Samdani Seminars:Rehearsing the Witness at Pathshala

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Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case
A talk by Zuleikha Chaudhari

The Bhawal court case was an extended pre-­independence Indian court case that revolved around the identity of a sanyasi (or Hindu religious ascetic), claiming to be the second Kumar of Bhawal (the heir of one of the last large zamindari estates in Dhaka), who was presumed dead a decade earlier. The claim was contested by the British Court of Wards and by the widow of Ramendra Narayan Roy (the second Kumar of Bhawal) Bibhabati Devi. The case was in trial from 1930 – 1946.

Over the course of sixteen years, the physical attributes, birthmarks, portraits and testimony were collated as forensic evidence to establish the claimant/sanyasi’s identity as being the Kumar. Hundreds of witnesses, including doctors, photographers, artists, prostitutes, peasants, revenue collectors, tenants, holy men, magistrates, handwriting experts, relatives and passers-­‐by were deposed. The case went from the District Court in Dhaka to the High Court of Calcutta to the Privy Council in London, finally ending in 1946 with a victory for the plaintiff, who died a few days after the verdict.

Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case uses this trial about a possible impostor to re-­‐examine the enormous archive that the case produced, through performance as a means of problematising the notions of evidence, archive and identity.
Both the domains of the law and theatre/acting frame larger questions that pertain to the production of truth and reality, assumptions of stable, consistent and believable identities and the construction of a credible narrative.

The project explores the questions of law as performance, the role of performance in law and the performativity of legal truth-­‐production.

The talk at the Pathshala South Aisan Media Institute will describe the forthcoming 3 day performance at the Dhaka Art Summit which will be drawing a relationship between re-enactment, (crime-scene) reconstruction and retrial; the complex tension between forensic evidence, the act of speculation/imagination and truth finding and truth making.

Date: 25th April 2017
Time: 5:00pm onwards
Venue: Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Panthapath, Dhaka

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