An Analysis of Mahasweta Devi's Play Bayen

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The immediacy and horror of the plight of subaltern women is present in the works of Mahasweta Devi, and particularly in her play Bayen. Devi’s dramatic writing largely deals with subaltern characters, and her plays have been performed in rural and tribal areas. Devi’s grassroots political theatre is one of the first performance-based movements within the field of subaltern studies, and it is likely that her writing influenced many other forms of performance that deal with subaltern characters. Devi’s writing can be characterised as operating “fluidly between fiction, history, ethnography and reportage”, as she demonstrates an inherent in addressing the inherent issues dominate South Asian Studies, including gender discrimination and the exploitation of labourers (McCall 2002: 39). Furthermore, Devi examines issues of subalternity that have otherwise been overlooked or misinterpreted. In particular, while many scholars fail to acknowledge the unique way that subalternity affects women, Devi’s writing locates specifically female experiences within discourses of subalternity. McCall notes of this aspect of Devi’s writing, “Researchers have treated bonded labour, women's work and prostitution as separate discourses, in isolation from one another. Yet Devi's women characters include wives, sisters and daughters of bonded labourers, women who work as bonded labourers, and bonded prostitutes” (McCall 2002:39). Devi’s use of drama and performance to convey the oppression faced by subaltern women has clearly paved the way for the translation of the discourses of subaltern studies to film, as the issues in gendered subalternity that her writing explores has clearly been replicated in recent Indian cinema. Bayen, one of Devi’s most popular plays, establishes many of the aspects of gendered subalternity that recent Indian films have also demonstrated. In the play, Chandidasi Gangadasi is separated from her husband and son when she is accused of being a Bayen, a women who...
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