College of Humanities

Media Personality tackles domestic abuse for Master of Arts degree

Ms Shirdika Pillai, a Junior Communications Associate at the Global Strategic Communications Council (GSCC) recently graduated with a Master of Arts (Drama and Performance Studies) degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Her research has brought to light the issue of domestic abuse within the Indian South African community and the potential of using theatre as a medium to raise awareness and challenge existing patriarchal structures.

Pillai’s decision to pursue a Master’s degree in Drama and Performance Studies was driven by her desire to explore and confront the social ill of domestic abuse that remains tightly contained within the boundaries of the Indian South African community. Her research analysed three South African plays written by Indian South African male playwrights who turned the public spotlight of the stage onto the private experiences of domestic abuse.

She interrogated how these playwrights chose to dramatise domestic abuse. In understanding the theatrical representations of the violence – influenced by social, economic and cultural factors – interpretive assessments were made about how it is experienced in homes in the Indian South African community. The lack of recent research about the Indian community in South Africa and its current challenges was one of the hurdles Pillai faced during her research.

One of the key outcomes of Pillai’s research, as evidenced in each of the plays, is the apparent failure of Indian South African women to challenge existing patriarchal systems, which has enabled the cycle of domestic abuse to be perpetuated in their community. Through her work, she was able to reflect on the scope of theatre to convey women’s stories and experiences in the Indian South African community thus allowing them to reclaim their power and articulate their voices. Pillai believes that theatre can be a vehicle through which engrained social structures like patriarchy can begin to be dismantled.

Pillai’s family and friends’ unwavering support throughout her research journey has been a source of strength for her. After completing her Masters, Pillai plans to take the future as it comes.

Her advice to other researchers is ‘to find something you are passionate about and do a little bit every day. Consistency is key.’

Pillai’s media and broadcasting experience spans well over a decade and includes, most recently, being an assignments editor at eNCA, where she also added news anchoring to her skill set. Previously, Pillai worked as a TV presenter for SABC 3’s Sadhana: The Inward Path and radio presenting/ producing on Lotus Fm. She also loves a good (fictional) read, is passionate about animal welfare and is a self-confessed chocoholic!