Dolly Thakore's 'Life in the Theatre'

THEATRE WITH LAADLIS


The National Media Awards for Laadli Girl Child Campaign have taken up all my time these last few weeks. Being the National Co ordinator for these Awards one has travelled extensively to all four corners of the country.

Widespread, illegal use of pre-natal sex determination tests or amniosynthesis and sonography have propelled the affluent to terminate the girl child in the womb -- creating an alarming disparity between the number of boys and girls.

In 1991, the girl-boy ratio was zero, but today there are 14 districts where there are 800 girls to 1000 boys.

Population First’s Laadli - Mumbai’s Girl Child Campaign, is a comprehensive communications campaign. And it has included Theatre in their category of Media Advocacy which includes Press, Advertising, Electronic, Web, Film. We hope to nominate a winner in the theatre category for a National Award this year.

Casting one’s mind back to the number of plays that I personally have seen, it is amazing how the subject of the Girl Child and woman has dominated many of our recent plays, clearly an example of how theatre holds up a mirror to society.

Girl children are not being allowed to enter this world, and are eliminated in the womb itself, simply because they are girls.

The first play I saw in 1983 that dealt with this subject was Jyoti Mhapsekar’s ‘MULAGI ZALI HO’

Even Mumbai, with its strong women workforce, liberal attitudes and modern lifestyles has a sex ratio of 898 girls for every 1,000 boys in the 0 to 6 age group. Delhi is still worse at 865!

Age-old practices and beliefs are the cause of it.
* Practice of dowry
* Premium placed on the virginity of the girl before marriage
* Perception that investments in a girl are wasted as she cannot provide old age support to parents
* Religious belief that one can attain salvation only when a son performs the last rites
* For reasons of lineage and the prevailing inheritance laws that favour sons

But thankfully there are a the number of theatre practitioners who have taken up these challenges, and are staging plays and workshops communicating the evils of Gender Discrimination.

This year, at the FICCI Auditorium, in Delhi, on May 11 -- when we celebrate our National Media Awards chosen from all the four regions North, South, East, West – we have Lushin Dubey staging
a 12-minute excerpt from her latest solo offering UNTITLED…. based largely on the Rajasthani writer Vijay Dan Detha's 'Nyari Nyari Maryada', and partially on Dario Fo's 'Medea'. A woman takes circumstances into her own hands and changes the course of her destiny….. More photographs and details are available on www.lushindubey.com

Last year too, Lushin Dubey staged an excerpt from Pinki Virani’s book adaptation of ‘BITTER CHOCOLATE’ for the National Awards in Delhi….a collection of true stories based on the traumas of abused children in India. Child abuse has no class, race, or religious barriers, and is often brushed under the carpet for fear of reprisal from the very society in which it festers.
In 2008, at our Western Region Awards we show-cased an excerpt from Nadira Babbar’s ‘JI, JAISI AAPKI MARZI’. – which has four monologues by four women living very different lives. And the play allows their mute and muffled cries for help to be finally heard.

Manjul Bhardwaj and Mujeeb Khan have been conducting a number of street plays amongst school and college students. And we have had them staged as platform performances at our Western Region Awards in Mumbai.

Mujeeb Khan’s ‘MAA MUJHE MAT MARO’ is about female foeticide, and highlights the trauma and torture a woman faces because she is a woman.

We travelled as far as Cochin, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Kolkatta, and of course Mumbai.

In Kolkatta, Usha Ganguli received the Eastern Region Award for a lifetime spent in theatre doing committed plays:
LOK KATHA – about a nine-year-old Dalit girl raped by someone from the Upper Class.
BETI AAYEE – about the problems and exploitation of a girl child in our society
MUKTI -- based on a Mahasweta Devi story about Mukti working as a maid servant, is befriended by Neena who revolts against the prejudices and narrow mindedness of her feudal family and succeeds in establishing mutual respect for Mukti among her family members.
KHELA GADI – where Johra of the minority community meets Amina who has been raped by her father-in-law and thrown out of her village.
Mumtaz who is brutalized and tortured by her husband for twenty years, and the defiant eleven-year-old Gulshan who runs away as her mother was trying to marry her off.

AFSANEH: BAI SE BISCOPE TAK by Akarsh Khurana was a dance drama about the nautanki and baithak cultures, the women who shaped them, and how eventually cinema replaced them.
When 12-year-old Gulab joined the nautanki in 1931, she became the first female performer of this art. Gulab Bai was considered the epitome of wit and wisdom, and she was awarded the Padma Shri in recognition of all that she did for Nautanki.

Lilette Dubey’s very popular ‘30 DAYS IN SEPTEMBER’ about child molestation has been running for almost a decade; QTP’s ‘KHATIJABAI OF KARMALI TERRACE’ about an 14-year-old orphan, married to man many years her senior, becomes the matriarch of the Khoja household . Neelam Mansingh from Chandigarh, and Shaagir Khan with ‘HASSENA BIKTI HAI’ have all tackled the subject.

Not many may have seen these plays. But the crusade is on. Relevant messages are being disseminated through theatre to smaller towns and villages in all languages..

Someday, we will be in a position to hold a Laadli Girl Child Drama Festival.

I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all who write, see, direct and act in plays anywhere in India -- and in whatever language -- to keep our theme ‘Celebrate Her Life’ in mind. And inform us at info@populationfirst.org