Jogini - wedding ceremony
In June last year ‘Broken Lives – Slavery in Modern India’ opened at the International Slavery Museum, a powerful and moving exhibition revealing stories of hardship, survival and hope for broken lives mended.
The exhibition (open until 11 December), delivered in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, focuses on the victims of modern slavery in India, most of who are ‘Dalits’. Many Dalits still experience marginalisation and prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to human trafficking and bonded labour.
Feedback from visitors to the exhibition has been incredible, for one particular individual though their visit has left a lasting impression…
Alli Davies and Andy Berriman describe themselves as: “two hippies who like to make theatre. And sometimes films. And sometimes bread.” They are now partners in a theatre group called Zen Gun.
“On a breezy day in September 2015 I stood on the beach at Crosby Sands looking out at Gormley’s figures and wondering about a ship named Kitty’s Amelia, the last slaver to leave Liverpool in 1807. I couldn’t fathom how she was still able to set sail given that parliament had abolished the British slave trade earlier that year.
"I’d just come from a visit to the International Slavery Museum, housed in an imposing former warehouse on Albert Dock. As a writer I’m endlessly curious about, well, pretty much everything. I feel as if I go through life with my antennae permanently raised, gathering information, looking for stories that are worth telling, and that day was no different.
"I’m interested in how the world works and how we function as human beings within a global context, particularly from the perspective of women. When I began to explore the International Slavery Museum, my mind began to make connections which crystallised when I was confronted by the image of a young Indian girl, part of 'Broken Lives' the temporary exhibition on modern day slavery in India produced in partnership with Dalit Freedom Network (DFN).
"I’ve lived and worked on and off in India for a number of years, I currently work with marginalised women in Nepal and I’m aware of some of the issues around modern day slavery, but I’d never heard of Jogini, which is how the young woman on the poster was described.
"Jogini are women forced into prostitution in India. Young girls, sometimes as young as 5, are 'married' to a local deity and when they hit puberty alongside their religious duties they are expected to provide sexual favours to the local men, starting with the higher castes.
"To say I found the image arresting is an understatement. There was something about the eyes of this child that stuck with me long after I’d left Merseyside. I simply couldn’t get her face out of my mind. I was buzzing with questions and wanted to know more.
"Perhaps I’d met Jogini when travelling around India. How would I know? How should I respond now that I knew about this largely hidden form of slavery? Maybe I could tell their stories? How many women are forced to live like this? There must be thousands. OK, one woman then. Perhaps through telling one story, I could do something to give Joginis a voice in the wider world. I emailed DFN and a few weeks later met with one of their team to discuss the possibility of writing a play highlighting this issue. This led to lots of reading. DFN helped me research the topic in more detail and I’m hugely grateful for their help.
"The more I thought about it, the more I realised I wanted to talk about not just the Jogini issue. While it would be very much front and centre, modern day slavery happens on a global scale and I wanted to reflect this somehow in the script.
Trade play graphic
"To be honest I tied myself in knots for quite a few weeks, but the idea would not let go and in the end I began to write what is now 'Trade' in a service station on the A1.
"I completed a draft, showed it to film and theatre Director Andy Berriman and he agreed to work on the project with me. We’ve now set up our own theatre company, Zen Gun and Trade will be our first show, touring in spring 2017.
"We were recently given development funding by Arts Council England and have completed two weeks at ARC Stockton with actors, Eva Quinn and Avita Jay, together with music technologist Jaydev Mistry. We’ve been deep in discussion, kicking the script around, eating curry, giving a workshop and sharing of some of the play with an audience, which was very well received. We also managed to fit in a visit to the International Slavery Museum and the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition, which had been my initial inspiration, giving everyone an opportunity to make their own response to the exhibition and the issues raised.
Zen Gun Theatre
"The narrative of the play is woven around the intersection of the lives of two women, one a Jogini and the other from the west. The text is bilingual in Hindi and English which I was a bit concerned about but our largely English speaking audience had no issues with this.
"I hope people engage with the project and that it brings to their attention people and things which they might be unaware of. I hope Trade allows the voices of Joginis to be heard."
Interested in learning more about 'Trade' and Zen Gun? Visit: zengun.co.uk
Want to take action yourself to challenge exploitation in India? Don't delay, visit our website now for details of organisations that can help.
'Broken Lives - Slavery in Modern India' is open to the public until 11 December 2016. FREE ENTRY.