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Agni By Sithara S. Is the Story Of A Rape Victim’s Non-Violent Revenge

S. Sithara’s extraordinary short story 'Agni', translated as, 'Fire' depicts the story of Priya, a girl gang raped by three men and the way she protests against this brutal and heinous act.

[Trigger warning: rape, violence, human traffickining]

The term ‘rape’ has become a part of the active vocabulary of multitudes across the globe. The stories of vulnerable rape victims and sexually assaulted women folk hit every day’s newspaper irrespective of the follow-up stories of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the FIFA World Cup, and the list goes on.

The celluloid medium with a duration spanning two to three hours has also been depicting the pathetic plight of rape victims with all its harrowing visual and emotional images.

The sagas of rape and rape victims have garnered expression in the creative scapes through fiction and non-fiction. They have become a part of the academic parlance as well.

The acclaimed American writer Mark Twain has been right in stating that truth is stranger than fiction.

The GoFundMe campaign for the Iowa Teen Pieper Lewis deserves mention here. Pieper who was then 15 and a victim of human trafficking, killed the man who raped her multiple times. She was ordered by the judge to pay 15000 dollars to the family of her alleged rapist.

Pieper Lewis has been in the news and social media for the past few weeks. The fire that was burning within her made Pieper Lewis stab Zachary Brooks.

No family, society, or government machinery could stymie her from the decision to punish the victim in her way. Albeit truth is stranger than fiction, some creative outpourings make one feel, sense, and sympathize with the victim.

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No one causes rape but rapists!

In her memoir, Girl in the Woods, Aspin Matis says:

“She told me that my rape was not my fault, that I should feel no shame, that – simple as it may sound – I hadn’t caused it. No one causes rape but rapists. No one causes rape but rapists. No one causes rape but rapists. It was true. And it had not been obvious to me. And hearing it from someone else, a professional, someone who should know, helped me believe that soon I would believe it.”

Pondering deeply over these words makes one ascertain that rape is not the fault of the victims and they should not feel that it has marked the end of their life. Let’s go through one such story that carries all the burning flames of a rape victim or a sexually battered being.

S. Sithara’s story unravels the plight of a rape victim

S.Sithara’s short story entitled ‘Agni’ (Fire) unravels the plight of the protagonist Priya and how she reacts and responds to it. S. Sithara is a Frontline short story writer in Malayalam, born and raised in Kasaragod, Kerala.

All of her stories share a distinct individuality with the novel way of approach. Most of her stories carry the motif of women and the issues revolving in, around, and within the so-called weaker sex.

She has succeeded in depicting new roots and routes of exploring womanhood and sexuality in the Malayalam literary realm. The misfortunes and issues of women are dealt with a poignant and poised style of expression through her word smithy.

Her stories mainly focus on the oppression of women and sexuality in public domains. Her characters do not wish to take the often beaten tracks of passivity and subservience. They choose the road less traveled and depict their reactions to the atrocities in a self-satiating manner.

Her characters do not intend to waste their time thinking of fate. They try to move ahead in life rather than ending their lives out of shame and dishonor. Circumstances make her women characters rebellious and fight against the injustice shown to them by the hegemonic patriarchal society.

Her awards and accolades for her writing comprise the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award, Gita Hiranyan award, and Kendra Sahitya Akademi Yuvasahitya award. She also translated the works of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai into Malayalam.

‘Fire’ (Agni) is the short story that earned Sithara the fame of a notable women writer in Malayalam. ‘Fire’ is the story of Priya, the girl who is gang-raped by three men.

The typical woman as depicted previously various other narratives, in this situation, should think about suicide. But Priya subverts all the conventional practices. Sithara made a mark of her own with her collection of stories entitled Agni and Stories.

It’s overt from the title how Agni (Fire) stands out from all the rest in the creative sphere of this firebrand writer. The story written almost a decade ago has created a stir in the literary sphere.

How can a victim take her revenge?

S. Sithara’s extraordinary short story “Fire” depicts the story of a girl gang raped by three men and the way she protests against this brutal and heinous act.

The story originally written in Malayalam has been translated into English by R.K. Jayasree. It has been adapted into a short film as well. Priya, the protagonist of “Fire” does not wish to be treated with sympathy and remain like a victim.

Her small triumphs in the form of questioning masculinity give her great satisfaction.

In an interview given to Samyukta journal, Sithara shared her views on creating a character like Priya:

“Violence against women is on the increase now. Once when I was writhing with moral indignation at the situation, the image of a girl came to my mind — a girl who in her special way, takes vengeance upon her violators. That’s how ‘Fire’ broke out. But after writing the story, I felt the character was not even half powerful as I intended her to be”

“Fire” has generated a lot of discussions and debates in academic circles for the unorthodox rendition of an incident like rape. The aura of gang rape, physical abuse, verbal abuse, shame, humiliation, revenge, masculinity in question, love, and triumph comes into the ambit of the short story.

Spoliers for Agni

Priya who is gang raped by Sanjeev, Ravi, and the stripling feels she is “the most humiliated woman on earth”. Someone has even taken the claim of her menstrual blood, which hitherto had solely been her own. Though she felt she has become the most dispossessed woman, she goes to the office as usual.

She happens to meet the ones who raped her the other day. They warn her not to disclose anything to anyone and that they won’t mind killing her and her people.

The volley of abusive words was followed by a query by Sanjeev, the first one to rape her; how did it feel yesterday? His smiling face darkened into a scowl with her unexpected reply; “You were simply not up to the mark. You don’t pack enough punch. I don’t think you will ever be able to satisfy a woman.’

Then she turned towards Ravi. ‘But I liked you very much. You are a real man.’ Touching his cheek lightly once and looking from one face to the other, both of which were full of suspicion and consternation, she climbed the steps and walked away.” This befitting reply in fact questions and ridicules the masculinity of Sanjeev.

Priya subverts all the expected reactions of a rape victim

Contrary to the expectations of the conservative society and the inquisitive readers, Priya does not think of committing suicide. There’s not even a stain of depression making her confined to the corner of the house. The typical woman, in this situation, should think about suicide. But Priya subverts all the conventional practices.

The next week Priya goes every day to Sanjeev’s booth to make phone calls. She calls up all her friends whose numbers she knows and talks to them, watching, in a spirit of revenge, the feeling of inferiority creeping over his face every time he saw her.

Each time she reminds herself that there is nothing that gives greater satisfaction than small triumphs. Priya tries to find happiness in small and simple ways by humiliating Sanjeev and Ravi.

Priya’s revenge took the form of love and she told Ravi that she liked him. Ravi was the stranger with lust in his eyes and that started haunting her thoughts.

She was her first man in every sense. It was only later that she realized it was him. When Ravi dominated Priya that day, it was a sense of shame that she felt at first.

But she began to like him and felt that the others’ acts of domination only provided a yardstick to measure him. Her blood and tears would crave for him. He was the prison cell she could not afford to leave. Ravi turns out to be in a prison cell and his love becomes revenge for Priya.

Ravi has dominated her or locked her up in a prison cell of physical humiliation. Ravi captivated Priya in the prison cell and she evoked a feeling of love in him. Priya saw the tears in his eyes and Ravi sat watching her smile.

Her love is capable of hurting him. Priya has emerged triumphant in showing vengeance in her simple satisfactory ways.

A story of revenge formed by small triumphs

‘Fire’ is a tale of revenge and small triumphs. A woman is always burning with desire. Just like the flames of fire, she is also burning and brimming in her life. She does not wish to surrender her highly spirited self to those who had taken the claim even on her menstrual blood.

Priya stands as an epitome of a spirited girl who wishes to fight against all odds with her small triumphs and revenge.

When Sithara’s “Agni” written in Malayalam becomes “Fire” in English, a lot of changes do happen. Language being the spokesperson of a particular locale is capable of rendering the flavor and favor of local.

Translating Agni into Fire brought it to the global auidence

When a text is translated from the source to the target language, there emanates a new text somewhere standing in between the nuances of both languages. Albeit there are concerns of untranslatability, it’s the need of the hour to translate a text from a local reader perspective to a global one.

Language turns out to be universal rather than remaining as regional or national. Sithara’s “Agni” written in the Malayalam language is heard across the alien shores only because of the possibilities of translation.

Above all, fictional images of rape and rape victims are there in almost all languages. The transit of sagas through the arena of translation makes them reach a greater audience.

Wider reach and rampant discussions on the hotcake sort of topics in academic, literary, social, and political forums will bring out a sea change into something rich and strange.

Let’s thrive for a better world and indulge in a creative world War Against Rape.


  • Matis, Aspen. Girl in the Woods:A Memoir, William Morrow, 2015
  • Sithara, S. Agniyum Kadhakalum, Kozzhikode: Mathrubhoomi Books, 2004
  • Samyukta: A Journal of Gender And Culture

Image source: Still from the Agni Short Film, edited on CanvaPro.

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About the Author

Dr. Aparna Ajith

Anvik Baby's Mom/ An Assistant Professor in English/ Author of 'Musings of Venus'/ A Freelance Journalist. Above all, an epic weirdo with an unfading zest for life and its exhilarating/exhausting journeys! read more...

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