Song for a Sanctuary by Rukhsana Ahmad – 1991

Characters: Rajindeer, her husband Pradeep, her daughter Savita, her older sister Amrit, Sonia a resident, Client, Kamla and Eileen refuge workers.

Synopsis: Rajindeer and her three kids Savita 14, Bela 11 and Sanjay 8, have just left home from their abusive father. They have taken shelter in a women’s refuge. In the refuge Rajindeer is pestered by Kamla (refuge worker) to disclose details of her relationship, Kamla doubts that she is in that much of a mess due to her reluctance to share. However, Rajindeer strongly believes sharing one’s troubles is a sign of weakness. Kamla doesn’t hold back in calling Rajindeer a collaborator and a fool, who will most likely go back to her abusive husband. After 3 weeks go by Rajindeer has had enough of the women’s refuge and returns home. How will this pan out with her husband Pradeep?

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My Thoughts

I wish this play was either a little bit longer or that I wouldn’t have read it so fast, so that I would still be reading it. The story is so engaging, all the characters seem so real you almost forget you are reading a play.

Rajindeer is a proud Indian and says that in her upbringing honour, family values and religion are very important.To Kamla however, this is seen as a weakness that just makes Rajindeer a collaborator, who will most probably end up returning to her abuser. I find that actually it’s the opposite, Rajindeer uses her prayers and religion to keep her level headed in times of hardship, she describes that believing in a higher power, doesn’t mean choices can’t be made but the “circumstances in which you have to make them are often beyond your control. Like birth, or death”. This to me is a sign of a strong person, I had never considered this concept, and I agree with it, there are things that regardless of how much effort we do or don’t put in that are beyond our control. However, it does not mean that such a person has no determination or will to escape from their circumstances, but that they realise they cannot change and must not dwell on certain situations that have already happened. What is crucial here is learning, regardless of how long it takes to learn from experiences, it took Rajindeer 15 years to leave her husband, but she did leave. 

When she leaves she still has to live with the aftermath, which leaves the question of when you leave can you recover? Is a “happy ending” possible and will your abuser ever come back to haunt you in the physical or mental state? 

Abuse does not stop or start with the physical. There are people who genuinely believe domestic violence is only credible when there’s blood sweat and tears, this is what Rajindeer’s sister Amrit believes. Words leave the same level of damage and trauma, people become fearful, lose trust and begin to isolate themselves from others. A lot of people suffer silently and find it difficult to overcome the hold of an abuser. Right now I am questioning how can we actually help someone who goes through this, I understand the ‘you have to let them come to that conclusion themselves’ but if something were to happen to a loved one and all you did was spectate, what then? As said by Martin Luther King Jr “he who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it”. 

Kamla’s character is the voice of everyone who says “why don’t you just leave”, but it’s never that easy, and it neglects the fact that the victim may have no control over their situation, that this same control is being misused by their abuser. There are varying reasons for why a person can’t leave; familiarity, children, a history, fear, love, hope, fear of solitude, dependence etc. I genuinely hope that people going through this (men and women) find their way. 

To conclude this play left me speechless, domestic violence is always something you believe would never happen to you or that if it did you’d be able to fight back. The fight against all kinds of domestic abusers needs to be reenforced, the verbal and physical ones.