RE-CREATING THE MAHUAL: Saheli Play on Sexual Harassment

Newsletter Sep - Dec 2005

In September 2005, we were trying to re-create the “mahaul” that had fired our imagination and creativity 5 years ago! The most exciting part was the new cast with newer interpretations! Yes, we were in the process of reviving our play on sexual harassment at the workplace called “Mahaul Badalna Hai”. The script was written in June 2000 after almost 14 performances done by a fluid cast of characters. And now, after all this while we were doing it for the first time with a script in our hands! It was wonderful to be back in the naatak-mode.

The first time around when we were developing the play, we had to work at two levels – first was the ‘how’ part – production of a play on a sensitive issue by a group of nearly all first-timers and second was the ‘what’ part – the constant thrashing out of the issue and its nuances. This time too we had lots of discussions but of a different kind because of the ready-made script. The ‘old-timers’ were a bit possessive about the script and often during practice sessions made long trips down memory lane, whereas the people new to the play brought in their own enthusiasm, energy and critical inputs. Hectic practice sessions were ongoing and we were often camping together. As someone aptly remarked, “we were eating, drinking and sleeping the play, to the extent that our regular conversations would have expressions, statements, tones from the play…with hysterical outbursts from all of us, to the utmost bewilderment of others around!!” As we interacted together during the practice sessions, we evolved, as did our bodies and the minds connected to them! As we put together each of our voices to form a strong combined one against sexual harassment at the workplace, each of us released ourselves from the shackles of “mujh se nahi hoga”, “I’ve never done naatak before” ….and the first performance happened!

The “premier show” was at the Ganga Dhaba in JNU. The naatak took place at a time when there was already a lot of discussion and upheaval in the campus over the issue of sexual harassment and the changes in the JNU policy which impacted the working of the Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH). We performed under the trees in the dim light of the dhaba bulb. It went well! Afterwards the discussion started and what really was a shock was the kind of questions men from the so called progressive JNU were asking - full of stereotypes (thankfully countered by the audience itself) and also statements like “the problem is that women’s issues are always talked about whereas nobody talks about men and their issues” what do you say to them!

A month after that, we had two performances packed into one day! The first was in Daulat Ram College. We all did a round of the college looking for the perfect grass and shade before settling down and starting with that familiar call of “hey jee re”. Initially some of the girls told us that there was no need to do it within the college campus as it was a girls’ college and they didn’t face any problems. One even insisted that we should step out of the college gates and do the play on the road, for the boys. Some of them clearly felt that there was no need to talk to them about this issue! Luckily for us, there were many more who wanted to see the play. But after it as over, most women openly admitted that such incidents did take place outside as well as inside the college! Then on, one after the other they narrated some of their own experiences and wanted specific solutions too. One of the things that was on top of everyone’s mind was sexual harassment by cell phones and sms!

Next we went to a basti in Haiderpur and performed in front of a school. There was a biggish crowd, with many little kids. The performance was much better and more interactive but there was not much discussion because women who were employed were all out and would have been back only in the evening. But the lack of interaction with women did leave us with a feeling of not knowing why we performed there and what was the context or purpose of it. Was the lack of dialogue due to the obvious class difference or was it to do with language... Some questions lingered in our minds.

While we grapple with these and many more questions, we know that each performance and interaction is spreading the word on the issue of sexual harassment. These days we are planning for other performances and doing the near impossible task of getting together the five of us for practice sessions...believing that ek din mahaul badal he jayega!