Kamala: A One-Act Response to Human Trafficking

Sarah Liggera '17 Contributing Writer

There are an estimated 20 to 30 million people currently enslaved as of 2013. In fact, of all the international crime industries, human trafficking ranks as the third most profitable, generating $32 billion dollars , according to the CNN Freedom Project. Despite these staggering figures and an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people being trafficked into the United States annually, human trafficking is an issue that remains largely undiscussed and unaddressed in this country.

Vijay Tendulkar’s one-act stage play “Kamala” not only sheds light on human trafficking, but also provides sardonic commentary on the irony and hypocrisy of various journalists’ attempts to exploit it to promote their careers, as opposed to exposing it with respect to the issue and those trapped within it.

In particular, “Kamala” is based on a true happening from Shivpuri, India. In 1981, during his investigation of flesh trade in the area, journalist Ashwin Sarin bought a woman named Kamala in order to prove the reality of human trafficking. “Kamala,” named after the woman Sarin purchased, both took inspiration from and provided social commentary on the event.

The play, set in New Delhi, tells the story of a woman named Kamala, a sex worker, who is purchased by an up-and-coming journalist named Jaisingh Jadhav. While Jadhav buys Kamala in order to use her as proof of the existence of the human trade market in then-contemporary India, his wife, Sarita, is less enamored by the idea and the exploitation of Kamala to further his career. As Sarita finds herself helpless to affect her husband’s decision and receive support helping Kamala, she begins to realize the parallels behind the idea of sexual slavery and her own position in her marriage. Trapped by traditional gender roles, in which the wife is expected to be and valued for being dutiful and obedient to her husband, Sarita struggles and fights against her husband’s willingness to abandon ethics in order to further his career.

“Kamala,” which will see its Smith College debut on Feb. 28, “has just the right amount of sadness and humor,” commented director Afreen Gandhi. “Most importantly, it captures issues I feel strongly about…. ‘Kamala’ gently questions grave social norms and issues that pertain, not just to the Indian subcontinent, but the whole world. Another thing I care deeply about is that ‘Kamala’ is centered on relationships. [Tendulkar] draws you into his characters’ lives [and], at each moment in the play, you see either the developing or disintegrating. It is something beautiful to see on stage.”

“Kamala,” along with “Chamber Music” by Arthur Kopit, will make up an event called “An Evening of Two One-Act Plays.” Performances will be in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theater at the Mendenhall Center for Performing Arts on Feb. 28, March 1 and March 6–8. Feb. 28 is to be “Dollar Night,” with one ticket purchasing seats for both plays. On all other scheduled nights, tickets are $3 for Smith students, $5 for students and seniors, and $8 for adults.  Tickets can be purchased online at www.smith.edu/smitharts.