Imagine going to see a play at your local theater and for the first eight minutes of the performance, a completely nude woman stands alone onstage. Now, imagine this theater being located in India.
India, a conservative country, only recently established rape laws that protect women. This change was inspired by the thousands of women that protested for their rights after the horrific Delhi gang rape in 2012. The way that rape is discussed and viewed in the country completely changed after the awful crime, but this sense of consciousness is still developing.
One can only imagine how an Indian audience reacts when 33-year old Mallika Taneja takes the stage in her birthday suit. This is the opener to her solo performance titled Thoda Dhyan Se, or “be a little careful.”
Silence fills the room. The audience is shocked but eagerly waits to see what Ms. Taneja will do next. She begins to dress herself all the while reciting a monologue about what women should wear to avoid the wrong kind of attention. She layers on more and more clothing as the minutes go on, throwing dresses and coats over multiple layers of shirts and wrapping her neck in scarves.
Women are always made to feel as if they are responsible for acts of rape or sexual assault against them. Whether it is staying out late at night, the company one may keep, or choice of attire, women are always told to “be a little more careful.”
Through her play, Ms. Taneja strives to challenge this attitude.
“Women identify with the piece easily, but what is important is that many men say it has been an eye-opener for them. Some of them say that after watching the play, they feel horrible about being male. But that is not the point of my piece, it’s not to make them feel bad, it’s to start conversations,” Taneja said.
Ms. Taneja is single, lives alone, and can pay her bills through her theatre work, which is by no means a typical 9-5 job. In India, unmarried women are expected to live at home with their parents, but Taneja says no man in her family questions her lifestyle or her work. Many women in India share Taneja’s desires to pursue an independent lifestyle, but it is not the norm.
“We do have the power to say no. Yes there will be consequences, and it is easier for some of us to do it than others, but finally it is up to us. If we don’t say no to the things happening to us, who will?”
Ms. Taneja says that her play was inspired by her anger towards the heinous crimes committed against women in her country, specifically a case in 2013 that involved a photojournalist being gang-raped while on an assignment.
The fight for equality is a fight for the female body and everything it stands for. Ms. Taneja proves that the body is the most powerful tool we have, and it can be used to challenge ideas and start discussions.
“It is my body and I refuse to lose control of it.”
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