Mallika Sarabhai uses her acting skills to send a message of social justice
One day a one-eyed monkey came into the forest. Under a tree she saw a woman meditating furiously. The one-eyed monkey recognized the woman, a Sekhri. She was the wife of an even more famous Brahmin. To watch her better, the one-eyed monkey climbed onto the tree. Just then, with a loud bang, the heavens opened. (Claps) And the god Indra jumped into the clearing. Indra saw the woman, a Sekhri. Ah-hah. The woman paid him no heed. So, Indra, attracted, threw her onto the floor, and proceeded to rape her. Then Indra disappeared. (Clap! Clap!) And the woman's husband, the Brahmin, appeared. He realized at once what had happened. So, he petitioned the higher gods so that he may have justice. So, the god Vishnu arrived.
"Are there any witnesses?"
"Just a one-eyed monkey", said the Brahmin.
Now, the one-eyed monkey really wanted for the woman, a Sekhri, to get justice, so, she retold events exactly as they had happened. Vishnu gave his judgment.
"The god Indra has sinned. In that he has sinned against ... a Brahmin. May he be called to wash away his sins."
So, Indra arrived, and performed the sacrifice of the horse. And so it transpired that a horse was killed, a god was mad sin-free, a Brahmin's ego was appeased, a woman ... was ruined, and a one-eyed monkey was left ... very confused at what we humans call justice.
In India there is a rape every three minutes. In India, only 25 percent of rapes come to a police station, and of these 25 percent that come to a police station, convictions are only in four percent of the cases. That's a lot of women who don't get justice.
And it's not only about women. Look around you, look at your own countries. There is a certain pattern in who gets charged with crimes. If you're in Australia, it's mostly aboriginals who are in jail. If you're in India it's either Muslims, or Adivasis, our tribals, the Naxalites. If you're in the U.S., it's mostly the blacks. There is a trend here. And the Brahmins and the gods, like in my story, always get to tell their truth as The Truth. So, have we all become one-eyed, two-eyed instead of one-eyed, monkeys? Have we stopped seeing injustice?
Good morning. (Applause) You know, I have told this story close to 550 times, in audiences in 40 countries, to school students, to black-tie dinners at the Smithsonian, and so on and so forth, and every time it hits something. Now, if I were to go into the same crowd and say, "I want to lecture you about justice and injustice." they would say, "Thank you very much, we have other things to do." And that is the astonishing power of art.
Art can go through were other things can't. You can't have barriers, because it breaks through your prejudices, breaks through everything that you have as your mask, that says, "I am this, I am that, I am that." No. It breaks through those. And it reaches somewhere where other things don't. And in a world where attitudes are so difficult to change, we need a language that reaches through.
Hitler knew it; he used Wagner to make all the Nazis feel wonderful and Aryan. And mister Berlusconi knows it, as he sits atop this huge empire of media and television and so on and so forth. And all of the wonderful creative minds in all the advertising agencies, and who help corporate sell us things we absolutely don't require, they also know the power of the arts.
For me it came very early. When I was a young child, my mother, who was a choreographer, came upon a phenomenon that worried her. It was a phenomenon where young brides were committing suicide in rural Gujarat, because they were forced to bring more and more money for their in-laws' families. And she created a dance piece which then prime minister Nehru saw. He came to talk to her and said, "What is this about?" She told him and he set out the first inquiry into what today we call Dowry Dance. Imagine a dance piece for the first inquiry into something that even today kills thousands of women.
Many years later, when I was working with the director Peter Brook in "The Mahabharata" playing this feisty feminine feminist called Draupadi, I had similar experiences. Big fat black mamas in the Bronx used to come and say, "Hey girl, that's it!" And then these trendy young things in the Sorbonne would say, "Madame Draupadi, on n'est pas feministe, mais,
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