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Shattering the silence: analysing the theatrical portrayal of domestic abuse in the Indian South African community - a textual study of three South African plays (between 1993 and 2002).

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In this dissertation, I use diasporic identity theory and cultural theory to argue that the political and social structures of the country have influenced how the Indian South African community viewed itself in relation to South African society. The race politics of South Africa played a significant role in the community closing ranks to shield itself from external criticism and ensuring cultural practices were preserved. Members of the community who chose economically advantageous pursuits, forged ahead socially while confining women to the private domain and tasking them with the role of gatekeeping culture, tradition and language. This responsibility, taken up by Indian South African women, has endured over generations and over time, many women have become shackled by this role of cultural policing. This, coupled with young girls being taught their roles are subservient to males in the home - regardless of whether he is her father, brother or husband – has seen an enabling of patriarchal practices being perpetuated. Thus, in homes where domestic abuse takes place, women have little to no agency to confront the man in the home and challenge his authority. As an Indian South African myself, I have witnessed how the social ill of domestic abuse has remained tightly contained within the boundaries of the community. It is the silence around this matter that I confront with my research. While it has almost always pursued a male agenda (as it is considered the public domain), over the years, Indian South African theatre practitioners have transformed the role of theatre to cater to the needs of the community. In my research, I have analysed three South African plays, written by Indian South African male playwrights, who have turned the public spotlight of the stage onto the private experiences of domestic abuse. The three plays are Ismail Mahomed’s Purdah (1993), Robin Singh’s Till Death do us Part (1993) and Vivian Moodley’s A Cookie in the Kitchen (2002). While written almost a decade apart, all three playwrights’ perceptions around how domestic abuse is experienced in the Indian South African community, are strikingly similar. Through textual analysis, I interrogate how these playwrights have chosen to dramatise domestic abuse. In understanding the theatrical representations of the violence - influenced by social, economic and cultural factors - interpretive assessments can be made about how it is experienced in homes in the Indian South African community. It is my belief that the medium of theatre can act as a catalyst for social change; in this regard, I use the theories of Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre to support my argument. Brecht believed that an active audience could be propelled to make the changes in their own lives that they wanted to see reflected on stage. My intention is to illustrate how the plays engage difficult questions around the gendered power structures enforced by the community, challenging systems like patriarchy. Through such experiences, I hope that Indian South African women may claim the agency necessary to shatter the silence.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.