'Slumdog' star: Rape could happen to me
03:03 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated that a woman traveling with her 10-year-old son to New Delhi “had been dragged off a train, gang raped, strangled and then hanged.” Police in Bhagalpur, Bihar State, tell CNN medical evidence does not point to sexual assault, and that the case is being treated as suicide.

Story highlights

Recent gang rapes in India have grabbed the world's attention

Actress Freida Pinto grew up in India and has worked for girls education awareness

"We need to keep the protest alive," she says

In an incident eerily similar to a sexual assault that sent shock waves worldwide, Indian police say a woman was gang-raped over the weekend by seven men after she boarded a bus at night.

Police have arrested all seven suspects, including the bus driver, after the alleged Friday night attack in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab state.

Actress Freida Pinto, best known for her “Slumdog Millionaire” role, talked to CNN’s Erin Burnett about her own experience and what it’s going to take the change the situation forever.

CNN: As a woman growing up in India, do these stories shock you?

Freida Pinto: Growing up in India, I remember picking up the newspaper almost every day, and by the time you reach the fourth and the fifth page, there’d be a little column in the corner that would be dedicated to a rape case that was reported.

And the sad part is that those rape cases are just reported, and there was no follow-up after that. It kind of made me wonder as a girl growing up in India if forever as a girl, I would have to live in the fear of this might just happen to me.

The challenges of being a woman in India

CNN: What was your reaction when you found out about the rape of the 23-year-old woman, the one that has galvanized the world? … Were you surprised when that rape, given what you said about it being in the paper every day, when that rape was the one that inspired and motivated people?

Pinto: In a way, actually, I was. What was shocking was the reaction. And I think it was a very appropriate and much required reaction. Would have been wonderful if it happens many, many years ago, but the fact that it happened finally is what is really important. I hope these voices don’t die out, because what happens in situations like I was telling you, even growing up, just reading about them and you read them every day, and it’s sickening to read them every day, to the point that you don’t want to read it after a while.

And I hope it doesn’t reach a stage as that, that you kind of let it pass. You want something to be done, and these voices cannot be shut down anymore. And the youth are so powerful, so they need to continue.

CNN: This has been a part of what you are and what you have been fighting for. Professionally, you played a victim of sexual violence in two films, “Trishna” and your breakthrough role, of course, as Latika in the award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” … When you look at (those films), is that dramatized, or is that a reflection of reality?

Take action to change the world for girls

Pinto: Well, denigration of women in society, in a misogynistic society, is not uncommon. It’s heard of, and it happens not just in India, but it happens in so many parts of the world.

We women as actors, we portray these roles in the hope that someone will listen and want to make a change and not just a film role that was played and then forgotten or just praised for the performance of how good the film was.

CNN: I know you experienced firsthand, the fear of men. And I know your mother did also.

Pinto: Right. One of her first horrifying experiences was when she was traveling, and she had one of these men on a delivery bike decided to kick her in the chest for a good feel, if you please, and he sped away with a laugh on his face. And my mother was so petrified, so shocked, she did not know how to react at that point in time. So she decided to carry stones in her bag so she could attack him the next time she saw him.

You never really think it could happen to you, right? So you continue with your everyday life. It’s not about the dress you wear or the kind of clothes you wear, because how would you then explain the rape of a 4-year-old child or a 65-year-old woman? You wouldn’t be able to explain that.

So you continue living, thinking, “I’m going to be fine.” And then one fine day, you’re just marked for such brutality.

CNN: Now, Freida, we keep hearing that the young woman’s rape will spark change in India, but the two rapes that have happened since that horrific act are barbaric also, as we described. Do you think anything will change, or will there just be a hue and an outcry, and it will essentially go back to the way it was before?

Pinto: I love being an optimist, even in situations like this, because that’s all you can do after a while. As soon as you become cynical, you kind of end up living a life of extreme dread and fear as well.

And I want to be hopeful, and so, I want to live in the hope that this change can happen. It’s not going to happen overnight, and we are not going to be idealists about that. It’s going to take time.

But that’s why I feel we cannot be once again put into a situation of forced amnesia. We need to keep this fight alive. We need to keep the protest alive.

Do the math: Girls + education = …