Women for Theatre, India in Solidarity with #MeToo Movement
October 22, 2018
Image Courtesy: Prentsa Aldundia
Women for Theatre, India, is a network of women theatre practitioners from across the country striving towards making theatre a safe and equal space for all. We stand in solidarity with the MeToo movement, currently sweeping the country. This is a watershed moment in the history of feminist struggle in India, and indeed all over the world. We applaud the courage of all women across ages and professions, who are sharing their traumatic experiences of abuse and sexual harassment and are taking their perpetrators head on.
We hope that this will trigger a change in attitudes towards women’s narratives of trauma and survival. We also hope that it will help root out everyday sexism, gender based discrimination, and, the violence on women’s bodies and minds, all of which emanate from patriarchy.
We are disturbed by the silence in the theatre community at large in responding to this movement. Theatre, a community like all others, is replete with stories of sexual abuse, harassment and violation. In a field that requires much emotional and physical intimacy among practitioners, abuse is often undetected and unreported. Theatre is not a formal, organised sector of work. However, violence that occurs in informal spaces doesn’t become any less traumatic and the offence does not become any less serious.
The theatre world prides itself in the fact that theatre happens everywhere. And this is true. Theatre takes place in parks, basements, alternate venues, auditoria, homes, schools, garages, market places and a host of other spaces. These are workspaces and must be recognised as such. Theatre is also a collective activity which includes actors, directors, technicians, musicians, designers, production managers, and support staff such as laundry personnel, cleaners, cooks, productions assistants and so on. This means that abuse can happen everywhere and to people across social backgrounds.
Performance spaces, green rooms, rehearsal settings, cast parties and so on are all potential sites of abuse and we will need to find a way to address cases that occur in all of these contexts. We understand that the guidelines of the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act(Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), 2013 may not apply directly to many situations in which theatre takes place, especially informal ones, but it is no less of a workplace for performers.
There is also an immediate need to address the problem of the individual artist who does not form an organisation or an institution and how such a person could be held accountable for their actions or register their complaint. We seek to throw open these questions in order to understand and create systems of redressal within the community.
We urge formal and informal theatre groups, organisations and like-minded individuals to open up a conversation about abuse and sexual harassment in the community. We recognise that this moment may also throw up challenges of dealing with women’s experiences that implicate our friends/ teachers/ mentors/ partners etc. We feel that it will require all of us to make space for these difficult narratives to emerge in order to pave the way towards a safe and equal working environment in the theatre.
We understand that the MeToo movement is still in its nascent stage. It has limitations and calling out is not the only way of addressing the problem of. However, articulations such as these will empower victims of sexual harassment to share their experiences. For some, it may be a way of seeking closure to isolated instances and in the larger picture, it will help in identifying patterns of unwarranted behaviour and seek accountability.
We urge all theatre groups, schools, venues and cultural organisations to:
1.Institute and make public an internal complaints committee in accordance with the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal),2013 as a first step towards making theatre a safer space for women to work in.
2.With immediate effect, announce on social media/website and/or circulate through informal networks complaint numbers/ emails of points persons to whom existing and ex-members/students/staff can register complaints of harassment and inappropriate behaviours at their workplace.
3.Create complaint and redress mechanisms such as those which exist in formal institutions. This is necessary due to the informal nature of much of the theatre organisation and activity in the country.
4.All institutions and formal/informal organisations to put in place regular social audit mechanisms to ensure effective working of these committees.
5.Conduct gender sensitisation conversations and workshops at least twice a year. It will go a long way in understanding the clear lines demarcating consent from intimidating behaviour and unfair workplace discrimination.
The glass ceiling around sexual harassment, closely watched and maintained by the patriarchy, seems to be cracking and this is very welcome! The fundamental rights to life, freedom and dignity granted equally to women by our Constitution have so far remained unrealised. We hope that this is a step in the long walk towards realising them.
We also extend support to all those who would like to come out with their stories by providing a safe space to express and share, speak, listen and believe and explore possibilities of taking this forward. We can be contacted at [email protected]
Women for Theatre, India
Gargi Bharadwaj, Theatre Maker & Performance Studies Scholar, New Delhi
Anita Cherian, Theatre and Literary Historian, New Delhi
Supriya Shukla, Independent Practitioner, Hyderabad, Telangana
Mallika Taneja, Independent Practitioner , New Delhi
The network is still in the process of adding members.
Click here to endorse the statement.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.