For a long time, literature and drama have been considered cathartic. For the women who performed the play â€śPositively Shamelessâ€ť about sex abuse inflicted on them as children in Bengaluru, it was literally so.
With the show, staged at the Rangsthala auditorium on MG Road on Friday, directors Maitri Gopalakrisna and Shabari Rao aimed at starting a conversation on child sexual abuse and how a lot of survivors carry the trauma and the anger, the guilt and the shame into their adult lives.
"Apart from the abuse in itself, I noticed how all the stuff around it, a lot of it was social and public," says Maitri, who is pursuing a Ph. D in Drama Therapy and facilitated a drama therapy group last year for women who had gone through sexual abuse as children.
Maitri approached them with the idea of a theatre performance and a few of them agreed to it. She then approached Shabari and the directors along with the performers collaboratively wove together experiences of CSA into a play. Some of the actors underwent such ordeals as children.
The multitude of emotions - sorrow, gratitude, anger, pain- can be felt all at the same time and can be suffocating.
"There's a sense of shame that people who've faced child abuse feel and they may have body image issues. They feel fragmented and find it difficult to reclaim their selves. There's also conflicted relationship with parents. There's lots of complexities too, like relating to sex and sexuality," the directors said.
One of stories enacted was about a woman who was abused by her cousin when she was a child. And while her father was oblivious to the happenings, it is he who made her cousin drop her home one day even though she did not want him to.
Was she to blame her father? He did not have any clue about it. Was she to be angry? He was supposed to have protected her. Was she to be more appreciative? After all her father made sure her sisters and she got a good education. The voices in her head only kept growing louder.
In a majority of CSA cases, the culprit is someone known to the victim which also leads to trust issues. Disclosing the violence and abuse can be difficult, even when we share it with people most close to us.
At one point during the performance, the character that Sathyam AP, an engineer and sex educator by profession, portrays is seen trying to divulge to her mother what had happened to her. But is quickly shushed. Or the woman whose counsellor asks her to be "confident" because she is an independent woman now.
But putting the past behind is easier said than done.
It catches up and creeps in in moments when we could be least expecting it, or when we are most vulnerable.
It may need some work, but reclaiming ourselves is possible. "We wanted to break the silence around the issue. The shame is not mine, and whoever's it is can take it," said Kavya Bose, one of the performers who is a trainer and "intentional relaxer".