Vyjayanthi is using theatrical drama to shake people up

Writer: Grieteke Meerman

Indian teenager Vyjayanthi (19) gives the performance of her life during a short theatrical interpretation of mutilation, child marriage and violence against girls and young women. She hopes it will help create awareness and bring about change.

Remember the name “Vyjayanthi”, because there’s a fair chance that it will appear on the credits of a Bollywood film one day. In fact, she recently got past the first round of auditions for a major film. But where did she learn to act so convincingly? “I practice in front of the mirror,” she says.

Positive light

Films that throw a positive light on women’s rights are what inspire her the most, she insists. And she too tries to convey her feminist message as positively as she can. In the village in which she lives and the university in which she studies, she regularly acts out short sketches themed on subjects like mutilation, child marriages and violence against girls and young women.

While she hasn’t experienced any of these problems personally, Vyjayanthi has seen a lot of it going on around her. “Alcohol abuse often plays a role. The husband will arrive home drunk and beat his wife, sometimes even burning her hands, for example, or hitting her with a shoe. I’ve known women who were no longer able to see a way out; so they committed suicide.”

Unequal footing

She is firmly of the opinion that these excesses are so common in India because men and women are not considered to be equal there, not even in a marriage. “It is automatically assumed that the man is superior in a relationship and he expects his wife to always act in a subordinate manner. If his wife’s career surpasses his own, he’ll become jealous and that’s usually when the beating starts,” says Vyjayanthi, whose ambition it is to be a teacher.

To make her own contribution to changing this situation, she has joined the Girls Advocacy Alliance, a collaboration between Plan International Netherlands, Terres des Hommes, Defence for Children − ECPAT and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a so-called youth advocate, she is part of a growing network of girls who have been trained to improve the position of girls and young women through lobbying and activism. The main objectives are to reduce child marriages, child trafficking and violence against girls and young women, and the solution is seen to be the prevention of economic exclusion by improving girls’ access to education.

Want change

Vyjayanthi intends to set up a similar youth group in her own district. She is keen to exert the necessary influence on local authorities, but not before shaking up the local population through theatre and role-playing. “At the end of the day, the problems we face are the responsibility of the people themselves. Many girls would love to get married, but they often have no idea of the horrors that could be awaiting them. They have to want change themselves, otherwise nothing will be done.”