Saturday, May 22, 2010

Racism "Elected"

I have always loved theatre, the capacity for it to entertain far surpassed the passive, dreary output of the television or the cinema hall . Making provision to attend as much quality productions as possible, (that sadly were few and far between in Colombo), it is with much enthusiasm that I looked forwards to the novelty of attending a forum theatre for the first time. This was "Elected" a production by Beyond Borders, a youth-led, youth-run volunteer organisation that has engaged in initiatives that promote sustainable change in social and developmental issues.

I do not wish here to make a review of the production or its performance, for frankly I'm not adroit at that. Even so I cannot help but say, the characters were portrayed in all seriousness befitting the circumstances and the quality was indiscernible from professional productions I have chanced to encounter. The storyline and script was well written barring few minor flaws but even they did not adversely affect the quality of the play. Indeed it was construed so that a very stimulated forum for the topic "Racism" would take place.

The storyline is thus,
An election is to be held to appoint the president of a student union in a university. The two candidates are Mohan, a tamil (minority) student who runs a clean and simple campaign, and Mihiri, a sinhalese (majority) female student who enlists the help of all around her by playing the racial card. This leads to confrontation and undemocratic activity which ultimately leads to a tragedy.

Building on this the forum theatre was conducted quite deftly by ?Yohan? with excellent audience participation and response, many even getting on to the stage to act out their version of the characters course. It was a welcome addition to the somewhat passive theatre that is normally encountered and managed to enlighten different viewpoints of the "Racism" topic under discussion.

Following are some of my thoughts in addition to the ones already fielded at the FT.
In relation to the play and the events at the university,
The dean should have stepped in at the first place, and taken precautions to negate and anticipate any future events when Mihiri in her campaign opening speech roused the audience using racial undertones . The senior faculty/management must recognise that racism and irregularities exist and must be prepared to invest time and effort to develop solutions rather than resort to adversarial responses as happened with the female professor(@megtegal) under whose purview was the actual election. That professor portrayed a spineless character and should ideally have been firm, whilst being equally reconciling to defuse the escalating racist bias and ensure democratic elections. But the way in which she naturally unfolded, the prof lost the trust and possibly the accompanying student-teacher relationship by her clumsiness in handling the complaints.
Secondly Mohan should have wised up pretty soon to the situation and made efforts to negate the impact of the social injustice working against him. He may have been affected by already internalised racism in himself that prompted him to devalue himself(in relation to the majority/Mihiri) but that can hardly be expected from a bright accomplished student of 2-3 years in the campus now running for student body president. This point was brought up again by a lady sitting next to me, and that was her reason for voting for Mihiri if she'd had the chance.
Thirdly as Prof. Ananda had a history of influencing elections even in the past a more diligent eye on his activities should have been kept by the election commissioned prof.
The other student union/body members could also have made a better show of support to ensure that democratic elections took place, but unfortunately they weren't even featured in the play. Self Realization and commitment to change by them from the current set of racial beliefs and attitudes might have made a big difference in the final outcome.

Racism albeit slightly, has been studied for its influence on health and found to have disastrous outcomes. The person under injustice is on constant stress. Think about it, how many times don you think about your race/religion during the course of a day? I wager that if you belong to a minority you are bound to think about it more frequently. The person under injustice will have increased incidence of depression, anxiety and anger. That is but a part of the emotional and physical toll that ensues from racial injustice.

"Silence is Consent"
The jocquer, posed an interesting question close to the end of the play, "what will you do now this has happened." in a very antagonizing manner. As a thug he was directly preventing the choice of others to retaliate and wanted them to acquiescence with him, betraying their moral righteousness instead for thug protection. It would've been interesting to know the responses to that question had it been posed to the audience.

In reality all of us agree that racism is wrong, yet outrageously there is very little we do to decrease this prevalence and for that all of us are in blame,.

As physicians we claim to not practice overt racism, but though we are reluctant to admit it in ourselves and our peers, there are some aspects/influences that happen without awareness. It is important then to constantly keep a wary eye out for this.

I wish to thank all at Beyond Borders for organising and inviting us to this timely and thought provoking forum theatre, which has broadened our viewpoint and in truth created a certain selfawareness over racism. Kudos to the actors, director and assisting staff for a powerful production. Hope you will continue along these traditions to meet headon such social issues and continue to create forum for discussion and citizen participation.


  1. Thanks for the review, it's always good to get feedback :)

    Glad you enjoyed the play!
    And next time, do come on stage :D

  2. Brilliant post. I think the audience all felt like going up there and smacking Ananda at the start of the play, but as we progressed we felt more and more helpless to change the outrageous chain of events taking place in front of us.

    Or maybe that was just me. :)

  3. No it was me, too.
    But as I highlighted above the escalation could've been averted by dean, Nimali and co. and really Mohan should've been more streetsmart.
    When all is said and done there are always going to be people like Ananda, how we could counter them is either to suppress their bad influence or to make racism so alienated from the society that they would fear to engage in it.
    Maybe wishful thinking currently but it does work.

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