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Heisnam Kanhailal's Draupadi (2000): A Contemporary Performative Appropriation of the Women's Question

Ms. Saptaparna Roy


Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi’s short story “Draupadi” (1978), one that has found a place in all the major collections on women’s writing in India, pitted against the Naxalite rebellion in the late 1960s in the Naxalbari area in West Bengal contextualizes and contemporanizes Draupadi’s public disrobing in the epic Mahabharata through the eponymous character’s state-sanctioned militarized rape. The theatrical potential of the final scene was captured in 2000 by Padmabhusan Heisnam Kanhailal in his play with the same title in Manipuri language as a performative appropriation, wherein literature represents contemporary reality to voice the protest of Northeastern women enduring torture, assault and carnage by the Indian Army. Incidentally, the following events of Thangjam Manorama’s rape and murder, the Meitei women’s naked protest in Imphal, Irom Sharmila’s fast and many others beyond the Northeast have materialised the act into action, pushing the margin to the centre of discourse on the women’s question in India. The feminist translation of the Mahabharata into Mahasweta Devi’s short story to the adaptation on stage performed by the ace actor Sabitri Heisnam and finally, the spiralling reality of rape raises questions on the relation between nation and gendered violence, play and protest, rape and the female body, victimhood and agency, femininity and patriarchy, power and class or caste, and ideology and practice. This paper will examine the much-contested women’s question in India within a postcolonial feminist theoretical framework to review how the play Draupadi’s marginalized political context of the Northeast with a separatist troubled history blurs boundaries and expands into an Indian panoramic reality and inverting hegemonic paradigms and re-scripting history.

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