As a reminder to every woman who confronts the gaze of random strangers in public places, to every student who has faced sexual harassment, to every child who has been sexually abused and every young girl learning for the first time that the world we live in is one where the minds of the people and the ways of society are perhaps condemnable, ‘Park Street’, Niloy Roy’s experimental drama which was staged in the capital recently, recalled significant aspects of life and works of human rights activist Suzette Jordan. Often referred as the Park Street rape victim, Suzette has encouraged people to report cases of sexual abuse and not brush the nightmares under the carpet
On February 12, 2015, Suzette was gang raped by five men in Kolkata and then dumped onto the street. Kolkata, a place which was considered to be safe for women until that night, was suddenly gripped with fear. Suzette’s father had suggested her not to report the incident to police, as he was afraid she would face humiliation. But she was adamant. When she went to report the case, the attitude of police made it clear that misogyny was hardwired in the Indian culture and would come in a way to get justice.
When the act begins Peter Jordan, Suzette’s father, is seen interacting with her young daughter Rhea who is debating with him on the ideals and the generation gap filled in by mimetic action played by six characters. These masked characters are human installations of Suzette’s story, of her activism against sexual abuse. Her choice to do away with the convention of keeping rape victims anonymous damaged entirely the idea of dishonor to the family name because of a girl becoming a case.
In its atmosphere, the stage at Shri Ram Centre converged forcefully from all routes — the voices of the slaves of lust, desires of resistance to abuse and psychotic exhortations by a mind which has nurtured only violent sexual tensions. Roy, the playwright and director of the play, exposed the guilt residing in the hearts of people who know they have failed to provide a safer environment for children and women. The sequence of events portrayed on and off the stage were depictions from Suzette’s story that provoked the audience to think about why the psychology of a criminal shouldn’t be under the spotlight. This contradiction of truth and acceptable reality was the crux of Roy’s experimentation with theatre. When people make personal political and demand that criminal sexual behavior be studied at college level to subvert political domination, the tone of Roy’s dialogues felt like strong currents of wind on the skin during a dark storm.
The government is incapable of rectifying criminal behavior, individuals consume gender biases from the surroundings and inherent patriarchy, but the voices of the activists crush under muscle power. It took the court three years to give Suzette justice. But it was too late. Suzette died on March 13, 2015 — nine months before the court’s delivered its verdict, convicting the accused. In a country where no one feels safe going out late at night or passing through a dark street ‘Park Street’ showed a way into the lives of those afflicted by injustice. In a scene between a husband and a wife, domestic quarrel is shown with all its shades of jealousy and disgust for one another. The conventional figure of the wife transforms from being submissive to a more commanding role where she emotionally paralyses the husband for doing the unthinkable to her. The play sheds light on the experiences. We, as a collective, are unable to grasp the complexity of Roy’s masterpiece and its multifaceted ending. The show was a spectacle in which decadence and innocence engrained in the life of a human being was put under the spotlight. These intricacies make Park Street a timeless act. Perhaps this is where it should be socially, without any boundaries of time.
‘Park Street’ was staged in Shri Ram Centre’s Summer Theatre Festival.
Photo Credit: Bhagat Singh