'Where are the stories of the boys and men?'

After basing her critically acclaimed play Nirbhaya on the 2012 Delhi rape case, actress Poorna Jagannathan is ready to stage American actor and writer Martin Moran’s award-winning, 80-minute one-man-shows: The Tricky Part and All The Rage, based on sexual abuse faced by boys and men. Excerpts from an email interview with Soma Das

Q. What inspired you to bring these plays to India?
A. Five women, all catalysed by the rape and death of Nirbhaya, came forward and told their true stories of sexual and gender-based violence on stage. Audiences were moved by the raw truth. After every show, however, at the audience interaction session, someone would ask, “Where are the stories of the boys and men?” The question stayed with me. The startling fact is that in India, one in two boys are affected by sexual violence. At a time when we are speaking up about sexual violence against women, sexual violence against boys is barely spoken about, although it’s clearly an epidemic too. Ending sexual violence against boys is the key to ending sexual violence.

A scene from All The Rage
A scene from All The Rage

Q. What are the highlights of these plays? What are the issues they tackle?
A. Both plays are testimonial in nature — drawn from Moran’s real-life experiences. The Tricky Part, one of the most heralded one-man plays in recent memory, tells the true story of sexuality, spirituality and the mystery of human experience. Between the ages of 12 and 15, Moran had a sexual relationship with an older man, a counsellor he met at a Catholic boys camp. Now, 42 and an established New York actor, he has transformed his story into a riveting, funny and surprising journey through the complexities of Catholicism, desire and human trespass. Deftly crafted by director Seth Barrish, who will be touring as well, Moran offers a first-hand perspective on sexual abuse. All the Rage is Moran’s second award-winning one-man-show. It’s a complementary piece and as powerful. Moran struggles with being able to tap into anger but everyone tells him he should feel rage. So, Moran decides to find the rage and in doing so, he goes where most theatre doesn’t venture — a journey deep into the self. The result is a theatrical experience showcasing how a life is rebuilt after emotional destruction.

Tricky Part
A scene from Tricky Part

Q. What is the significance of staging these plays in India?
A. We need to start talking about sexual violence against boys, and I’m hoping these plays can serve as a catalyst. Studies report one in every two boys is abused. Some studies reveal that more boys than girls are abused. We have to bring mass awareness to this problem and solve it alongside solving violence against girls. Sexual violence against women cannot be solved without engaging men. We are not acknowledging that this gender has been severely affected as well.

Poorna Jagannathan
Poorna Jagannathan

From my own experience, if you’ve been affected by sexual violence, you’re much less likely to engage in solving the problem: there’s a tendency to think violence is the norm.

My favourite quote is by Fredrick Douglass who said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’ Raising strong boys without sexual violence in their own lives will help them grow into men who understand that violence is not the norm, who are willing to not perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Q. Child sexual abuse is more talked about currently than in the past. Is there room for greater awareness?
A. Over the last two years, there has been a surge in awareness of violence against women. Policies have shifted, rape laws are being amended, one-stop-rape crisis centers are rolling out and safety programs are getting implemented. Real change will happen when mindsets shift but we still have a long way to go. Sexual abuse among girls and boys is often perpetrated by known those who are known to the child (many times in the home); there’s still a myth that some monster lurking in the bushes is committing these crimes. When children come forward, they are often hushed and shamed. We are also far behind in addressing violence against boys and men. There is hardly any debate in the media about it. It’s as if this epidemic doesn’t exist. Perhaps it’s too hard to look at, but it does hold the key to eradication of violence.

Q. Why do you think issues like sexual violence on children are not given due punishment or condemned vociferously yet?
A. Sexual violence against children is not a priority in our consciousness. The victims shy away from speaking about it, parents try to avoid the stigma, the media doesn't give it its due, and the government tries to ignore its existence. As a result, abusers are neither exposed nor convicted. By encouraging silence or by being apathetic, we have created a culture where the perpetrators are not accountable. There’s a culture where shame resides with the victim, and not the perpetrator.

Q. What led you to stage plays on topics pertaining to sexual violence, be it Nirbhaya earlier or these plays?
A. It comes from my need to break my own silence on my experiences with sexual violence. The penny dropped for me when I realised that by staying silent, I was perpetuating the violence. I know we are trying to build a world where a girl can get onto a bus after watching a movie and make it home. My small contribution to making that world happen is to help break the silence on sexual violence.

On: October 30, 5 pm (Tricky Part), Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point; October 31, 2 pm (All the Rage), Experimental Theatre; November 1, 11 am (Tricky Part), Prithvi Theatre, Juhu; November 2, 2.30 pm
(All The Rage), Prithvi Theatre.
Call: 22824567 (NCPA); 26149546 (Prithvi Theatre)

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