Alkazi Theatre Archives

Play: Sarama, 1989
Written and Directed by: Sanjoy Ganguly, Jana Sanskriti Centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed

By the mid-1980s, disillusionment with socialism was prevailing in Bengal. Amidst this turbulent political climate the play, ‘Sarama’ suggests non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as important agents of social welfare at rural and marginalized levels. With the sixth-year plan (1980-1985), NGOs as new actors for the development sectors from renewable sources of energy, and family welfare to social welfare programs for ‘weaker sections’ were identified as crucial contributors towards socio-political transformations. In 1987, with the publication of the report of the National Commission on Women, Shrama Shakti, the ‘empowerment of women’ became a major focus of NGOs across India. While the Indian state formally recognized NGOs as development actors in the 1980s, it simultaneously tightened the provisions of the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 1976) to bring NGOs more directly under its purview. 

This Bengali play was written and first directed by Sanjoy Ganguli and staged by Jana Sanskriti in 1989. Jana Sanskriti Centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed resulted in a national Forum Theatre network throughout India reflecting the practice of theatre as politics towards provoking responsible action. The central character of the play, Sarama is an ordinary woman, who is gang-raped just before the elections by local goons aided by the ruling party. Sarama finds herself pregnant and soon becomes the center of a political conflict between the ruling and opposition party. Sarama is supported by a number of NGOs and gradually comes to terms with her pregnancy and gives birth to her child.  

The 1980s witnessed a growing field of violence produced through the combined nexus of the political party, its women’s wing, and the panchayat — all producing a “hegemonic political society” in West Bengal. The play, ‘Sarama’ goes further to argue that the political parties define the terms of ‘equality’ and ‘material distress’ so that violence against women is not always brought to justice. As the play shows, “violence against women is one mode of accomplishing governmental rule and protecting a patriarchal state (Dia Da Costa, Development Dramas: Reimagining Rural Political Action in Eastern India  2010, 123).”


Image 1: Cover page of ‘Sarama’, Image Courtesy –
Image 2: Images from the book, Sanjay Ganguly,
Jana Sanskriti: Forum Theatre and Democracy in India.

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