Rising from the shadow of abuse

As part of the Dharavi Biennale, organised by NGO SNEHA, women (and even a few good men!) attended performances of Vagina Monologues in Hindi and shared personal stories of domestic abuse and violence with the audience

For the last one year — along with the usual urban viewers who come to attend shows of The Vagina Monologues (a critically-acclaimed production by noted playwright Eve Ensler)— the stellar cast of the play has been performing for a very special audience, too. In April 2014, SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action), a Mumbai-based NGO working to improve the health of women and children in the city’s informal settlements, joined hands with Poor-Box Productions and the Make-A-Difference Foundation to showcase the Hindi version of the play — Kissa Yoni Ka — for the people living in Dharavi. Till date, nine shows of the play have been held for the men and women staying in the slums of Dharavi and today, they are all set for a grand finale.

Women from Dharavi share their personal stories with members of the audience and (above) the cast of Vagina Monologues interacts with them.
Women from Dharavi share their personal stories with members of the audience and (above) the cast of Vagina Monologues interacts with them. Pics courtesy/Sheriar Irani

Speaking about the initiative and the aim behind the same, Nayreen Daruwalla, director of Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children, SNEHA, said that the project is a part of The Dharavi Biennale, a two-year process leading to an exhibition in 2015 that blends art and science to share information on urban health and to showcase the contribution of the people of Dharavi to Mumbai’s economic and cultural life. “We have been working with Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal and Kaizaad Kotwal (of Poor-Box Productions and Make-A-Difference Foundation) for many years now. Since we’re concerned with issues of health in the Dharavi Biennale, we consider violence against women as a health issue. We thought it would be appropriate to have performances of this play for the women living in the slums,” says Nayreen.


The last nine shows, held as part of this project, saw women and even some men, travelling in buses to Prithvi Theatre and Jai Hind College to watch the performance. In addition to watching the play, they also shared their personal stories related to domestic abuse with the rest of the audience. “Initially, they were hesitant about sharing such personal stories — of doctors molesting them on the pretext of doing a check-up, wife beating, husbands having multiple partners etc — but it was amazing to see them having this dialogue so openly,” says Mahabanoo.

Her son Kaizaad has been video-recording some of the testimonies and wants to turn them into a video-installation for an art gallery in the coming months. “The idea behind this is that a number of wealthy and upper middle-class people deal with individuals living in the slums, on a day-to-day basis, as maids, drivers and cleaners, but they don’t realise the depth of this scourge. We hope to shock them into realising this reality,” says Kaizaad. He also intends to choose 10 of the most powerful testimonies, follow the lives of these women for the next six months or so, and turn the footage into a documentary.
The final show of the initiative today, also falls under the umbrella of One Billion Rising, a global movement started in 2012, which hopes to end violence against women.

The show will be held today at Guru Nanak Hall, Dharavi
At: 7 pm

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