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Breaking down boundaries in Meri Kahani: My Story
She carefully applies the tanned colour foundation on her pale brown face. She can see her children staring at her through the reflection of the mirror. She closes her eyes to block it away. But she can’t. It’s in her and now, it’s in her children. An unrelentless fear that expands with each breath she takes; with each breath her children take. She smiles softly as to hide away the pain. She silently accepts it, with the belief that one day, he’ll change.
This is just one out of hundreds of isolated cases in the GTA. ‘She’ represents the South Asian woman putting up a brave face. ‘She’ represents a woman who will bury her wounds for the sake of keeping her family together.
On Wednesday May 16th 2007, ‘she’ will be shown in a play called Meri Kahani: My Story. There will be many variations of her. From a young nine year old girl who has seen her mother abused to an older queer woman who is reliving her past through a series of flashbacks. Each one being told as a story. A real story.
Two recent grads from the University of Toronto’s Masters of Social Work program, Umbereen Inayet and Mehreen Poonja, came up with both the vision and the concept for the play. “It began as a school project in September 2006, “they said casually. “We were pleasantly surprised and excited that there was an interest to produce our play even before it was completely finished.”
The expressed interest came from Atulya Sharman, Community Legal Worker at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO). “We interviewed a number of South Asian agencies prior to writing our play, “explained Umbereen and Mehreen. “SALCO was one of the agencies we approached. They came to us in January 2007. “ Though the product was not fully completed, SALCO wanted both writers to put together a play for the South Asian Heritage Month in May 2007.
“We were honoured that we could use the tools to talk about this important issue. Each story comes from a different perspective and each story is relatable. With Meri Kahani: My Story, we wanted to push boundaries and add to the social movement to end violence in the South Asian community. We thought the medium of stories is good a way to come across and convey controversial topics.”
Once Meri Kahani: My Story got picked up by SALCO, other South Asian agencies in Toronto began to get involved. Umbereen and Mehreen partnered with the Coalition of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) and the South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC) for South Asian Heritage Month to educate and promote dialogue about the challenges and issues of domestic violence within the South Asian community.
“We have a well rounded group of agencies,” articulated Umbereen and Mehreen. “This includes agencies that specialize in South Asian legal services, AIDS prevention and other vital community services.”
A panel discussion will follow the one hour play. The panel includes agency directors and prominent social advocates in the South Asian community. In addition, resources from the partnered agencies will be available for people to pick up.
“We hope to empower women to speak up,” Umbereen and Mehreen said confidently. Based on recent reports from Stats Canada, women were more than three times as likely as men to say they feared for their lives from a violent spouse. This represents approximately 224,000 women. This is consistent with the data that indicate that women suffer from more severe acts of spousal assault and are more likely to be killed by a spouse (Stats Canada, 2004).
Umbereen and Mehreen understand the magnitude of the issue.
“We would like to see a change take place on three levels. Micro - understanding what abuse (physical, emotional & financial) and personal boundary violations look like on a individual level and gaining support to resist abuse from family and friends, Mezzo - taking a pro-active stance to show intolerance and support from community members and access to community agencies and Macro - seeing change take place at the policy level, which allows for better services, calls for more funding and creates accessible information about individual rights and abuse for newcomers.”
Meri Kahani: My Story is the beginning of that change. It is the beginning of a movement.
A free showcase of the play will take place on May 16th at the Hart House, University of Toronto Downtown campus at 7:00 pm.
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