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Home > Sunday Mid Day News > Were putting our unhealed wounds out there

‘We’re putting our unhealed wounds out there’

Updated on: 14 April,2024 06:13 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Gautam S Mengle |

An aunt seeks to address the growing menace of cyber-harassment by telling the story of how she lost her niece

‘We’re putting our unhealed wounds out there’

Brush Of Hope, an art exhibition, is a tribute to 25-year-old Swara Bangad, who died by suicide after being sextorted for a year in 2023, while also a stand against cyber harassment. One wall at the gallery is filled with Swara’s own paintings

A stroll through the latest exhibition at The Designera in Lower Parel feels like a stepping into someone’s bedroom, an intrusion into the most personal recesses of someone’s life. Watercolour paintings adorn one wall, large exhibits another. All of them tell the story of one person; Swara Bangad.

Swara was 25-years-old when she was lost to suicide a year ago, on the occasion of Gudi Padwa on March 22, 2023. The day began on a normal note; she went up to the terrace of her house in Akola, raised the traditional Gudi—and then took the extreme step. Her shattered parents had no idea how to deal with the shock. Neither did her aunt Sheetal Gagrani, a UK based consulting Radiologist, who is a Mumbai native and was Swara’s favourite aunt. Her husband, Bhushan Gagrani, is the current Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai. 

The exhibition is a organised by Swara’s aunt Sheetal Gagrani, who, after Swara’s death, found out about her ordeal and helped her parents file a complaint. Pics/Kirti Surve ParadeThe exhibition is a organised by Swara’s aunt Sheetal Gagrani, who, after Swara’s death, found out about her ordeal and helped her parents file a complaint. Pics/Kirti Surve Parade

“Swara did her MBBS in Mumbai and I had helped her set up her house back then. She loved to visit us, and the view from our Marine Drive residence,” she points to one of the paintings on the wall as she tells us this. It is a watercolour recreation of the view of Queens’ Necklace from the window of the Gagrani residence.

After Swara’s death, Gagrani started combing through her niece’s belongings to look for clues. The initial assumption was that she was depressed because she hadn’t done well in her NEET PG exams, but this was negated after Gagrani found strips and strips of antidepressants in Swara’s room.

Hitesh Gilder Hitesh Gilder 

“We didn’t even know if she was self-prescribing or if she was seeing a counsellor; we still don’t know. But the more we spoke to her friends and cousins, the more we learned about how much she was struggling. A man who befriended her posing as a woman on Instagram had been sextorting her for a year before we lost her. The revelation came as a shock,” Gagrani says.

She and Swara’s parents gathered as much information about the matter as they could and submitted it to the Maharashtra Cyber police late last year. The police went on to arrest a 23-year-old native of Yavatmal, who was pursuing his MBA from Telegana at the time of his arrest. The police found evidence to indicate that he had also targeted other young women in the past.

Gagrani and Swara in a file photoGagrani and Swara in a file photo

The decision to tell Swara’s story to the world, however, was not an easy one. Her parents still deal with a lot of guilt; the tendency to blame themselves is always their first reaction to the tragedy, even a year down the line. Besides, there is society’s compulsive need to blame the victim.

“Even the people we have met over the last few days to discuss a larger effort against cyber-harassment have shown this mentality. They talk about how they ‘make sure their children are not in bad company’ but fail to realise that the victim is, quite simply, a victim. Something as horrendous is this should be viewed as the perpetrator’s fault, not the victim’s. There are housewives who are at home all day and are still targeted online. Predators don’t discriminate when choosing their victims,” says Gagrani, obviously annoyed by some of the reactions she is getting.

She adds that the only way to dispel the stigma is to fight it, and that is exactly what the exhibition, Brush Of Hope, aims to do.

“We’re also trying to show how hard it is for parents to be able to identify what their child is going through, and how it isn’t always easy to for victims to reach out for help. Swara was surrounded by people she grew up with, but was unable to get the right help for her situation,” Gagrani says.

Apart from Swara’s own paintings, it also features paintings and installations by other artists.

Two acrylic recreations of the pages of Swara’s journal catch our eye. They look like several pages, crumpled and placed together, with actual notes from Swara’s journal painted over them. In the center is Swara’s photo.

“Of course it wasn’t easy,” says artist Hitesh Gilder, who made both pieces. “All I could do after reading those pages was sit in my office quietly for 15 to 20 minutes, my brain stunned, my mind not working. But it also fuelled me in my effort to ensure that I did justice to her memory.”

We come to the end of our stroll through the gallery and stop at an exhibit—Swara’s actual diary, with the page turned to show entries from January last year. It details her spiral into depression and helplessness and an attempt she made on her own life that month, too disturbing to describe.

We walk out of the gallery with the haunting words echoing in our mind, just as a group of school students enter and curiously start looking at Swara’s paintings.

Brush Of Hope 
The Designera, Lower Parel
Till April 20 
Entry Free

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