By Pavani Jayasinghe Munagamage
Along with movements like MeToo, Time’s Up, and The Vagina Monologues, where women have taken the platform, hoping their words will be heard in putting an end to abuse and harassment of all types, our island of Sri Lanka too was a proud participant of V-Day.
V-Day was first initiated by Eve Ensler in 1998. She is also a Tony Award-winning playwright, performer, activist, and author of The Vagina Monologues. The global movement to end violence against women was first held in Sri Lanka in 2011 as part of the global movement under the theme “V-Day – Writings to End Violence against Women and Girls” which used the famous writings by Eve Ensler.
The focal point of V-Day everywhere
“Nothing is created. Unfortunately, there is enough material we can write on,” said Hans Billimoria of The Grassrooted Trust, the organisers of the V-Day event in Sri Lanka. The event almost always is based on real-life interviews, discussions, conversations, and news coverage focusing on different aspects related to violence against women in Sri Lanka.
This year, V-Day took the opportunity to focus on Colombo 7, to bring to light the emotional, physical, and sexual violence occurring all around the city out in the open and behind closed doors.
“154” (Bus) by Pasan Ranaweera, Amila Rajapaksha, and team
Focusing on sexual harassment in public transport
In the atmosphere of a crowded 154 bus, a group of eight begin the scene with the act of a teenage boy in school uniform sexually assaulting a middle-aged woman. The drama opens with the woman screaming and getting off her seat crying for the bus conductor to let her off the bus.
The production was made more significant with the bus conductor taking the view of a present-day corrupt conductor, trying to calm an aggravated woman without attempting to help her, by saying things like: “If you wanted to prevent things like this from happening, you should have bought a Scooty Pep motorcycle.”
This quickly graduated into other men in the bus offering their views: “If you’re going to do it, do it right”, thereby highlighting notions that have been carried through years of continuous sexual harassment in buses.
“Tour of Duty: Cooking with Friskin” by Gehan Blok
Focusing on domestic abuse at home
The famous YouTube star took to the stage as a chef in the process of cooking a metaphorical “saneepa sambol” (a twisted version of pol sambol).
In the process of picking out ingredients for his dish and creating it, he highlighted issues like physical abuse faced by both wives and husbands due to problems such as cheating, lying, jealousy, and hatred. Important statements such as these were all combined in a power-packed cooking session which ended on a comedic note where Block addressed the audience with the grand misconception of who an actual chef was by not wearing any pants behind the chef’s table. The audience responded with grand laughter.
“Sour Plantain” by Shala Amarasuriya
Focusing on the stigma surrounding a typical Sri Lankan girl
Captured within the surroundings of a washroom, under a water shower, Amarasuriya managed to bring most of the audience members to tears.
Playing the role of a 19-year-old daughter, she was the typical Sri Lankan daughter scared to talk to her father who shows signs of threats and abuse to her mother and her. She is the girlfriend who is threatened by her partner into having sexual intercourse as he uses nude pictures as leverage and has created the facade of a perfect boyfriend to her mother, and therefore, does as he pleases. Put into a typical Sri Lankan home, Amarasuriya is seen being subject to a lack of sibling support, cyberbullying, sexual abuse in its worst form, and the gravest danger of having no way to open up about her problems to anyone at all, thus creating portraying the norms of society today.
“Speaking in Tongues” by Anuruddha Fernando and Hidaayath Hazeer
Focusing on sexual abuse projected on men in the workplace
Set in a beauty parlour, Anuruddha Fernando plays the role of a sexual predator who is the father of a daughter who frequents the salon.
Putting his knowledge of the Bible to use, Fernando finds methods to get closer to a salon worker – the role played by the talented Hazeer.
Moment by moment, the drama flows through the aspects of offering cash in hopes of gaining consent when making sexual advances, inviting victims back to their houses in hopes of gaining consent to sleep with their wives, and then stalking them to the extent of getting their phone numbers and tracking down where they live. If men are not secure from men, is there hope for anyone?
“Street Light Named Horton” by Dharini Priscilla and Bhoomi Harendran
Focusing on the lives of sex workers today in main areas around Colombo 7
Situated in Horton place, this theatric segment, which was conducted in Tamil, included two sex workers standing at the edge of the road waiting for customers.
Priscilla, who had a comment of her own after the performance, said: “I think this piece says less about the sex workers and more about the way we perceive them (and women in general) and how this perception impacts their life”.
Priscilla played a heartfelt daughter who was unable to go back to her father. The play continued in a conversational style when she dreams of speaking to her father, which is when she said: “How can I tell you father, how they put me in a room. How I could not go and complain to the Police, father, when they were the first to have their way with me? Will you still let me come back home?”
“Black Coffee, No Sugar” by Pia Hatch, Ashini Fernando, Sharanya Sekaram, Tracy Jayasinghe, and Lihan Mendis
Focusing on domestic abuse in rich homes being shunned by friends and family
Set in a coffee shop, this set revolves around four women deemed to be in a higher class of living. Amidst gossip about who has the cheapest slipper and what piece of cheesecake contains the most fat, the conversation takes a steep turn when one admits to leaving her husband, no longer able to bear the abuse at home.
Depicting how wives are forced to go back to their husbands, no matter what the circumstances in order to not bring shame upon rich families, the play ended with another powerful point which was dramatically performed by the four ladies – abuse was abuse, regardless of force or where she was hit. The drama was a clear eye-opener to the crowds.
“Can’t Pass It On” by Danu Innasithamby
Focusing on the marginalisation of homosexuals
“Working on these scripts has helped me understand that as humans, we have lost the will to love one another and respect each other no matter what. It’s time we stand up, it’s time we change – I’m trying,” said Innasithamby.
Mainly revolving around society’s limited knowledge about HIV and the division set between heterosexuals and homosexuals, he narrated a story of a little boy who unfortunately encountered a tragic incident of sexual abuse after which he lived his life in fear of having been infected with HIV.
Not allowing his family to eat from his plate, fearing for their lives, washing the entire washroom each time he used it due to his fear of this illness he was so unaware of, Innasithamby cried out and urged the audience to listen to the power and importance of spreading this kind of information.
He questioned: “Where does change start? Where will we ever begin to create a better environment for future generations?”
“Deviant Septum” by Dominic Kellar, Dino Corera, Michelle Herft, Swasha Malalasekera, and Haseeb Hassen
Focusing on the abuse of drugs in today’s generation
The grand finale included a masterpiece by well-known performers around the country, spreading knowledge about the abuse of drugs that occurs nowadays and the unreal sad truth of young kids abusing drugs.
The scene was set around a couple and friends abusing drugs in a club and demonstrated the very violent fights that are created as a result of an ecstatic feeling produced as an after-effect. This was followed by rhetorical questions such as: “What will the aftermath of situations like this be?”
Ending a night which was both humorous and enriching, the performers and the crowds, in unison, sang along to “Let it be” by The Beatles, signing off from one of the most remarkable performances ending the month of March. V-Day 2019 was dedicated to the 8th, International Women’s Day.