Actor Bhavana, the survivor in a 2017 sexual assault case broke her silence on the incident and its aftermath while speaking to journalist Barkha Dutt at the Global Townhall 2022 event titled ‘We the Women’ programme, hosted by The Mojo Story.
Bhavana was sexually assaulted in a moving vehicle in February 2017 allegedly by men hired by actor Dileep, who is a top name in the Malayalam film industry. The case is being heard in court currently, and Dileep is accused of being the mastermind of the assault. She made it clear in the interview that this was not going to be a ‘tell-all’, since she is legally bound to not disclose certain details as the trial is underway. Admitting she was nervous about speaking out, and visibly shaken, Bhavana spoke out about the incident that happened in February 2017, turning her whole life upside down.
Transcript of the conversation between Bhavana Menon and Barkha Dutt:
Barkha Dutt – What made you come out of that anonymous space? where you wrote on your Instagram – Today I’m a survivor. I am not a victim.
Bhavana – First of all, I’m so happy to be here and let me tell you I’m very nervous and I’m feeling so emotional right now. So thank you so much once again.
Barkha Dutt – Thank you. I know how difficult it is to come and speak. So I thank you and I promise you that we don’t have to talk about anything that you’re uncomfortable about. So please this is a safe space for you to be exactly who you want to be.
Bhavana – Yeah. So there is always this buzz on social media right now that this is a tell-all. So, I want to clarify for them that it’s definitely not a tell-all. It is because I’m legally binded not to disclose certain details of my case because its subject is ongoing.
Well, you asked me about the victim to survivor journey so it happened on 2017 February 17th. So when it happened to me my whole life has turned upside down. And I don’t know. I was constantly maybe my mind was constantly searching for something or somebody to find and like you know so that I can put the blame on and I’ll have an easy exit. Because it was like constant chaos in my mind, why did it happen? and you know why me? and so many questions and so I started finding I was constantly searching for something to put the blame on, so that I’d feel good maybe. For instance I was thinking, I lost my father in 2015. Maybe if he was alive this wouldn’t have happened to me. Maybe if I didn’t have that shooting on the next day, this wouldn’t have happened to me. So many what if’s. And then I used to think that maybe it’s like a long nightmare. Once I get up in the morning then everything will be back to normal. There are many times I desperately wanted to go back to that time before it happened. So that I could change everything, that my life will be normal. So suddenly this assaulted actress, this victim tag and so many things all together. So I was blaming myself. Every time I think about this incident or what happened after that again, it was like a loop. I’ll come back to where I started and I’ll blame myself. So I was thinking yeah it happened to me. It’s my fault.
The blame game was going on for a very long time and then my trial happened in 2020 and I had to go to court for 15 days. Those 15 days when I was in the court was a whole different level of traumatic experience altogether. So, on that last day, after 15 hearings, I came out of that court feeling like a survivor. That’s when I realized that I’m a survivor. I’m not a victim anymore, that I could survive this and I am not just standing up for myself but also for the dignity of all the girls who will come after me. So that’s when I realized or maybe my mind finally convinced me that I’m a survivor, not a victim anymore. So that’s how I explained it.
Q. What you talk about, blaming yourself – that’s a very common response that happens actually with those who have experienced abuse and harassment. Somehow we end up thinking that we must have done something. If we had done something differently maybe we could have avoided it. So this is one of the most common things that happens with survivors of sexual abuse but you know you were also taking on a very very powerful man and he was in the same industry as you. And while there are people who have stood with you and I know after your Instagram post for example Mammootty and Mohanlal were among men who came forward and said we stand with you Bhavna. It must have been extremely lonely. I know that the Kerala Women’s Collective was fighting on your behalf but your name was never revealed till you decided to own your own battle.
Where did you find the strength to own your battle, put your name and face to it as you are doing at this moment?
A. See, the five years journey was very very difficult for me. The discussions and debates all happen in channels when something like this happens. So, when this happened in 2017, a huge number of people were standing by me, they were supporting me. But then there is another group of people who are comfortably sitting in some channels and talking about me. They don’t even know me. Some random people saying things like she shouldn’t have done that, she shouldn’t have travelled that night. It’s just seven o’clock in the evening we are talking about. So they were sort of accusing me for what happened, maybe blaming me. At the same time, there was this kind of negative PR or propaganda happening in social media. It says that it was premeditated. I staged this and it’s a fake case. I made it up. I’m just faking it. And all that things that was very very very painful to see, to listen, to know. I was devastated. Something so unfortunate happened to me in my life and I was devastated and I was broken into a million pieces. While I was trying to pick those pieces up and then try to stand up and you know to face life again, these kinds of things were like pulling me down. Again and again and again. When they were talking about things like staged this and it was premeditated and hurtful things like that and they were very hard with their words, they were very comfortable saying that. So sometimes I wanted to scream on top of my lungs to these people saying that. My parents didn’t raise me like that, that was like an insult to my parents, to my family. I am not a person who will do such a thing. I am not an evil person. See my dignity was already snatched away from me. Yet I was victim-shamed and it was very easy for so many of them. It was very easy for them to just pull me down again. So that hurt me really bad. I was very very very hurting. It was very painful. Luckily, I was not on social media during that time. so that that personal attack maybe I dodged that toxicity bullet. I joined Instagram in 2019. Even then I did get some messages, asking me to like why don’t you go and die, why don’t you go kill yourself and how are you living like this aren’t you shamed or you’re going to pay for what you did and all these things. I’m like what did I do? So the journey was very painful.
So when I posted on Instagram four weeks back, in January, I just wanted to put it out there. I just wanted to let people know that this is what has been happening in my life and I’m so grateful for those who stood by me. When I put it out there it was very cathartic.