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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2023



Poile Sengupta’s Alipha : A Feminist Study

Rekha, Ph.D. Research Scholar,

Dr. Beena Agarwal (Supervisor), Associate Professor, Head of the Deptt. of English, D.S. College, Aligarh, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Agra


Feminist perspective is a woman-centered theory that provides strategy for change to establish political, economical, social and personal equality of the gender in the society. Feminism is a way to raise a voice of women against the violence dominated by patriarchy. In the words of Maggie Humm, -

The Fundamental goal of Feminist perspective is ‘to understand women’s oppression in terms of race, gender, class, and sexual preference and how to change it.

In Indian society women are subjugated and oppressed in different forms to establish the patriarchal norms. They are treated as a weaker section of the society. Women are considered to be puppets in the hands of men and are used only for sexual pleasure. Under the influence of Feminism movement, Women have got equal opportunities for educational and vocational growth equal to men in the society. Through feminism, the writers try to eradicate the evil of gender inequality which is prevalent in the society. Gender discrimination is the main root to create violence towards women.

Today male domination is prevalent everywhere in the society which is responsible for deprivation of women of their rights. Poile Sengupta, the emerging dramatist of Indian soil, in her plays presents the diverse images of female oppression in society. Her female centric plays were published under the tittle ‘Women Centre Stage: The Dramatist and the Play’ by Routledge Publishers in 2010. In ‘Alipha’ through the female personage, Poile Sengupta has tried to find out the evils of society that are women facing today.

The play, Alipha is a powerful play to depict a realistic picture of India where women are subjugated. They are always treated as a second citizen. In this regard, Sarah Moore Grimke, an American abolitionist, rightly observes, -

“Man has subjugated woman to his will, used her as a means to promote his selfish gratification, to minister to his sensual pleasure, to be instrumental in promoting his comfort, but never has he desired to elevate her to that rank she was created to fill.”

Through the play, Alipha the main purpose of Poile Sengupta is to highlight the issues like gang rape, exploitation, violence, political power, and physical torture that are responsible for the sufferings of women in society. The playwright wants to explore how woman is bound to make consistently struggle to maintain her identity in the dominated society. As a playwright, she is possessing deep insight into the female consciousness in her plays. Her plays reveal various social issues regarding female’s subjugation in a contemporary Indian society. Her plays are centered around women’s subjugation, discrimination, domestic violence, patriarchy, political power and female atrocities. The female characters of the plays belong to the middle class family and victim of male domination.

The play, Alipha is one of the play opens for discussion on the various forms of violence that is inflicted on female body. This is a one-hour play written in 2001 by Poile Sengupta and firstly performed on 12 Sep 2001. In this play, Poile Sengupta reveals a parallel story of a social activist and a politician. The play revolves around two characters, Man and Woman who survive under nameless identity.

In this play, woman’s story travels in two phases whereas man’s in a single evening. He recalls his past days. The whole plot of this play touches a small town politics and immense efforts of social activist. Both characters, ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ lead their role independently.The play begins with the statement of Woman, a social activist who reveals her story to her Friend, Asma who never appears on the stage. Woman discusses her life story in two phases. She says that when she was a little girl, she recalls an incident related to her aunty how she involves with a politician’s son in a sexual relationship and she was locked in another room. She doesn’t know why she is locked up? This incident has a negative effect on her. In this statement Poile Sengupta has used questionnaire method to highlight the inner feelings of girl. Gradually she grows towards adulthood and happy also getting all the facilities of life such as school fees and other necessary things. But she does not know how her aunty provides these facilities to make her life comfortable.Turing point of her life begins when her aunty dies. She was the only person who was taking care of her after the death of her parents.

After the death of her aunty, the Woman drapes herself in white saree. This is the symbol of adolescence. Thus begins the second phase of her life. She becomes  bold enough to take the responsibility of her own like independently. After attaining her adulthood, she joins an Anganwadi centre to teach children and to continue her study because she has become helpless to fulfill her financial needs. She also discloses the identity of postman who is her own uncle, her father’s older brother. Postman is a close friend of politician, who contributes in making life lustful and frivolous. Further woman gets an opportunity to teach adults where she faces several problems. Thus Woman, social activist reveals pathetic condition of her life how she faces problems like poverty, agony, suffering, discrimination and illiteracy in the society. Poile Sengupta projects the character of woman as the spokesman of female suffering that is imposed on female self.

Connecting the misery of all women with her own sorrow, the Woman narrates to her friend, Asma,-

How unhappy these women are! What a miserable life they lead. It’s not just the poverty. That’s bad enough. It’s also the rules that they have to Follow.....because they are women. So many rules. Keeps your legs closed.....keep your mouth shut. Don’t dress up too much because a man will get attracted to you. Don’t make demands because the man might get angry with you. Don’t wear scent. Don’s let the Jasmine dangle in your hair. Don’t swing your hips like a prostitute. Don’t smile. Don’t laugh. (WCS.233)

In this statement, Poile Sengupta tries to convince that woman has no choice of her own and she has to design all her dreams within the framework of the directions given by men. It is an evidence of female subjugation both at physical and mental level. It exposes the irony of the patriarchal system of the society where women are born to follow the norms of patriarchy. The subordination of women is well defined in this statement.The real truth of our society is that inspite of being educated and empowered, woman is suppressed and subjugated in the hands of male partners. In this regard, Social activist presents her statement to highlight the atrocities being inflicted on female body.

...For the women...aa... is their husbands pinching their is a slap across the when he picks up a when he hits her with the when he pushes her out of the I can’t go on Asma... It’s a tale of unending horror... unrelieved darkness... blinding darkness. (WCS.234)

In this observation, Poile Sengupta has tried to connect the imagery of domestic violence with teaching alphabets. The alphabets are used to describe the pathetic condition of women how they suffer in the family.

Further, in the play, Alipha the Woman, Social activist reveals another incident to Asma to reveal the position of women who become victim of men’s nefarious designs. When a woman worker of trade Union steals the rice and foods from the Aganwadi centre, Devi, student of Social activist, protests against this illegal activity of an unknown woman. But this culprit woman gets support from her boyfriend, Babu who is a close friend of politician.

Due to the feeling of revenge, the situation becomes more complicated. At the end, Devi was gang-raped by Babu and his Friends. In this way, Devi has to lose her life for raising her voice against the truth. It is the distinction of Poile Sengupta that she dramatizes the idea of gang rape and sexual harassment on the stage to expose the wickedness hidden in the mental spectrum of patriarchal society. This sexual assault creates the emotions of pity and fear in social activist. In this regard, the Woman writes, -

“Asma... she’s dying. Devi is dying... they raped her... two of them... and then whipped her with a bicycle chain... I don’t know how she managed to get here...” (WCS.239)

To take revenge against cruel crime, the Social Activist raises her voice against those criminals who raped and tortured Devi. In her statement, she says to her friend, Asma, -

I will not let them go... I will not rest till they are hanged for what they did. I will take revenge. I swear it. (WCS.239)

In this narration, Poile Sengupta has tried to show her female consciousness and women empowerment. Poile Sengupta depicts a realistic picture of the society where women are exploited due to the power hidden in the designs of politicians.

Politician supports his friend, Babu to kill Devi. In this opposition, Woman activist wants to take revenge on the entire patriarchal system of society which is responsible to establish this type situation towards females. Due to being helpless, social activist wants to help from politician’s father. She wants justice for Devi. But in patriarchal society, it is not easy for women to stand up against injustice. Despite being empowered and educated, woman is defeated under the norms of society. The identical chain of torture persists in the life of Devi who also becomes a victim of the evil designs of political activist, who uses women to impose their identity on others. Politician determines to take revenge for the insult of him. He goes to her home to search of her. Finally he kills the woman to maintain his image in the society. It shows a hypocritical picture of the society. It is an illustration of the extreme of insecurity buried in male consciousness.

Later Politician brings a diary from her table that discloses the truth of his life how he spent his nine years to fulfill his sexual desires. He reads the diary continuously and finds that this literary woman is none other but to whom he paid school fees. He was sexually involved with her aunty. After reading the diary, he has been out of control to take right decision for the last three days. Finally, he decides to burn the diary because Politician wants to hide his crime. Regarding this, he states, -

“I have to make sure nothing can be traced to me... I’am sure nobody saw me go to the house and nobody saw me return... tomorrow... I will go to the factory and get them to open it... I will attend her funeral and make a heart-rending speech... I will praise her work and pray for her soul.”  (WCS.241)

Realistic picture of the society is well exposed in this narration. Here, Poile Sengupta throws the light on the hidden crime of the society where the criminal moves around free and woman goes through with internal pain that is given by male atrocities. By paying a huge amount, male domination succeeds to make his practices over woman in the society.

In Alipha, Poile Sengupta has challenged the established norms of patriarchal society. Further she has tried to expose the hypocratic image of the politician who considers women as weak, obstacle, temptress and object of sexual pleasure. Poile Sengupta rejecting the fear of guilt and shame reveals on the stage that Men survive with their own insecurities and therefore, a man fails to expose the real picture of his action and intention in front of a woman. In other words, it justifies that the inflection on female body is the sign of insecurity hidden in male consciousness. In this power structure woman is suppressed because she is not permitted to take an upperhand in the social structure.

Through the play, ‘Alipha’ Poile Sengupta has tried to present the pathetic condition of women in this social structure where women suffer a lot just because of their female identity. Here dramatist focuses on the issue of gender discrimination. The male culprit is free to move around but the female suffers as if she has committed the crime. She feels ashamed to reveal her pathetic situation in the society. In this play, Poile Sengupta presents the Woman as Social Activist but in reality the Woman is highlighted as a victim of male domination. It is an irony of the position of woman in society. It also denotes that the mechanism of activism of woman is a strategy to take revenge for all the sins done to her.

However, on the other hand, Politician is presented as a symbol of patriarchal power. In the play, Alipha Politician prefers to live a lustful life. He himself admits such nature when he expresses his sexual desires towards women. He doesn’t care if he is exiled of college or has no respect at home. He says, “If rape is inevitable lie back and... enjoy it... so that’s what I did... I decided I would enjoy myself in exile...” (WCS.219). In this statement, Poile Sengupta has tried to highlight the lustful behavior of Man, a politician. Inspite of being a Politician, he gives preference for sexual pleasure. He has no aim to use his life to do the right thing. In his collegiate life, he expresses his feelings towards women.To quote, -

Yes alright... there were those episodes in college... But it was all done with consent. I was just bloody unlucky with that lecturer woman... I merely put my hand down the front of her blouse... it was a bet... that’s all. (WCS.223)

This statement exposes the real image of the youth of our society. Playwright throws the light on the traditions of male domination that are responsible to create the pathetic situation of women in society.

The role of power is dramatized in a pervasive manner in Sengupta’s play ‘Alipha’ from the beginning to the end. Male domination runs as power structure on every page of the play. This power structure of the society operates at different levels such as domestic, social and political. Poile Sengupta has well expressed her views regarding the power of male dominated society. Through the statement of Politician, Poile Sengupta clearly writes, -

Finally, the world was at my command... the men in the palm of my hand. They were like human dice... I could set them up... I could throw them down... I could do what I bloody like with them. (WCS.235).

This statement shows the power of patriarchy where an institution or society is created to consider the women inferior and weak to men in different frames of subordination. Being educated and empowered these women are considered to be caretaker of home, nurturer of their children and obey the orders of their husband. They have no choice of their own to carve out the designs of their life.

However due to the immense efforts of the great social reformers and thinkers, today women are independent, literate and able to take right decision towards their rights in the society. Education is used as a tool for women to bring a reduction in inequalities and improve their status in the family as well as in the society. Such an affirmation of female autonomy and female awaking will help in reducing the burden on women inculcate freedom and power. In this regard, Amitava Ghosh rightly remarks, “Today a woman writing is a woman fighting. For truth, for honesty, freedom, even if not for equality.” (Ghosh). In the play, ‘Alipha’ Poile Sengupta also highlights the problems of adult education. The efforts of social activist are clearly exposed when she tries to teach adult women. Through the teaching alphabet, Social activist creates the power of words among illiterate women. Poile Sengupta accepts that women empowerment through education can reduce the sufferings of women.

In Alipha, Poile Sengupta tries to present her female characters powerful as well as courageous to fight for their rights against the patriarchy. In her plays, Playwright has tried to highlight every aspect of exploitation and oppression regarding women. She not only exposes the pathetic condition of female but also tries an attempt to create awareness in the women to construct their rights, and position in social structure of patriarchy. She highlights that women exploitation is a universal phenomena that is prevalent every field of the society. Woman is not weak by nature. The playwright says that woman is subjugated but not passive. She can take revenge against injustice. Sengupta has tried to expose a tool of women empowerment that she retains her humanity and human quality and therefore, she can resist her victims. In Alipha, Poile Sengupta talks about the nexus of political power and patriarchy. In this play, playwright celebrates education as a tool of women empowerment to resist against a social injustice towards women.

However, this play, Alipha portrays the realistic picture of the Indian society where women are not secure in the patriarchal system of the society.

Thus, in Alipha Poile Sengupta has established to highlight several social issues of the society such as illiteracy, women’s subjugation, Domestic violence, corruption, crime, and exploitation that are prevalent in the modern society.

Works Cited

Ghosh,Amitav, “Amitav Ghosh & the 2001 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize: Tracking the Controversy” 18 March 2001, online,20 march 2001.

Humm, Maggie, ‘The Dictionary of Feminist Theory’ (Columbus, USA: Ohio State UP, 1990) X.

Kamble, R.P. “Exploration of Women Concerns in the Selected Plays of Poile Sengupta and Anupama Chandrashekhar: A Study in Comparison”, June, 2021.

M. Grimke, Sarah, “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women” 1836 rept. (New York: Source Book Press, 1970) 10.

Sengupta, Poile, ‘Women Centre Stage: The Dramatist and the Play, Rutledge, New Delhi, 2010.