Jana Natya Manch—Janam—a New Delhi based theatre group was in Calcutta after more than a decade with three of their new plays, each different in style and topic.
The group visited Modern High School for Girls and South City International School—two schools that have actively been a part of the activities that PeaceWorks conducts—with their play ‘Yeh Bhi Hinsa Hai’ on violence against women. This 25-minute play is performed in typical street play style and shows hinsas, or atrocities against women. It begins with showing cases of violence in Indian myths and legends—instances that are very often not even counted as violence—and moves on to real life, in the domestic environment and in the community. The play emphasises the fact that unacknowledged violence is often most cruel, as is violence that is negated by society as being the fault of the victim.
The first performance, on 25 August 2017, was at Modern High School for Girls—for 160 students from the senior school. After the performance, Komita, Sudhanva and the others from Janam engaged the students in a discussion on the theme of the play.
‘I liked the part about Aurat Number One’, said one of the students, referring to the part of the play, which shows the unrealistic expectations that women face from society in general—their families and communities. Many others agreed, mentioning instances where they have seen these expectations in their personal spheres, particularly with their mothers. Another mentioned how going to ‘see’ girls—a common occurrence before the so-called arranged marriage is actually incredibly demeaning towards women, and not actually fun at all.
The play ended with a rape scene, followed by a depiction of the insensitivity shown by society towards the victim. Male gaze, as shown in the play is something that some of the students had experienced either directly or indirectly. Many of them spoke out against a patriarchal society, specially the one that we live in.
The second performance was at South City International School on 26 August. This time the audience comprised of around 55 boys and girls from the senior school. Immediately after the performance, one of the students said that this was the first time he had seen a street play and that it was a wonderful experience. The students spoke about how relatable the play was because it is something that they often see around them and about how the media distorts and misrepresents all the time. On the topic of staring and intention, one of the students offered a simple solution—if you see someone staring, try to physically block the gaze of the person. Place yourself between the offender and person being stared at. One of the male students stressed how important it is for boys to stand up and act against what is wrong.
While it wasn’t my first experience watching a street play, it was the first time I had been a part of a performance (and discussion) in a school. Reactions were different to a certain extent, but those differences too, were interesting. It started a whole chain of thoughts in my mind—about the conversations that we have with young people, the role of the syllabus and the teacher in addressing issues such as violence against women. It also left me convinced that these performances and the work that Janam does is absolutely essential.
Janam also presented two public performances at Padatik, Calcutta. The plays—Ujle Safed Kabootar, Yeh Bhi Hinsa Hai and The Last Letter—were performed in front of a packed audience.