Act Three resumes where Act Two let off. Sukhatme and Kashikar, speaking more formally than in the previous acts, usher Benare to the witness box. She will not move. They order Rokde to help, he refuses, and so Mrs. Kashikar pulls Benare to the box where she stands in silent terror.
This scene cements the gathered thespians complete disregard for Benare’s wellbeing. Although she obviously no longer wants to take part in the “game,” their own quest for their twisted version of justice outweighs treating her morally.
Sukhatme puts on his lawyer gown and urges Kashikar to put on his judge’s robes. As they dress their “gravity and dignity increase.”
Sukhatme orders the assembled men and women to sit. He closes his eyes and prays, noting how “pure” it makes him feel, and how much strength it gives to him. Finished, he insists Benare take an oath. She remains still and silent. Samant urges her to cooperate, as it is “all a game.”
Even as the mood in the court has shifted, and Benare has been trapped inside, Samant still calls the whole thing a game, although it clearly is not. Sukhatme’s reference to purity reflects his discussion of the importance of mothers’ morality earlier in the play, and also suggests that he is pure while others, like Benare, are not.
Mrs. Kashikar places Benare’s hand on the dictionary, and though she still will not speak Mrs. Kashikar argues they should continue. Sukhatme begins to question her although she remains silent. Sukhatme asks her age, and Mrs. Kashikar guesses thirty-two, but Kashikar won’t accept this estimation. When Benare refuses to answer yet again, Kashikar decides she’s “not less than thirty-four.”
By overestimating Benare’s age, which is likely 32, Kashikar and Sukhatme attempt to insult and devalue her. In a society that doesn’t value older, unmarried women, by suggesting she is older than she is they suggest she is less worthy of respect.
Kashikar gives a short speech about reviving child marriage in order to curb promiscuity. He argues that Agarkar and Dhondo Keshav Karve, two social reformers and women’s welfare activists, have ruined society.
Kashikar genuinely believes the moral problems in society come from women having independence. However, if they marry young, by his logic, they won’t be independent and won’t pollute society.
Sukhatme asks Benare how she has managed to remain unmarried at such a “mature” “advanced” age. She remains silent even as Kashikar yells at her. Sukhatme decides to call a new witness.
Sukhatme continues to equate Benare’s singleness with an immoral lifestyle, and further tries to insult her by calling her unflatteringly old.
Mrs. Kashikar is called to the stand. Kashikar mocks her for being over eager. Sukhatme asks Mrs. Kashikar why, she thinks, Benare has remained unmarried. Mrs. Kashikar believes it must have been a choice, and Benare could have married if she wanted. She thinks it’s an issue of women earning their own incomes, which leads to promiscuity, which leads to delayed marriage. Mrs. Kashikar observes women can get “everything” they want without being tied down. Sukhatme asks her to elaborate. She clarifies that she means these women can get “everything in life.”
Kashikar cannot let an opportunity to mock his wife and assert his dominance pass him by. Unfortunately, although also a woman, Mrs. Kashikar feels no sympathy for or solidarity with Benare. Like her husband, Mrs. Kashikar believes unmarried women are inherently promiscuous and immoral. The trial allows her a chance to more publicly share her views.
Sukhatme asks Mrs. Kashikar for proof that Benare has behaved promiscuously. Mrs. Kashikar points to the free way Benare acts around men. She complains about the volume of Benare’s laugh, her singing, and her dancing. Sukhatme is disappointed with this proof.
Once again, Mrs. Kashikar uses the trial to call out aspects of Benare’s behavior that she dislikes, accusing her of being immoral for simply living her life in a way that Mrs. Kashikar personally disapproves of.
Mrs. Kashikar tries another strategy, wondering why Benare needed Damle to walk her home after performances. Sukhatme wonders if Damle was just doing her a favor, as he is a family man. Mrs. Kashikar announces that Benare made a pass at Rokde as well. Samant tries to chime in that he was alone with Benare and she acted appropriately, but he’s cut off.
Mrs. Kashikar suggests, as others did in Act 2, that the fact that Benare is sometimes alone with men means she is definitely doing something nefarious, a sexist assumption that women and men cannot be trusted. Ironically, although Benare likely has been capable of being alone with men with no ulterior motives, because of her pregnancy, she has been using one on one time to find a husband.
Sukhatme dismisses Mrs. Kashikar and calls Rokde as a witness again. As the players shift positions he tells Benare that the “game’s really warmed up.”
Once again, the traumatic trial is framed as a game—a game whose objective seems to be to destroy and embarrass Benare.
Rokde takes the stand. Sukhatme refers to him as Mr. Rokde, but Mrs. Kashikar continues to urge “Balu” to speak. Rokde admits eight days ago Benare held his hand after a performance. He shook her off, arguing it was improper, and she asked him to keep it a secret, threatening him if he spoke out. From the dock, Benare finally speaks, calling out that Rokde is lying, but is ignored.
Even in this important moment for Rokde, who has always wanted to be a witness, Mrs. Kashikar feels the need to take him down and make sure he knows his place. Still, Rokde is able to deliver evidence in the form of a real interaction he had with Benare.
Rokde says he slapped Benare after she threatened him and promised to tell someone. Mrs. Kashikar is surprised, as Rokde had told her other details, but not the slapping. Rokde is allowed to leave the witness box.
Rokde alters the truth — he didn’t slap Benare, she slapped him—likely in order to make himself look more dominant. The context of the trial allows him to pretend to be what he is not.
Ponkshe asks to be called as witness and swears upon the dictionary. Benare stiffens as he begins to speak. He announces that Benare has a bottle of TIK-20, a poison, in her purse. He knows this because she asked him to meet the previous week, and during their meeting a bottle fell out of her bag.
Ponkshe, like others before him and more after, will use this part of the trial to reveal personal details of Benare’s life that would have otherwise been inappropriate to share. The presence of the poison adds more tension to the scene and suggests the depth of Benare’s despair—making her colleagues’ treatment of her all the more cruel.
Sukhatme prompts Ponkshe to discuss the meeting. Benare shakes her head, asking him not to share, but he ignores her. He says Benare wanted to marry him. She told him she was pregnant and wanted his help. He refused her.
Ponkshe clearly cares more about the appearance of piety—refusing to help someone pregnant out of wedlock—than actual piety, which would entail helping a pregnant woman in need.
Ponkshe offers to give a full account of the conversation. Benare stands and shouts “No!” but Kashikar silences her, insisting this is a “matter of social importance” and must be brought to light. Ponkshe hesitates, knowing Benare has asked him to keep their conversation secret, but Kashikar argues that what Benare, the accused, wants is irrelevant and inadmissible in court.
Once again, the performance of continuing for the good of society comes up against actually caring for a member of the troop. The idea that this trial is socially important, when there is literally no audience, is laughable.
Benare comes towards Ponkshe but Mrs. Kashikar, at Kashikar’s urging, takes her back to the dock. At Mr. Kashikar and Mrs. Kashikar’s urging Rokde helps guard Benare. Mrs. Kashikar tells Benare “discipline means discipline.”
Mrs. Kashikar has expressed her disapproval of Benare’s behavior. “Discipline means discipline” refers both to her behavior in the courtroom at this moment and her independent behavior more generally.
Ponkshe resumes his story. He recounts how Benare mocked the members of their theatre troop calling Sukhatme’s practice unsuccessful and speculating Kashikar mistreats Rokde because he thinks that Rokde and Mrs. Kashikar are having an affair. Mrs. Kashikar is offended. Karnik is offended that Benare did not say anything against him.
This aspect of Ponkshe’s story isn’t necessarily true. It might be an addition to make Benare look worse and to allow Ponkshe to subtly insult his colleagues. However, Benare has made similar points earlier in the play.
Ponkshe continues. He explains Benare asked him if he was interested in getting married, hypothetically. He was not, explaining he only wanted a mature partner. Benare wondered if he believed that maturity came from experience, and experience from age. Benare also wondered if maturity necessarily came with the burden of pain from life lived. She then revealed she had a partner for Ponkshe in mind: a woman who just suffered heartbreak and was now pregnant, but wants to raise the child, and believes the best way to protect her child is to get married.
Benare understands that women of a certain age are no longer seen as viable wives. Therefore, she has done her best to spin her age and experience as a virtue and an asset. Additionally, she tries to appeal to Ponkshe’s sense of charity, explaining how he would be helping a woman in need (an argument that does not convince him, further underscoring the shallowness of the troop’s desire to encourage moral good).
Benare, still talking about her “friend,” explained that for this woman “it’s the baby that comes first.” She said the “friend” worshiped the baby’s father’s mind, but he only wanted her body. In the courtroom, Ponkshe slips and reveals the child’s father was Professor Damle. He says he swore not to say the name, but Sukhatme absolves him, arguing it’s not a sin to break an oath inadvertently in court.
Benare frequently laments that her body works against her—in this case enchanting Damle so much he failed to notice her mind—and therefore doesn’t feel quite like her own. Indeed, the society in which she lives would like to control her body. Once again, Ponkshe reveals he cares only about the performance of virtue, and not protecting a vulnerable friend.
Ponkshe continues his story, recounting that Benare begged him to marry her “friend,” but he told her he’s insulted she thinks he’s so worthless as to marry a pregnant woman. Benare then stood up and pretended it was all a joke, and left, though he suspected, from her tears, it was not.
Ponkshe, although acting offended, takes the wrong message from Benare’s request. She doesn’t think he’s pathetic; she’d hoped he would be empathetic.
Sukhatme dismisses Ponkshe. He suspects that after failing to convince Ponkshe to marry her, Benare turned to Rokde. Karnik asks to be called to the stand. He reveals that he saw Benare and Rokde’s interaction and knows that Rokde did not slap her. Instead, she asked him if he had decided, and Rokde responded he was unable to act without Mrs. Kashikar’s permission. Rokde was afraid that people would mock and insult him if he married Benare while she was pregnant. Then he threated to tell Mrs. Kashikar, at which point Benare slapped him.
Karnik’s disclosure reveals several things. Firstly, it reveals that Rokde was attempting to make himself seem more dominant in his telling of the story. Additionally, he reveals just how subservient Rokde is to the Kashikars, especially Mrs. Kashikar. As opposed to Ponkshe, who was uninterested in helping Benare and saw her request as an insult, Rokde is worried about falling even further down the social ladder.
Karnik has more evidence to share. He knows one of Benare’s cousins, who revealed that Benare had attempted suicide in the past. She fell in love with her uncle, and when the relationship ended, she tried to end her life. Sukhatme is shocked by the revelation of this “immoral relationship,” and takes it as proof that Benare’s past is “smeared in sin.” Kashikar calls it “one step away from total depravity.”
The reaction to Karnik’s revelation is more shocking than the revelation itself. Although Benare was groomed and abused by a child predator, the court can only see her immoral behavior, and not the crime committed by her trusted uncle who coerced and seduced her.
Benare attempts to stand and leave but Mrs. Kashikar pulls her back. Kashikar reveals that, although he is the judge he also has a piece of evidence that, because the case has such “great social significance” must be shared. Sukhatme, too, agrees tradition should and can be broken.
Yet again, “social significance” trumps all traditional order and reason. Although Kashikar is the judge his evidence is deemed so important that he must disrupt the order of the court.
Kashikar begins to give his evidence. First he insults Benare, calling her and “grown-up unmarried girls” like her “a sinful canker on the body of society.” Sukhatme rebukes him for sharing his opinion unasked, but Kashikar is unashamed.
Kashikar uses the court to legitimize his personal opinions. Even when Sukhatme pushes back, he does so gently, and Kashikar is unfazed.
Kashikar reveals he recently visited the home of Nanasaheb Shinde, the local Chairman of Education. When Kashikar arrived, he overheard a phone conversation. Nanasheb was discussing an unmarried pregnant teacher, who was going to be fired, but was fighting her termination. On the phone, Nanasheb argued the woman had sinned, and that she was morally unfit to teach. Kashikar assumes the teacher was Benare. Benare is shocked by this revelation.
Yet again, the behavior or unmarried women is assumed to be immoral, and this immorality assumed to be contagious. Although it is not logical to assume that having sex out of marriage would disqualify someone from being a teacher, many in the play suffer from this belief.
Kashikar is sure Benare was the subject of the phone call, although he has no evidence. Benare, in the dock, brings a bottle to her lips but Karnik bats it away. Ponkshe picks it up, and sees it is TIK-20. Sukhatme rests the prosecution. Kashikar calls the counsel for the accused. Sukhatme, playing both the prosecution and the defense, becomes suddenly tired and overwhelmed. He calls Professor Damle as witness, then Nanasaheb Shinde, then Mr. Rawte, who are all absent. Sukhatme then asks to cross-examine the witness for the prosecution. Kashikar denies his request, and Sukhatme rests his case.
Benare, more and more convinced her life is over, and so humiliated he doesn’t want to go on, believes killing herself is the best way forwards. Unfortunately, instead of helping her or acknowledging her despair, the members of the court merely abort her attempt and force her to continue to stand trial.
Kashikar asks the counsel for the prosecution to plead his case. Sukhatme, reenergized as the prosecution, jumps up begins. Kashikar tells him to be brief. He is not. Sukhatme accuses Benare of having made a “heinous blot on the sacred brow of motherhood,” and calls her “public enemy number one.” He argues that if others followed in her “socially destructive” footsteps society itself would collapse.
Sukhatme continues to argue that Benare has acted immorally by becoming pregnant outside of marriage, which has disqualified her from being a good mother. He goes on to argue that mothers are essential to keeping society moral, and that mothers are therefore contractually bound to act in a way (he, personally) finds moral. Once again, Sukhatme uses the court to legitimize his own sexist opinions.
Sukhatme argues Benare’s greatest crime is not infanticide, but unwed motherhood, and her intention to be a single parent. Sukhatme believes women are responsible for building up society’s values, and worries Benare, and those like her will lead to society-wide immorality. He ends his plea with a call for a harsh punishment for Benare.
Because Sukhatme believes women must uphold the values of society, those that don’t, according to his logic, are actively contributing to the collapse of morality. Because he sees Benare as one of those women, and because he has the platform, Sukhatme calls for her punishment.
Sukhatme changes his demeanor, becoming the downcast defense lawyer. He gives a brief statement. As the defense Sukhatme admits the crime is serious but asks for mercy for Benare.
Even as her defense lawyer, Sukhatme cannot let go of his personal belief that Benare has committed an unforgivable crime that deserves punishment.
Kashikar asks Benare if she wishes to speak. He gives her ten seconds. Before Benare speaks music bings to play, the light changes, and the assembled court freezes in time. Benare stands and delivers a speech. She explains she’s spent years silencing herself, and so has a lot to say. She explains how her life felt burdensome to her, but after her failed suicide attempt she realized “the value of living,” and appreciated the world anew. Still, she now feels “life is drudgery” and “life is a fraud.”
This is a rare moment in which the theatricality of the play itself, not just that of the fictitious trial, is emphasized. Although Benare cannot speak during the trial itself, her inner thoughts are dramatized for the audience, allowing her an opportunity to plead her case to them. She makes a comprehensive rebuttal to the case made against her.
Benare then begins to think of her own employment status, how good she was at her job and how cruelly she was fired. Although she “swallowed … poison” herself she didn’t pass it along to her students, instead teaching them beauty and purity. Benare, suddenly playing the role of teacher, leaves the dock. Lights illuminate the faces in the court and she addresses them as children. Then a school bell rings, and children chatter, before fading to silence. Benare becomes frightened, feeling intensely alone.
Repeatedly accused of passing her immorality on to her students, Benare makes it clear that she kept her private life separate from them and remained an upstanding educator. The realism of the play is suspended further through the sounds of the classroom. This reference to Benare’s career underscores its importance in her life and the unfairness of her persecution, given that she had been a good, devoted teacher.
Benare admits she “did commit a sin,” falling in love with her uncle at fourteen. Her parents were strict, and he was kind to her. At the time, she explains, she didn’t understand what sin was. She wanted to marry her uncle and live openly, but her mother and her uncle opposed her. Benare was so angry at her uncle’s betrayal she tried to kill herself but failed.
Benare has internalized what she’s been told—that being in love with her uncle was sinful, although in fact she was the victim of an elder authority figure’s advances. This is an example of how morality and justice can be perverted and harmful. Instead of getting help or counseling, Benare was left with shame.
As an adult, Benare fell in love again. She assumed it would be different than when she loved her uncle. She loved Damle for his intelligence, but he was only interested in her body. She believes “the body is a traitor,” and both loves and hates it. Although her body distracted Damle from her mind, now she is grateful for her body because it holds her child within it.
As Ponkshe reported Benare saying earlier in the act, Benare has disliked her body, which she felt attracted attention she didn’t want, and distracted men she did. Now, ironically, an unwanted pregnancy has allowed her to take her body back—she feels it has a purpose.
Benare finishes her speech. She explains she wants her body for her baby. She wants her baby to have a mother, and a father, and “a good name.” The court unfreezes. Kashikar announces time is up, and that Benare has no statement.
After a lifetime of hating, resenting, and being punished for her body, Benare has finally come to terms with it, as she has found a good purpose for it. Though the men in the troop view motherhood has further means to control women, Benare sees it, in part, as empowering.
Kashikar has Rokde retrieve his wig and puts it on before delivering the verdict. He announces that Benare will not be forgiven, for the sake of society and social customs. However, he thinks her biggest crime is her arrogance, and the risk of her passing her immorality on to her students. He is glad that she has been fired. He wants to ensure she does not pass her sin on to future generations, and so her punishment will be an abortion. Benare screams and sobs, coming to the center of the room, collapsing in grief. The court remains silent.
In the final moments of the trial Kashikar uses his power as a (play-acted) judge to make a judgment on Benare. He has decided that her personal immorality is less important than the impact her behavior could have on the next generation. Although, ironically, the trial started as one for infanticide, now the punishment itself is the death of a (unborn) child. This again suggests that the men’s obsession with motherhood and being a good role model for the next generation is more about controlling women than it is about those children themselves.
As Benare cries, someone unlocks the door from the outside. A townsperson peeks in, and wonders if The Living Courtroom has begun. The people of the court shake themselves and “return … to normal.” Samant tells the villagers the show will begin soon. The men discuss how late it is, and how the time got away from him. Sukhatme exclaims that they had fun, and that he felt like he was “fighting a real case.”
Although Sukhatme and others repeatedly insisted to Benare the case was “just a game,” now that its over Sukhatme can admit it felt real, both to him, and presumably, Benare. However, his empathy stops there, and he is unable to see how Benare might feel devastated.
The group turns to Benare, who is motionless on the ground. Mrs. Kashikar comments on how sensitive Benare is, and Kashikar, Sukhatme, and Ponkshe reassert that the whole thing was just a game. Mrs. Kashikar shakes Benare to try and get her to respond. Ponkshe sends Samant to get tea for Benare. Kashikar notices the bottle of TIK-20, still on the judge’s table. He pauses, then urges the others to follow him into the next room and prepare for the show.
Although they have caused Benare’s meltdown, both by forcing her to sit through the trial and by refusing to help her in the days and weeks before when she reached out, Benare’s colleagues now suddenly seem concerned, insisting the whole thing was a game. This seems like a lie to assuage their own guilt at their mistreatment of Benare.
Benare and Samant are remain onstage. Samant goes to collect the cloth parrot he brought with him. He hesitates before leaving and sets the parrot down respectfully near Benare. Although she remains silent and still, her voice begins to sing from speakers in the theatre. The speakers play a song from earlier in which a parrot asks a sparrow why she’s crying, and she says her nest has been stolen. They ask a crow if he’s seen where it went, but he hasn’t, and asks “what are you troubles to do with me?” The light changes, illuminating only Benare. The curtain falls.
Benare’s voiceover sings the same song from earlier in the play, this time in full. The song repeats the events of Benare’s life in allegory; her nest—that is, her future—has been stolen from her, and only a parrot (Samant) seems to care at all. The crows (her fellow thespians) don’t care about her troubles and are only interesting in performing morality without charity.