TheGlitz ‘Super Woman’ Smita Bharti, Executive Director, SAKSHI

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Smita Bharti

Smita Bharti is the Executive Director of SAKSHI, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to tackle gender inequality and sexual violence. She has designed Sakshi’s current flagship programme, The Rakshin Project. It is a programme reaching out to 40,000 students across India to prevent, prohibit, and eradicate child sexual abuse within families and trusted communities, educating young adults to become agents of change as preventors of harm.

Beyond her organisational leadership, Smita emerges as a distinguished poet and playwright. Her extensive body of work highlights prevailing societal disparities and oppression. Her endeavours have borne remarkable fruit, with over 30 plays and a web series gracing stages and screens, garnering accolades and awards.

As a research fellow affiliated with WISCOMP and the K.K. Birla Foundation, she delves into the core of pressing social issues, actively seeking pragmatic solutions, and fostering crucial dialogues. Her commitment to peace and justice has led her to become a Rotary Global Peace Fellow.

Living at the intersection of activism, arts, and advocacy, Smita Bharti’s life’s purpose to interrupt the cycle of gender-based violence has compelled her to break silences and face towering challenges with resilience. TheGlitz has more…

Your journey has had many momentous milestones. Could you tell us about the life-changing milestones that have moulded you to be what you are today?

Who am I today? is a question I ask myself every single day. Am I because of what I have lived through, or am I despite what I have lived through? Do I define my life through the lens of adversity, or do I sing the song of reclamation?

Today, I can easily divide my life into two halves. The first thirty years were spent living through the cycle of gender-based violence in multiple forms, and the next thirty years I have spent interrupting this cycle and dismantling the causes that kept me bound to violent structures simply through acquiring information, learning to read the subtext, healing the impact of trauma, and sharing my stories.

Emerging from an abusive marriage with my two children, I made a crucial decision that changed my life’s direction. For years, I struggled with the question “Why me?” as I endured the abuse silently. However, the day I found the strength to leave, I began a path of self-discovery and resilience. I faced the difficult choice of staying with the familiar yet abusive or moving into the unknown freedom of liberation. Instead of succumbing to despair, I stepped into uncertainty, guided only by my determination.

This marked the start of my journey towards self-compassion. I learned to hold space for myself and extend it to others who were trauma and abuse survivors. Two years later, I found myself at Sakshi, a rights-based NGO, where I found solace and purpose as a theatre practitioner. Amidst my healing journey, I felt a strong urge to support fellow survivors of domestic violence. Drawing on my passion for storytelling through theatre, I aimed to create a safe space for others to confront their past traumas with clarity and agency.

The power of theatre to transcend barriers and evoke empathy became a tool for facilitating healing and empowerment. Through performances, I aimed to break the chains of fear and self-doubt that held survivors back, empowering them to take control of their stories and redefine their futures.

In a society where sacrifice and martyrdom are often glorified, I strive to challenge norms that suppress and oppress to promote a culture of celebrating personal agency and choices.  I envision a world where each one of us is valued and supported, and rewriting our own story is met with solidarity and compassion.

As I continue my journey of self-discovery and healing, I am inspired by the resilience and courage of those I serve. Together, we embark on a journey of transformation, forging new narratives of strength and triumph over adversity.

Smita Bharti addressing an audience
Smita Bharti addressing an audience

What are the setbacks you have faced? How did you tackle these setbacks or challenges? And what lesson have you learned from it?

Setbacks and challenges are inevitable in any journey, especially one as transformative and challenging as overcoming cycles of abuse and trauma.

One significant setback I faced was the internal struggle and self-doubt that plagued me during my abusive marriage. For years, I grappled with feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness, questioning whether I deserved the abuse and whether I had the strength to break free.

Another setback I encountered was the societal stigma and judgement that often accompany being a survivor of domestic violence. Despite my best efforts to rebuild my life and advocate for change, I faced criticism and scepticism from those who couldn’t understand my choices or refused to acknowledge the systemic issues at play. To overcome this challenge, I leaned on my support network and found solace in knowing I was not alone. I also channelled my frustration into fuel for my activism, using my voice to challenge harmful stereotypes and advocate for survivors’ rights.

A key lesson I learned from these setbacks is the importance of resilience and self-compassion in the face of adversity. Recognising my worth and embracing my agency, I overcame insurmountable obstacles and created a new life.

Through this, I have emerged stronger and more determined than ever to continue fighting for a world where all individuals are valued, supported, and empowered to rewrite their narratives.

As life goes on, setbacks persist in various forms, but so do I. With determination and resilience, I have always found that the greater the setback, the more remarkable the comeback.

When you look back, what are the three qualities in you that have helped you become what you are today?

Looking back, three qualities that define me are resilience, empathy, and an unwavering pursuit of equality.

When suffering fragments come together, weaving together the myriad colours of adversity to form a beautiful tapestry, resilience is inevitably the binding thread. When, despite the darkest night, there is a tiny flicker of hope that doesn’t let you give up, resilience is born and becomes the guiding force.

Despite my deadening despair, I refused to be defeated. Instead, I summoned the strength to push forward and build a future for myself and my children. This resilience enabled me to overcome obstacles and setbacks, propelling me towards owning my choices, rewriting my story, and advocating for survivors of trauma and abuse.

Ever since childhood, I have been identified as a person with immense determination. Phrases like she is someone who never says die” and never quits midway were often used to define me. During the darkest moments of my life, with unwavering determination, I confronted the unknown and embraced my choices over choicelessness, however daunting the fear of the unknown was. This determination fueled a relentless pursuit of learning and seeking. It led me to find purpose as an executive director at Sakshi, an organisation committed to interrupting the cycle of gender-based violence at any cost and in all forms.

Drawing on my own experiences of trauma and a continuous quest for healing, I deeply empathise with fellow travellers, seeking to overcome the barriers of denial, silence, shame, and stigma surrounding their experiences of gender-based and sexual violence. I am committed to reclaiming my own agency and supporting others to find their voice and reclaim their agency. Through my work at Sakshi and the transformative power of theatre, I strive to create a safe space for survivors to confront their traumas and rewrite their narratives, dismantling the root causes that keep us bound to violent structures.

Smita Bharti with her team
Smita Bharti with her team

Who are the people who have been the wind behind your wings?

The wind beneath my wings includes the courage of the countless survivors, the resilience of my colleagues who doggedly persevere despite heartbreaking challenges, my family, which has supported me without doubt or question, and all those who have partnered with us and given strength to our shared vision of a world free from violence, ‘where the head is held high and the mind is without fear.’

Lastly, if there was a quote to define you, what would it be?

I have always turned to poetry and the power of words to uplift my spirit. Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’ is one I connect to very deeply. I tell myself every day that ‘we are but tiny birds, caught in the winds of time, living our sunshine.

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