Bengaluru: Moral policing, Hindu activists stop city play

Bengaluru: Right-wing ire closed down the Saturday show at one of the city's well known theatres here after a mob burst into Jagriti at Whitefield on Friday night, after the play Shiva had come to an end, demanding to see the owners.

The cause of their anger is the play's eponymous name: Shiva is the story of a young man exploring his gender identity and  is named for its protagonist. Shiva struggles with his gender identity and goes on to  become a dancer, telling his story through a series of letters.

"They barged in, saying they want to stop the show," says Rebecca Spurgeon, who works at Jagriti and who was the only person present in the theatre Friday night,. "They had to leave because the place was empty but before they did, they were on a call with someone who claimed to be from the BJP." After being told they could speak with the owners in the morning, they left.

"These are the people who said to me, you can call it Jesus or Allah, we don't care, but you can't call it Shiva," says a harried Arundhati Raja, co-founder, Jagriti, on Saturday evening.

"How am I supposed to argue with these people? Police arrived half an hour later and more goons shortly afterward.  By this time, only the watchman was there and they went up to him, demanding to see some special permission we need to stage shows," says Rebecca.

This took place on Saturday morning, by which time Ms Raja was at the police station, still determined to carry on with the weekend shows. "The police showed me a notice, which talked about how the play was hurting religious sentiments," says Ms Raja. "About 13 people had gathered at the gate when we were leaving and Mr Jagdish Raja (co-founder) was surrounded by a group of men with very intimidating body language." By the time they returned, the hostile group had re-gathered inside the foyer, demanding to see the artwork. "I asked them if they had seen the play and they said no," Ms Raja exclaims.   When they heard the police were on the way, the group quickly dispersed, then returned a few minutes later, this time with the cops. "The cops explain to us what the people are demanding and advised us against having the show," said Rebecca.

However, Ms. Raja was summoned to the station a second time, where a group of men, this time claiming to be members of VHP awaited her. "The police were very supportive," says Ms. Raja. "I'm not just saying it, they have really gone out of their way to help us." A complaint, printed out on a letterhead, was shown to Ms. Raja, where the complainants had expressed their objection to the play.

"After the men had left, the cop called me back to his office and said that since it was a weekend and such short notice, they couldn't provide adequate protection," says Ms. Raja. "They said a protest was likely and that it could go anywhere." Safety concerns were too pressing to ignore and the Jagriti team postponed the show. Police said that the fact that the protestors all claimed to be from different outfits, which may or may not accept responsibility, would make them harder to tackle.

"We're determined to stage the show, no matter what," Ms. Raja says, emphatically. It's a sentiment Rebecca echoes too, saying, "We need to come together as a community and support the play now."  The worst hit, though, is Dayaprasad Kulkarni, the director of Shiva, who wrote the play as a means of giving a voice to the LGBTQI community. What's more, the play was named Shiva after the protagonist.  "It really saddens me how easy it is to shut people up, to put a muzzle over them and scare them into silence." The upset has only made him more determined: "Now, I feel like I have a fight to take on, a responsibility to a community. We will stage the play."   Meanwhile, Jagriti issued a statement requesting the Home Minister Dr G Parameshwara to take cognisance of the issue and ensure that the artists’ freedom is protected.

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