Manch, the Infosys theatre team brings to you an unusual one-act play entitled ‘I Dream Before I Take the Stand’. It is the story of a woman being cross-examined by a lawyer regarding a case of sexual assault.
However, the most striking part of the play was the way it was written and the kind of social commentary it offered. It was a mirror as to how we blame the victims for what happened to them. Whether it is gully aunties saying, “Chhote kapde pehnegi to yehi hogana”, or the judicial system, it is evident through various instances throughout history, that in sexual abuse cases, it is the victim that is held accountable for the crime rather than the perpetrator.
This culture of victim blaming in a larger rape culture, is something the play tried to show. The lawyer constantly berates the victim questioning her not only the basis of her actions or choice of clothing but also right down to the kind of underwear she was wearing. An interesting thing about the writing was that the lawyer kept repeating the chain of events by distorting them to make it look like the victim’s fault like a refrain until the audience is almost convinced that it is her fault.
“When I kept saying it again and again, it made me also believe that she is the cause for all this”, observes Director Ankur Verma who also plays the lawyer. He also talked about how uncomfortable the script made them feel, especially to say words like “bra” or “panty” in front of an audience which contributes to the stigma around sex and abuse.
Sana Benazir, who essayed the role of the victim delivers a great performance getting the audience to sympathise with her plight as she sees everything she has said and done get distorted. As the lawyer keeps repeating himself, she almost believes it is her fault and breaks down.
Art like I Dream before I Take the Stand is particularly necessary in current socio-political scenario with so many cases of brutal sexual abuse coming through; from Nirbhaya to Kathua. These trends are not national but global. Case like Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein and social media movements like #MeeToo are trying to bring awareness but seeing things like victim blaming and a projection of rape culture in a medium like theatre makes it even more impactful because these are things that are so ingrained in us like casual misogyny, that we don’t give much thought to them.
Although the actors dissociate themselves from these movements because they think it would be insensitive to the efforts and the people involve to use them as promotional events, and they mention that their rehearsals and planning had started before the furor created by the Kathua case, they agree to the relevance of art like this (not just this particular play) in current social climate. “We took care not to use any of these hashtags or refrenece these events in our promotional material because we felt it would be highly insensitive and disrespectful to the people who have gone through it”, Remark Ankur and Sana.
The play was written very sensitively so as not to trigger anything without losing impact which was quite a positive thing to see as a lot of writing loses sensitivity or impact and it is tough to find a balance. Their idea, says Ankur, was not to present a social message but to tell a story and leave the audience thinking and those ends, it has achieved.