and forensic issues, historical perspectives, militarization, states of exception and more. The project helped to put together a community of (mostly young) researchers and brought out the results of the research in six country-based volumes – four of which have been published so far – as well as two stand-alone books.

Aims and objectives

Stepping Stones (supported by IDRC and implemented jointly by Zubaan, India and Panos South Asia, Nepal) and Body of Evidence (supported by Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan) builds on the SVI project and aims to take the work further. The overall objective of the project is to work through creative forms such as theatre, art and poetry, in order to create the social space for what we hope will be open, transformatory dialogues with youth on understanding structures of violence, particularly sexual violence and impunity. Through this, and through the sharing of inspirational stories, we hope to work towards encouraging youth to become active and key champions of the battle against sexual violence.

This project therefore intends to make a beginning in doing this by focusing on young students and professionals in two countries: Nepal and India. While our attempt will be to engage young people, particularly in schools and colleges, in discussions on the many issues that underlie sexual violence and sexuality, we will focus on the following key areas:

  • The medical, forensic and the legal: to raise questions about medical knowledge, medical practices, forensic practices and legal protocols in relation to issues of sexual violence. We already have a strong backing for this in the work that is available in the SVI project on these issues (for example as in the work of CEHAT, a Mumbai based group whose focus is medical protocols, or in the work of Dr Harihar Wasti from Nepal and other groups who have similar preoccupations).
  • In the SVI project, the following areas were identified as sites of impunity for sexual violence, and areas for further work: (a) Transgender individuals and communities on the LGBTQ spectrum and the particular ways in which lives are affected to make sexual violence difficult to address (b) people of marginalized work identities like sex workers who experience institutional exclusion and inability to access justice or even to be protected in the eyes of the law, and (c) Brahmanical patriarchy and how it plays out via sexual violence, on the bodies of Dalit, Adivasi and tribal women.
  • The project will also showcase, through social media and in other ways, positive stories of young people and the processes of change they are engaged in. We hope that these stories will act as inspirations for their peers.
  • Overall, this project will attempt to spread knowledge, raise awareness, create a civic sense of responsibility about issues of sexual violence among young people.
Activities under the project

The project is currently organizing multiple theatre and script development workshops across project locations in India and Nepal. The script development workshops, currently planned in Chandigarh, Kathmandu, Guwahati and Bangalore are being held from November 2018 till March 2019. Theatre groups, activists, students and writers are a part of the workshops to translate the academic work under SVI in creative ways to make it more accessible.

The second year of the project will culminate in the production of the performances as an outcome from the workshops. These performances will take place in various colleges, law universities and medical schools across the project locations, i.e. Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Karnataka and Kathmandu. The workshops will be followed by discussions on sexual violence and impunity. A regional workshop is also being planned in the final stages of the project to bring together the diverse groups working on sexual violence through creative mediums and to exchange learnings from their experiences.

In Delhi NCR, performances have already begun and will continue throughout the project period in collaboration with veteran theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao and theatre practitioner Mallika Taneja.