By Laura Salinger
Loosely inspired by Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” Yoni Ki
Baat (Talk of the Vagina) was started by the South Asian Sisters in 2003
and is a monologue performance exploring women’s sexuality, their
bodies, their feelings, and their place in the world. The creators, who
were inspired by Ensler’s work and wanted to bring a South Asian
perspective to the dialogue, envisioned an ever-evolving monologue
that would bluntly tackle sensitive topics from a female perspective.
Culturally sometimes a taboo topic, the producers were surprised at
how many South Asian women were willing and wanting to share their
stories. Soon, other organizations and universities began contacting the
South Asian Sisters to discover how they could put on their own
versions of Yoni Ki Baat. The South Asian Forum in Madison recently
put on their own version of Yoni Ki Baat on the UW-Madison campus for
the second year in a row.
The recent performance of Yoni Ki Baat at UW-Madison was an
honest look at women in diaspora, directed and produced by Amberine
Huda, Ayeshah Emon, Borna Ghosh, and Farah Elakhaoui.
“Our theme this year explores the experiences and reflections of
women in diaspora,” the producers explained about this year’s Yoni Ki
Baat. “We recognize that there have never been “pure” cultures to begin
with. People have migrated, mixed, traded, intermarried and coexisted
since the dawn of humankind. As directors and producers of YKB, our
imaginings of diaspora encompass the adversities and challenges of
movement, migration, and resettlement in a foreign land. In some cases,
Women tell all in Yoni Ki Baat
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diasporic populations face collective trauma, especially in times of war and violence when they are either banished forcefully or
choose to live in exile outside their natal or imagined natal territory.”
One of the goals of this year’s production was to bring volume to voices that have historically been muted. The stories told are
solely through the eyes of females.
According to the YKB producers, “Diasporic identities are often strongly entrenched in language, religion, folklore, customs,
ethnicity, nationality and territory. Adding a feminist lens, one can view experiences of diaspora as they relate to intersections of
nationhood, race, gender, sexuality, and economic exploitation in the context of emergent global capitalism.”
The topics can be unsettling but in the end, the YKB directors and producers were seeking empowerment for women in diaspora.
“As nonwestern women in diaspora, we, the YKB directors, have found ourselves grappling with the politics of representation.
How do we speak of cultural practices such as female genital cutting, honor killing, bride kidnapping and dowry burning without in
some way portraying to Western audiences that women of the nonwestern world are helpless and passive beings in need of saving
from barbaric and oppressive male patriarchs? The answer is, by telling our stories in our own voices. We make no grand claims to
generalize and represent the experiences of all women in the US diaspora. As members of academia, we, in some ways occupy a
privileged position vis-à-vis our sisters living in our natal lands. Yet, in other contexts – as members of the society and as citizens
and noncitizens of the United States, we are subject to racial, gender, sexual and class inequalities. Through Yoni Ki Baat, we speak
from a platform where we our empowered and from which we can empower others to share their stories in their own voices.”
South Asia Forum-Madison (SAF-M) is a Madison based collective consisting primarily of (but not restricted to) students,
activists and all those interested in promoting awareness and discourse about issues pertaining to South Asia. Ideologically, it is a
group committed to an agenda of peace and harmony among peoples - across boundaries of nationality, religion, race, class, color,
ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. The main focus, however, is on the South Asian region (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal
and Sri Lanka).
Issues of interest include development, environment, cultural, social and political issues (especially pertaining to the South
Asian Diaspora in the US). As the name of the group suggests (South Asia FORUM), the agenda of the group is to some extent, an
open one. The main idea is to provide members a platform on which to engage in discussion and dialogue