Silence! The Court is in Session

by

Vijay Tendulkar

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Silence! The Court is in Session: Act Two Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Act Two begins exactly where Act One left off. Kashikar repeats the last line of the previous act, asking Benare if she is guilty of infanticide. Benare, still in shock from the accusation, doesn’t answer.
The accusation is too close to Benare’s real life for her to treat it as “just a game.” At least some of her colleagues know this, making the trial especially cruel. 
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Samant has arrived with pan and cigarettes. He hands them out. Sukhatme tries to offer some to Benare but she declines, flustered. Sukhatme wonders why she’s so “grave,” since it is “just a game.” Benare forces herself to laugh and says she was just trying to “create the right atmosphere” for the court.
Throughout the trial the men, especially, will insist it is just a game and that Benare’s seriousness is unwarranted. This displays a lack of empathy as well as a lack of interest in the wellbeing of an individual woman—ostensibly their friend—as they focus on their own pleasure and on the greater implications of the trial.
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Hearing Benare laugh, Samant wonders if he’s missed a joke and Karnik explains Benare has been charged with infanticide. Samant doesn’t know the word and Karnik explains. Samant is shocked by the gravity of the charge, but Sukhatme argues “there’s no fun in a case unless there’s a really thundering charge.” Kashikar adds that it’s a cause of “social significance,” as the troop has “society’s best interests in all we do.”
Sukhatme and Kashikar repeatedly assert that the point of their trials is to bring to public attention causes “of social significance.” However, they overlook the best interests of the members of their troop, notably Benare, in their rush to perform for “society’s best interests.”
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Kashikar has Rokde bring him his gavel, to make sure Rokde hasn’t forgotten to pack it. Although Kashikar didn’t need the gavel for this practice trial, he now decides to use it. Sukhatme proposes that the court take a 15 second break to spit out the pan. The men discuss the amount of time needed, criticizing Benare when she interjects. They talk for over a minute and a half.
Ironically, although Kashikar and others criticize Benare for interrupting the trial, they are happy to interrupt it for their own inane conversations, demonstrating a double standard regarding who they think is worthy of time and attention. The framework of the trial allows their biases to come to light.
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Mrs. Kashikar makes and aside to Samant that the argument about pan is “just in fun,” and a demonstration of how in court you need permission for everything. Kashikar hears her and bangs his gavel, complaining that she “can’t shut up at home, can’t shut up here.” Mrs. Kashikar protests, but Sukhatme cuts her off, arguing Kashikar was “just joking.”
Mr. Kashikar uses the court to enforce his biases regarding the behavior of men and women. He doesn’t want his wife to speak at all (each time she talks her criticizes her for talking too much or inappropriately), and as judge is able to make his desires into law. 
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Benare tries to address Rokde, calling him by his first name, Balu, which angers him. Kashikar calls for order arguing that for Samant’s sake “the dignity of the court must be preserved.” Benare asks if she can be accused of something else and mocks Kashikar when he denies her request. Kashikar reprimands her for “obstructing the due process of law.” Karnik urges her to be serious so Samant can better understand the court. Sukhatme adds they need to be serous “otherwise, this game becomes really childish.”
When Benare is upset by the court, she is accused of taking it too seriously; however, when she disrupts the proceedings, she is accused of turning it into a childish game. While the men are allowed to treat the proceedings however they want, the trial allows them to reveal their sexist biases and their belief that men inherently have a right to speak and express opinions, whereas women do not.
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Benare pleads not guilty, arguing she couldn’t even kill a cockroach. Rokde sets up a book for oath-taking and a witness-box. Sukhatme, stretched out lazily while smoking, delivers the prosecution’s speech. He begins, “motherhood is a sacred thing,” a “pure” thing that gives much responsibility to a woman. Benare interrupts wondering how he knows anything about motherhood, but Kashikar reprimands her and Sukhatme continues. 
The court allows Sukhatme and Kashikar an opportunity to espouse their regressive ideas about motherhood. Benare, a woman (and a secret mother-to-be) is not allowed to share her opinions or criticize the men’s although she logically would know better. Once again, a woman’s opinions are shut down and motherhood is turned from a respected social institution into a prison that forces women to behave in a certain way for the sake of their children.
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Kashikar adds a Sanskrit proverb, that mothers are “higher than heaven.” Mrs. Kashikar also gives an additional quote, but Sukhatme only acknowledges Kashikar’s addition, and then adds himself that “woman is a wife for a moment but a mother for ever.” Samant applauds, overwhelmed by the sequence, and Mrs. Kashikar reminds him not to applaud that evening.
The idea of mothers as “higher than heaven” and responsible for the moral wellbeing of society is not progressive or empowering. In fact, is restricts the lives of mothers, who are now expected to sacrifice their autonomy and any alleged moral ambiguity for their children.
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Sukhatme argues that, given the status of motherhood, infanticide is the most “devilish thing on earth,” and he aims to prove Benare is guilty. He calls Ponkshe has his first witness, announcing him as a “world-famous scientist.” Ponkshe swears upon the Oxford English Dictionary, because Rokde has forgotten the Bhagavad-Geeta.
Sukhatme’s assertion that infanticide is the worst possible crime is an opinion, not a fact, which reveals his own biases. The men of the court wanted to punish Benare for her other perceived indiscretions, like being an independent woman and having sex before marriage.  
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Sukhatme grills Ponkshe on his relationship to Benare. Ponkshe describes her as a “schoolmarm” which Benare protests as she is “still quite young!” When she interrupts again Kashikar reminds her of the “value of self-control,” before leaving to go to the bathroom while Sukhatme continues.
As when Samant called her a schoolmarm earlier, Benare reacts strongly. She dislikes the associations, which devalue her both as a teacher and as a woman.
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Sukhatme asks Ponkshe if Benare’s conduct is “like that of a normal unmarried woman?” Benare objects that Ponkshe has no way of knowing a normal unmarried woman’s conduct, but Ponkshe ignores her and says her behavior is different because she “runs after men too much.” Sukhatme then asks Ponkshe if Benare has a “particularly close relationship” with any man, and Benare interrupts that she has a close relationship with every man in the room, excepting Samant. Ponkshe complains no one is serious and wonders if there is any point in continuing the trial.
The trial continues to offer Benare’s colleagues an opportunity to grant opinions of her behavior. Of course, the crime of running after men is subjective, criminal only if one believes women should not have agency over themselves or their sexuality; nevertheless, in the context of this court it is framed as immoral and punishable. Additionally, this claim is unconfirmed, based only on a general sense that Benare is too free in her behavior.
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Kashikar returns, and although Benare jokes about leaving herself, and Karnik seems fed up, Kashikar insists they continue. Sukhatme resumes his questioning. Ponkshe says sometimes Benare’s actions make no sense, beginning a story about when she tried to arrange a marriage for him. He doesn’t finish his story, distracted by Benare sticking out her tongue, and Sukhatme swaps him as a witness for Karnik “the great actor.”
Ponkshe knows that Benare’s actions do make sense—he suspects she is pregnant and tried to ask him to marry her under the guise of looking for a husband for her friend. Instead of helping her in any way, he seems to plan to use the knowledge to humiliate her in this fake trial, an action that is neither moral nor necessary.
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Karnik explains he knows Benare through their theatre troop. Sukhatme wonders what descriptions of mothers are like in the plays Karnik performs. Karnik says there aren’t mothers in his plays, but if there were, he’d define a mother as “one who gives birth.” Sukhatme wonders if a mother is someone who protects her child, or one who strangles it, but Karnik argues both are mothers as both have given birth.
Karnik, unlike the others, is more interested in playing games and being combative than shaming Benare for her behavior. He has no quotes about motherhood, instead preferring to verbally spar about the definition of a mother. For him, performing is actually just a game.
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Sukhatme notes Karnik is in “form today.” Kashikar agrees but asks Karnik to give straight answers and save his performance for the evening.  Sukhatme asks Karnik’s opinion of Benare’s conduct. Karnik clarifies “in this mock trail, or in real life.” Sukhatme says in real life, but Kashikar insists the questions refer to the trial. Karnik says he knows nothing. 
This is one of the first instances of Benare’s real life explicitly blurring into the performance of the trial. By clarifying which type of conduct he should remark upon, Karnik opens the possibility of Benare’s real life being brought in as evidence for this fictional charge.
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Karnik then reveals that although he has not seen Benare in a “compromising situation,” Rokde has. Sukhatme calls Rokde to the witness box. Rokde is resistant, but Mrs. Kashikar promises that if he can give good evidence now he might get another chance at a larger role, whereas if he messes up, he’ll never get a chance again. Kashikar remains silent but gives his wife a chastising look.
Rokde struggles to decide whether or not to testify. On the one hand, he craves attention and validation, but on the other part of his testimony (which Karnik knows, having overheard a conversation between Benare and Rokde) involves Benare slapping him, which would make him seem subservient and lower his social status more. 
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Sukhatme tries to question Rokde, who remains speechless. Benare provokes him, calling him Balu and laughing, until finally he snaps. He tells how he went to Professor Damle’s house one evening and saw Benare there. Benare stiffens. Samant asks if this is true, or just for the trial, but no one answers him. Kashikar tells Sukhatme he thinks this is getting too personal but does not stop the lawyer. Benare agrees, but Sukhatme argues, “it’s just for the trial.”
Real life and the trial continue to blur together. Though the evidence Karnik wanted Rokde to give was that of a conversation he overheard, this turns out to be almost more titillating. Unconcerned with protecting Benare’s personal life, the court is now obsessed with the scandal of it all.
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Benare gets agitated, arguing that her private life is off limits. Sukhatme insists she calm down, and not spoil the mood, as this “game’s great fun.”
Although clearly no longer a game, Sukhatme and others don’t care about Benare’s opinion or wellbeing, only her humiliation and the entertainment she can provide.
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Requiring prompting, Rokde explains he saw Benare in Damle’s room. He though something was amiss because Damle normally invited him in but didn’t that night. Rokde also accuses Benare of looking downfallen when she saw he had arrived at Damle’s house. Sukhatme submits the evidence to Kashikar and adds that Benare’s “behavior is certainly suspicious.” She protests, joking she’ll submit the names of twenty-five other people she’s been alone with. Sukhatme submits this as further evidence.
Although what Rokde saw was in fact suspicious—unbeknownst to the cast and the audience, Benare was at Damle’s to discuss her unplanned pregnancy—being alone with a man is not a crime. Benare’s pushback is fair, given that as an unmarried woman with obligations only to herself she often has the opportunity to be alone with men and women, which doesn’t necessarily imply sexual or immoral relationships. 
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Benare adds she and Samant were recently alone together, but Samant clarifies that she behaved “in a most exemplary manner.” Kashikar wonders how Benare’s conduct with other men this is relevant, but Karnik and Ponkshe insist Sukhatme continue on arguing it is “just a rehearsal,” and only a game. 
As they often do when called out, the men insist they are only playing a game and that no one should take the trial too seriously. However, they do not use the framework of this being a game to modify their own behavior to be less aggressive or accusatory.
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Sukhatme calls Samant to the witness box. Samant is confused but game, and takes the oath “for practice,” promising to tell the truth. However, Samant is religious and doesn’t want to accidentally sin, so he clarifies that he is technically lying for the sake of the trial.
Samant is the only character to be careful to clarify when he is telling the truth and when he is employing fiction. He is concerned with morality and sin, which the other characters claim to be, although they are not pious in their actions.
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Sukhatme beings to question Samant. Samant thinks Benare is a “very nice lady,” although Sukhatme argues that his opinion is not “reliable in court.” Benare pretends to sleep, and the court is sidetracked with discussions of sleeping and how to fall asleep more easily. With effort, Samant gets the group back on track. 
Although the opinions of others have been counted as evidence, because Samant’s opinion is favorable, it is inadmissible. Once again, the double standards of the trial and its true purpose—punishing Benare—are starkly revealed.
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Sukhatme invents a scenario in which, after Rokde saw Benare with Damle, Samant arrived at Damle’s home. Samant pushes back that he wasn’t there and had never met Damle. Karnik points out that “the crime itself is imaginary,” and Ponkshe adds, “only the accused is real.” Samant finally understands the game is he is meant to play and begins to fabricate evidence.
The line “only the accused is real” is telling. It demonstrates that the assembled courtroom is committed to persecuting Benare, a real woman who they believe should be punished for her behavior, for an invented crime in a fictional trial—a trial that nevertheless will provide them with the opportunity to persecute someone they disapprove of.
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Samant recounts arriving at Damle’s room and finding the door locked. He knocked and Damle answered. Samant could hear a woman crying from another room. He suspects, based on the soft secretive sounding crying, she wasn’t a member of Damle’s family. Samant heard the woman ask Damle, “if you abandon me in this condition, where shall I go?” Samant reports Damle answered that he couldn’t help and had to consider his own reputation. The courtroom is captivated.
Although Damle is never held accountable for his actions, and only Benare is punished and ridiculed for her pregnancy, Damle is just as responsible. Although held up as somehow more moral, he is less so—more concerned with his own reputation and status than he is with a friend and lover in distress.
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Samant continues, reporting Benare called Damle “heartless,” and Damle responded, “nature is heartless.” Benare had told him that if he left her she would have no choice but to kill herself, and Damle would be responsible for two deaths. In the courtroom, Benare cuts Samant off, accusing him of lying. Ponkshe responds, “of course [he] is. So?”
Although Samant is giving a fictitious testimony, he’s accidentally stumbled upon the truth, revealing through fiction an actual interaction between Benare and Damle.
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Samant agrees that he is lying. He explains he’s pulling his story from a novel. Benare threatens to leave or break the set if the play continues, and Mrs. Kashikar asks why she’s responded to violently if she’s innocent. Benare explains she hates being ganged up on.
Truth and fiction continue to blur. Benare is clearly upset by the story, and although she could reasonably be upset by the accusations, whether or not they’re true, her prosecutors are looking for any evidence that they’ve stuck a nerve.
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Benare becomes more frantic and begins to cry. She runs to the wings. Samant sympathetically wonders what happened, while the rest of the cast becomes suddenly excited. Kashikar comments to Sukhatme that “the whole fabric of society is being soiled these days,” and Sukhatme observes that, although Samant was reciting from a book, he’s stumbled on some truth—that Benare and Professor Damle were romantically or sexually involved.  Benare reenters. She collects up her bag and purse and attempts to unbolt the door to the outside. It is stuck. She bangs on it to no avail. Samant goes to help her and realizes that the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside. Kashikar and Sukhatme decide the trial should continue.
Finally, the truth comes out through Samant’s invented story, which he pulled from a novel. Instead of expressing any remorse for dredging up uncomfortable memories, the assembled courtroom is excited to have struck a nerve. They are more interested in prosecuting a woman they see as soiling the fabric of society than in demonstrating actual moral fortitude and helping their friend.
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