‘Humein natak mein insaaf mila hai’
… say the eight survivors of sexual and caste-based violence, who have embraced the stage to tell their story of fear and freedom. Their play ‘Main Yahan Hoon: 8 Mahila, Ek Shareer’ will be performed in Bengaluru as part of Maraa’s ‘October Jam’
By Reema Gowalla
For most actors, the stage is where they come alive, under the glare of spotlights. And then, there are non-performers who embrace theatre by chance and find it so transformative that they decide to stay an artiste for life. One such heart-warming story is the highlight of Bengaluru-based media and arts collective Maraa’s annual arts festival — the October Jam. What began in 2018 as a project on researching and documenting cases of sexual violence against women from marginalised communities has eventually led to the formation of a theatre collective. And Freeda Theatre Group is now ready to showcase their devised performance on beauty, violence and freedom, at different venues in Bengaluru, as part of the fest.
Main Yahan Hoon: 8 Mahila, Ek Shareer, as the title suggests, is a play about women, their bodies and the crimes they face. A bunch of women — the youngest among them being 18 and eldest 42 — have come together to form an arts collective. They belong to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and are living and working in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Yes, they have reeled under casteism and patriarchy, with meagre or no support from family or loved ones, while courts, police and the medical system have also neglected them. But mind you, they are not seeking refuge in theatre or only trying to convey their plight through the arts. Instead, they identify themselves as artistes, who come with stories of dreams and desires, aspirations and hope.
According to Anushi Agrawal, a core member of Maraa, theatre for these eight women (most of them are daily wage workers) is more about expressing their inner self and healing. Main Yahan Hoon… is a collective expression of bodies that have endured caste and sexual violence across generations. It uses metaphors and music to tell the story. “The performance unfolds like a drawing book, filled with unfulfilled desires, confessions, secrets and dreams. Journeying between childhood, youth and womanhood, the performance provokes questions around beauty, freedom and justice,” she elaborates.
Giving an insight into the storyline, Anushi says, “The piece is centred on a single body and what it embodies. It is about lived experiences; views and questions; perspectives and politics of life. Usually, almost every discussion about rape survivors is reduced to a testimony. We hardly speak about how the body responds to or remembers that experience. After the trauma, there’s also a lot of self-reckoning that happens. In the aftermath of violence, there are moral and emotional struggles that spill outside the binaries of the law. Betrayed by friends, family and society, these survivors often set out to negotiate life once again. Listening to their body intuitively is important here.”
Systematically suppressed for long, these women have now discovered the power of art to heal and make a future. “Theatre has given them the platform where they can stand and ask questions. They have received both comfort and justice on stage. ‘Humein natak mein insaaf mila hai’, they say. These new storytellers want to narrate tales of love, beauty and desire, and what it means to be,” explains Anushi.
Main Yahan Hoon… took shape after several short trips to Madhya Pradesh, continuous discourse and multiple workshops with these eight women. Although members of Maraa first met this network of survivors of sexual and caste-based violence in 2018, it was only after they had put up a performance, titled Chu Kar Dekho, in 2021 that some of these women showed interest in theatre. This particular performance was inspired by the stories of the survivors that they had interviewed for their project. The friendship and trust built between Maraa and these actors over the past few years eventually led to the foundation of the Freeda Theatre Group.
Via theatre, these women tried to explore what connects their mind to their body. This, in turn, helped to ease their fear and sorrow. “Each part of my body has come back to life. Theatre has taught me to listen closely to my body,” says one of the actors. The performance questions the traditions and moralities that often burden women, provoking the audience to introspect. As another performer puts it, “I want to change the way people look at me. I stand before all those who know what happened to me. This time, not as a victim or a survivor. But as an actor. I could not find justice anywhere. But theatre has opened a door for me.”
Main Yahan Hoon… is Freeda Theatre Group’s debut performance, which premiered in Indore before coming to Bengaluru. Watch the trailer of the performance here.
The shows are scheduled to take place at Jangama Collective on October 14 (6.30pm); Our Theatre Collective on October 15 (7pm); CIEDS Collective on October 16 (6.30pm); Mount Carmel College on October 17 (3pm); and Bangalore International Centre (BIC) on October 18 (4pm).
Here’s the RSVP link.