Women’s right to be able to walk the streets of India’s cities, day or night, without being afraid for their safety is powerfully invoked and advocated by Maya Krishna Rao’s solo performance, Walk. Originally composed as a protest over the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pande on a bus in Delhi in December 2012, the piece has since been performed in multiple spaces, from streets to schools and colleges. Seeing Walk live at the International Federation of Theatre’s conference at the University of Hyderabad (6-10th July 2015), moved me to post these brief reflections. (There are several postings of Walk on YouTube, though none really do it justice. Here’s a link to one of the better recordings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkTyvOKUZ4E )
To walk towards women’s right to safety, Maya invokes a number of steps that must be taken. Orally and physically choreographed to Sudhir Rikhari’s mesmerising music, in the space of fifteen minutes Walk itemises what must be given to women in the interests of social justice. Give me a law that will protect women from male violence and give it to me now, today, Maya demands; give me multiple convictions of rapists, not just the isolated one; give me a policeman who will write down women’s accounts of violence rather than ignoring their testimonies; and give me a world where women can be free to say no, where consent has real meaning and validity. Don’t walk, talk or a think with ‘him’ – with men who have the power to hurt and to harm, or to legislate against women’s interests – stay with me, talk and think with me, she urges. And Maya’s ‘law’, she makes clear, applies not just to when women walk the streets in their daily lives, but also to when they enter their homes which should be free from domestic abuse.
The power of this performance resides not just in its political message, but in Maya’s skill and ability as a performer to speak truth to the nation; to make her audiences sit up, listen and reflect. The idea that in order to right the wrongs done to women who are abused and violated requires significant politico-legal action and a sea-change to a misogynist culture, is expressed in and through the physicality of her performing body. Her movements embody the oscillation between the desire to be free from violence and the existing restraints and constrictions that impede this goal. In her opening sequence, for example, there is determination to move forward, but also a dragging, stepping back. Equally, with her Kathakali -trained body, steps forward are sometimes interrupted as she pauses, one leg suspended in mid-air, sure in purpose and yet seemingly, momentarily, uncertain as to where her foot will fall to complete the movement. She also has one of those voices that speaks from somewhere deep within the body – a voice that speaks powerfully, rhythmically and poetically of the political steps that must be taken. At the same time, hers is also the voice that reaches for the dark, deep notes of despair, anger or frustration over the political ground still be covered, and comes to speak as or reverberate with those voices who have been lost to and silenced by rape.
I want to walk; I want to sit on the bus; I want to lie in the park; and I want to try not to be afraid of the dark. These are basic ‘wants’ which chorus a plea for social justice that needs urgently to be heard and acted on, both within and beyond the Indian nation.