Exploitation of  Women in   Vijay Tendulkar’s “Kamala”  : Prof.  AJ Sebastian sdb


  1. Introduction

Though Vijay  Tendulkar (1828-2008) wrote  in Marathi, his  plays have been translated into English and other languages, and have been performed the world over. Known  also as a social activist, he has dwelt on  social themes. The present study is  on Kamala a  victim of  sexual exploitation.

         The story  is based on  investigation into flesh trade  by Indian Express correspondent Ashwini Sarin in 1981. His  extensive research led to  his purchasing a woman named  Kamla from a village  in M.P. for Rs. 2,300/-. He then wrote a series of articles which were published   in the issue of 27th  April, 1981  entitled “Buying girls from circuit house.”  It read: “Yesterday, I bought a short-statured skinny woman belonging to a village near Shivapuri in Madhya Pradesh for Rs. 2,300/-. Even I find it hard to believe that I have returned to the Capital this morning buying this middle aged woman for half the price one pays for a buffalo in Punjab” (Sarin, Ashwini. http://www.indiankanoon.org).  Though the story of  Kamala exposes  flesh trade, it also pinpoints how a male dominated society treats women under patriarchal hegemony.

      Patriarchy is the ‘rule of the father.’  Within  Feminism it refers to ‘male domination’ in a general sense (Macey 291). According to Allan G. Johnson patriarchal social structures are:  i)   Male dominated – which doesn’t mean that all men are powerful or all women are powerless – only that the most powerful roles in most sectors of society are held predominantly by men, and the least powerful roles are held predominantly by women ii)  Organized around an obsession with control, with men elevated in the social structure because of their presumed ability to exert control  whether rationally or through violence or the threat of violence.  iii)  Male identified:  aspects of society and personal attributes that are highly valued are associated with men, while devalued attributes and social activities are associated with women.  There is a sense of threat to the social structure of patriarchies when these gendered associations are destabilized – and the response in patriarchy is to increase the level of control, often by exerting control over women.  iv)  Male centered:  It is taken for granted that the centre of attention is the natural place for men and boys, and that women should occupy the margins.  Public attention is focused on men  (Johnson, Allen. http://gray.intrasun.tcnj.edu).

       The story  surrounds Jaisingh Jadhav, a young journalist, who brings home  a young woman named Kamala, bought for Rs. 250/- from a flesh market. In a press conference, he   exposes the  sex crime committed against helpless village women. His wife Sarita, though found  it an innovative  investigation, experiences in the core of her heart,  oppression in the hands of a chauvinistic husband.  This paper traces how exploitation of women is done in the guise of yellow journalism.

  1. Central Characters in relationships

         A person’s psychological identity relates to his/her self-image, self-esteem, and individuality. In cognitive psychology, the term “identity” refers to the capacity for self-reflection and the awareness of self (Leary 3). For psychologists “identity”  describes personal identity or the idiosyncratic things that make a person unique.  Sociologists  on the other hand stress social identity of a person as a member of a group   that defines him/her as  an individual. It was Erik Erikson who explored to a great extent  the  psychological concept of  identity. He makes  a distinction between the ego identity or “the self”; personal identity  (that separates one person from the other wit his/her personal idiosyncrasies); and  the social identity or the cultural identity by which  a person plays social roles. Erikson traces the  identity formation across a person’s lifespan. According to him the development of a strong ego identity, along with the proper integration into a stable society and culture, leads to a stronger sense of identity in general. Accordingly, a deficiency in either of these factors may increase the chance of an identity crisis or confusion (Cote  22).

          The core idea is that one’s sense of identity is determined largely by the choices and commitments made regarding certain personal and social traits. The work done in this paradigm considers how much one has made certain choices, and how much he or she displays a commitment to those choices.   A person with a less well-developed identity is not able to define his or her personal strengths and weaknesses, and does not have a well articulated sense of self   (Marcia 551-558). 

            The central theme of the play revolves around the mystery surrounding  Jaisingh’s  attitude towards women from the way he treats them. He is apparently happily married to Sarita who is totally immersed in his activities and parties. He  performs a great social feat in bringing to focus a crime perpetrated against women. The flesh trade prevailing is exposed with the press conference where he brings proof of the girl he has bought. But deep beneath the surface of all his gimmick lies the core issue: does he really respect the other on equal terms?  Analysing the dialogues in the play, Tendulkar leads  the  readers into psychological interpretation of attitudes.

      Robert Sternberg’s  theory of love with its variations may be applied to the central characters in their multiple love relationships characterised by   i) Intimacy – Which encompasses feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness. ii) Passion – Which encompasses drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation. iii) Commitment – Which encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, the shared achievements and plans made with that other (“Triangular Theory of Love” http://en.wikipedia.org).

        At the core of the play we find the love relationship between Jaisingh and Sarita  moving from one type of love to the other. It begins in an ideal consummate love when they were just married. From this ideal form of love they move on to a companionate love   relationship. Ultimately  the relationship ends in empty love  with only the nuptial knot between them as  legally wedded individuals. Kamala  lives in a world of empty love for Jaisingh since  he is her master.

      I have attempted to examine the various sequences in the play, examining the interactions between the characters to prove the exploitation of Sarita and Kamala.   

3. Sequence 1: Sarita at her task

Sarita lives a mechanical life, though apparently showing fulfilment in her daily occupations and preoccupations. As the play opens,  while serving breakfast to her uncle Kakasaheb, she is interrupted by several   phone calls.  She  writes down messages for her husband Jaisingh. She proves that she is fully involved in his job as a  journalist. She does her  duty to jot down every message over phone as has been strictly  instructed by him. Woe to her, if she fails in her task, Jaisingh would be very angry. She discloses everything to  Kakasaheb.

Sarita:  Who was it, Kakasaheb?

Kakasaheb: Someone. I didn’t ask who….

Sarita: I have to write down each phone call.

Kakasaheb: Well, I’ve just taken at least three. How many are you  going to write down? If  it’s anyone  important, they’ll tell you their names……

Sarita: That’s the way you see it. My husband sees it differently. If I say  they didn’t  tell me their names he gets angry with me for not asking (Tendulkar 3).

     As she arranges breakfast, she  is also busy attending to several phone calls.  She is very polite to a caller, introducing herself as Mrs. Jadhav. “Namaste ji. No, he hasn’t come yet… He didn’t tell me when… Is there anything I can… Press Conference? Tomorrow evening  at 6 at the Press Club? Achha ji. I’ll give him the message. May I know your name, sir? Thank you… Goodbye” (3).   She keeps writing every detail like a  robot, and attends to the next call  while continuing to be busied with other household chores.  To the next caller, she introduces her household: “Yes, this  is Mr. Jaisingh Jadhav’s  residence. May I know who is speaking? He hasn’t come back yet. I can give him a  message. To the office? I don’t know- whether he’ll be  going there. Your number?…Yes everything’s fine, thank you” (4).   Attending to another call  from  Surinder,  a family friend, though she  talks with much familiarity,  invites him to come to the house only when her husband returns. “Oh, Surinder! I didn’t  recognize your voice! I’m sorry. Kya message hai? …Thanks, Surinder! Thanks for the message…Yes, do come. Drop in sometime when he’s here…”(4).

          Mark some of the statements Sarita  has made in the course of  her morning  schedule of activities:

         “I have to write down each phone call…”

          “My husband sees it differently…”

         “If I say  they didn’t  tell me their names…”

        “…he gets angry with me for not asking.”

       “Yes, do come. Drop in sometime when he’s here…”

           She is  duty bound to write down and record every phone call. Woe to her, if she fails to do her husband’s bidding. He gets upset and angry if she ever fails to record a message. He has his fixed way of seeing things different from her. She  has no choice, but to do his bidding, though apparently happy with her lot. She is even scared  to have a guest come into the house in her husband’s absence. Sarita  is nothing more than a servant in the house, though with the  tag attached to her as a wife.

 4. Sequence 2: Attitude towards  Kamala

     When Jaisingh returns from his trip with  Kamala, a poor woman from the village, there is another side of Sarita and Jaisingh revealed.  For him, bringing   Kamala is a mission accomplished.

Jaisingh: Hello  Jaspalji,…I’ve  just come back. Mission accomplished! Yes, brought  her with me…  What’s she like? Why don’t you come and see for yourself. Yaar? Ekdum Id-ka Chand! (just like the  crescent moon). What time have you fixed the Press Conference?… Is everything else  ready? Excellent! They can still  prosecute me? Le them proceed. That’ll make a nice frontpage item. Even more publicity!  (9).  

     Jaisingh is  delighted about his accomplishment  to have bought Kamala to expose the crime committed against women. The woman also knows  the details of her being bought by him. When Jaisingh tells her to feel at home, considering the  house like her own, she  feels at ease.  He goes to the extend of asking her if she liked staying there  always.  But Sarita is shocked when she is told about the way he bought Kamala.

   Jaisingh:  I bought her  – in the Luhardaga bazaar, in Bihar.

    Sarita: Huh? Bought her?

     Jaisingh: Yes. For  two hundred and fifty rupees. Even a bullock costs  more than that. They sell   human beings at this bazaar…Human beings. They have an open  auction for women of all sorts of  ages. People come from long distances to make their bids.

    Sarita: They auction  – women? (14).

      He goes on to speak of the ways in which auctioneers  handle the women, checking them physically to find if they are sexually appealing. Sarita recoils with shock and expresses her disgust. He goes on to tell how Kamala had no bidders. He bought her for a meagre amount to prove that such vicious practice continues  in the country.  Though the  police knows about it, they don’t admit it. Sarita doesn’t feel comfortable about the  case at hand, and wonders why he  took up such an issue. He is adamant in going ahead  with his plan as a journalist, to expose something sensational. He  is determined to make the media sensation with evidence. He had kept it a secret even from the  proprietor of the paper. He is very articulate in speaking about the Luhardaga flesh market. “Women are sold in many places like that, all over the country…See how we’ll blast out  this shameful affair. There’ll be high drama at today’s press conference” (15).

     When  Jaisingh tells Kamala to go with him to the press conference,  she is  ready to obey her master. The conversation reveals how she  is a slave to him:

      Jaisingh: Kamala, you won’t  obey me 

     Kamala: How can that be? You are Kamala’s master.

     Jaisingh: I order you to come there with me, Today (20). 

       She expresses her  unwillingness to be present in front of a  crowd at the grand reception being prepared for them. She  remonstrated that  she won’t sit on the special chair, but on the ground  as she always did. She  shows her inability to articulate and talk in front of people.  Finally, after much cajoling, Kamala agreed to  go with him. He  refused to let her change her torn clothes. When Sarita suggests that she wears  a better dress, he is annoyed since he wants Kamala to appear  in her  pristine misery.    He is up to his game of mercenary journalism  as Kakasaheb points out.

 Kakasaheb: For example, five years ago you were living in the shed  outside a house  in Karol Bagh. And today you’re in a bungalow in Neeti Bagh…You have  servants, you have a car. You travel by plane all over the country. You stay in five-star hotels. You get invitations from foreign embassies. You have  access to ministers and chief ministers – or even to the  Prime Minister! What’s bad about that? The moral is: there’s no harm  in this game – if you know how to play it right (23)

          Jaisingh retorts saying that he has taken the desperate risk with a social purpose and commitment. “What I’m doing – what we  are doing  – there’s a great need today for somebody  to do just that.  In the moral rot  that’s set in – in this country, someone’s got to  uphold moral principles, moral norms, moral values. Someone  has got to hold back the uncontrolled   licence of those who have the  machinery of power in their hands. The weak and backward sections of society are under attack” (24). He feels duty bound to  make a hue  and cry about social injustice perpetrated  against the downtrodden and marginalised people.

          Jaisingh  decides  that Kamala wouldn’t be staying with them,  instead in a  women’s home. He   even talks about going to the Supreme Court if a case is registered against him for having bought her from a flesh market. His  motive is to sensitize people about  such crimes.   But   Sarita  is reluctant to send her to a women’s home and asks him if he ever gave a thought to Kamala- meaning her feelings as a human being. His answer is purely on the  basis of food and  shelter.  “She’ll  find the home a luxury after starving the way she used to. … A proper roof over her head. She will be more than happy” (26). He tells Sarita not to be sentimental about Kamala as she won’t feel bad going to such a home.  The sequence shows the different attitudes of the two: Jaisingh has no feelings for the emotions of the girl. She is a plaything in his hands to expose the evil perpetrated in the system.   Sarita,  on the other hand, goes deeper into the heart of the matter, taking stock of  the  feelings and sensibilities of a woman like herself. For Jaisingh, Kamala is only a tool in his hands for  his media success. For Sarita, Kamala is a  woman like herself with feelings and emotions.

5. Sequence 3: Some  hidden  revelations

          Act II, after the after the press conference, Jaisingh and Sarita expose  the intricacies  of their relationship. He feels  a sense of relief after so many days of tension.  Sarita insists that he has his dinner after drinking  for  a long time. But he is in no mood for food, instead he invites her  upstairs to the bedroom. When she shrugs away making excuses he keeps  insisting, exercising his power over her as her husband.

 Jaisingh: Come upstairs.

Sarita: No…ler me go. I’ve  got work to do.

Jaisingh (Trying to embrace her) Work later. Come upstairs now.

Sarita: (Throwing him aside with a single shove) Move aside. What are you doing?

Jaisingh: (Hurt). What is the matter? What did I do? Why are you making a  face like that? Why did you push me away? You’ve never  done that before… Tell me … I’m your husband, after all. What was wrong about what I said?… You must tell me. I must know. Don’t  I have the right to have my wife when I feel like it? Don’t I? I’m hungry for that  too – I’ve been hungry for six days. Is it a crime to ask for it? Answer me! (32).

         Sarita shows her  aversion for him.  Unable to retort, she tries to control her aversion and exits towards the kitchen.  Even though  Jaisingh calls her again, she doesn’t respond. In disgust he fists into his hand uttering “The bitch!” (32). The sequence reveals a hidden secret in their conjugal relationship. Is she merely treated like a cog in the machine of his lust? Has she lost her identity as a person, being at his beck and call? These are questions that the dramatist raises, searching for answers.

6. Sequence 4:   Sarita’s discovery

         Both  Sarita  and Kamala have a  heart to heart talk that night. Kamala expresses her happiness being in a  palatial house. She is curious about Sarita’s role in the house. Kamala is surprised to learn that there are no children in the house. Sarita’s childless marriage and the  ineffective treatment she underwent is revealed, leading to  Jaisingh’s unhappiness. Kamala picks up courage to ask some pertinent questions which is  central to the play.

 Kamala: Can I ask you something? You won’t be angry?

Sarita: No. Go on.

Kamala: How much did he buy you for?

Sarita:  What?

Kamala:  I said, how much did he buy you for?

Sarita:  (Recovering) Me? Look here, Kamala (Changes her mind, and sits down beside her.) For seven hundred.

Kamala: My god! Seven hundred?

Sarita: Why? Was it too little?

Kamala: It was an expensive bargain, memsahib. If you pay seven hundred, and there are no children… Then he has to pay for clothes, and for food. He must be very unhappy. Really.

Sarita: How many children do you have, Kamala?

Kamala: I’ll have as many as you want. And work as hard as you want. I can work hard… from morning to evening. Does he have property of his own, memsahib? (34-5).

          Having spoken her mind out, Kamala goes mum, nurturing  some thoughtless thoughts. At Sarita’s persistent insistence,  she speaks out very seriously:

 Kamala: Memsahib, if you won’t misunderstand, I’ll tell you. The master bought you; he bought me, too. He spent a lot of money on the two of us. Didn’t he? It isn’t easy to earn money… So, memsahib, both of us must stay here  together like sisters. We’ll keep the master happy. We’ll make him prosperous. The master will have children. I’ll  do the hard work, and I’ll bring forth the children. I’ll bring them up. You are an educated woman. You keep the accounts and run the house… Fifteen days of the month, you sleep with the master; the other fifteen, I’ll sleep with him. Agreed?

Sarita:  (In a whirl at all this, and also very moved by it). Agreed. 

          Kamala is very excited about her plans and wanted Sarita to tell her husband about it   since she felt herself a stupid peasant to approach the master. When Sarita says “Alright, Kamala. I’ll have to do it myself” (35), it is a statement more than a mere reply to Kamala. She has to  probe into her very  existence as a woman.

          The following morning,  a phone message  comes from the Police Station asking Jaisingh to call the Inspector. Sarita wants to know what is happening. When the Inspector calls again, Jaisingh instructs her to say  that he is out of home. Meanwhile he decides to take Kamala out to  the orphanage. Sarita objects to his plan saying that she would feel out of place in such a place. With great determination Sarita says that   he is deceiving her by sending her away. She asserts herself:

 Sarita: Kamala is not going with you. She’s  going to stay here.

Jaisingh: Stay here? Don’t be absurd!

Sarita: I’m telling  you this very seriously. Kamala is going to stay here.

Jaisingh: Who said so?

Sarita: I did…. She will stay here  like Kamalabai does.

Jaisingh: Have you gone mad or something?

Sarita: I’ve given it a lot of thought. Kamala and I have already discussed it (41-2).

         Sarita is unable to resist him. He forcibly  takes Kamala out to the orphanage saying lest the police  would take custody of the girl and the court battle would be difficult. But Kakasaheb is not convinced of his  shallow moves and says: “Kamala  is just a pawn in his game of chess” (43). Suddenly Sarita  bursts out saying that she is also a  pawn in his hands like Kamala.

         In the evening when Jaisingh returns, Sarita enquires about Kamala. She is told  how he put her in the  Women’s Home and the subsequent police case filed against him in the court. When Jaisingh invites her to the party in the night, Sarita  refuses to go. The altercation between the two reveals  the  crisis in their spousal  relationship:

 Jaisingh: Don’t you want to come to the party?

Sarita: That’s my will.

Jaisingh: (Rather surprised) Your will?

Sarita: Aren’t I  allowed  to have a will of my own?

Jaisingh: (Sarcastically). Never noticed any signs of it before. If you didn’t want to come, you could at least have told me earlier. Then I wouldn’t have accepted  for both of us (44-5).

          When  Jaisingh   goes out, Sarita  discusses matters with Kakasaheb. She discloses her thoughts on  the Kamala episode.

 Sarita: I am going to  present a man who in the year 1982 still keeps a slave, right here in Delhi. Jaisingh Jadhav I’m going to say: this man’s a great advocate of freedom. And he brings home a slave  and exploits her. He doesn’t consider a  slave a human being – just  a useful object. One you can use and throw away He gets people to call him a sworn enemy of tyranny. But he tyrannizes his own slave as much as he likes… Listen to the to the story  of how he bought  the slave Kamala and made use of her. The other slave he got free – not just free – the slave’s father shelled out the money – a big sum (46).

            A revelation is at hand for Sarita who realizes the way her husband exploited her in pure slavery. The only difference she finds is that Kamala was bought for a paltry sum, while she was sold through a huge dowry from her father at  her marriage to Jaisingh. He  is nothing but a slave-driver for Sarita. The only thing that happened in between them is the institution of marriage. It was Kamala who opened her eyes to the reality of her life with Jaisingh which was nothing but a   socially approved slavery: “Kamala showed me everything. Because of her, I suddenly saw things clearly. I saw that the man I thought my partner was the master of a slave. I have no rights at all in this house. Because I’m a slave (46). Sarita realizes that she had been a pawn in his hands, dancing to his music and moods. Like a slave she had no rights in his home except to do his bidding: “Laugh when he says laugh. Cry, when he says, cry. When he says pick up  the phone, they must pick it  up. When he says, come to the party, they  must go. When he says, lie on the bed – they…” (46).

           Kakasaheb  only consoles her  saying that it is the product of manhood. Sarita has to cope up with the truth of the fact that a wife’s duty is to be behind her husband. “It may be unpleasant, but it’s true. If the world is to go on, marriage must go on. And it will go on like this” (47). Sarita retorts to such a revelation by Kakasaheb “Why aren’t women ever the masters? Why can’t a women at least ask to live her life the same way a man? Why must  only a man have the right to be a  man” Does he have an extra sense? Woman can do everything a man can” (47). But all her queries  lead to no substantial answer. Kakasaheb only repeats the same age old adage “What a man does is manhood” (47). Sarita’s plea to change the mindset brings only more and more frustration enveloped in anger. Her argument “Those who do manly things should be equal to men. Those who don’t,  are women” (47) remains yet an enigma.

         Meanwhile message comes that Jaisingh had been sacked  from his job, since he crossed the wrong people  in exposing the case. Sarita continues her mechanical life of answering telephone calls  as before. When Jaisingh  returns, she tells him that he had been sacked. As Jaisingh collapses on the sofa with exhaustion, Kakasaheb and  Sarita continue their chatting on the issue. Kakasaheb points to Jaisingh to prove his point on manhood and the mistakes men make, asserting themselves. Sarita in her frustration, decides to submit to her fate: “But at present I’m going  to lock all that up in a corner of my mind and forget about it. But a day will come, Kakasaheb, when I will stop being slave. I’ll no longer be an object to be used and thrown away. I’ll do what I wish, and no one will rule over me. That day has to come. And I’ll pay whatever price I have to pay for it” (52). With determination on her face, she observes her sleeping husband, deciding to stay on with him. The play ends open ended with her hope of a future.

 7. Conclusion

      It has been questioned if Tendulkar is an escapist in writing Kamala and depicting woman in a male-dominated society with a particular masochist  tendency  or a parody  of the orthodox notion of a wife’s duties (Gokhale 151). Is Sarita  representative of  the Indian wife, a masochist, having no other option  and Kakasaheb cynically mocks at  her sufferings glossing over his male chauvinism?  The play throws light on the victim position women play as they are exploited in multiple ways. Kamala remains very subtle in its  attitude of subjugating women. Patriarchal hegemony is established as Kakasaheb observes how men have to prove their manhood in multiple ways – be it to one’s wife or slave. Though Sarita attempts to assert her identity as a woman, free from  slavish subjugation of her husband, in the final analysis she has no choice but to fall back on  her traditional role-play in wedlock. At the core of the story lies Sarita’s childlessness, which haunts her when Kamala proposes to make up for it, begetting children for her master. Perhaps it is  his  childlessness that  prompts Jaisingh to go into   yellow journalism – trying to find fulfilment  is creating a sensational revelation of a social malady. In fact he is nothing more than a slave driver, who  exploits the two women,  Sarita and Kamala for his own self-satisfaction.


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Tendulkar, Vijay. “Kamala.” Collected Plays. New Delhi: OUP,  2005, 3-52.