JANA Natya Manch, Delhi organised an all India meeting of street theatre activists from August 13-15. There were 28 street theatre activists from 12 states who participated in the three-day meeting that was held at Studio Safdar, Shadi Khampur. The agenda of the meeting was to share stories about each other’s work and discuss strategies to counter the rising Hindutva forces through cultural resistance.
Each day was divided in three broad sessions. The first session on each day engaged the participants with the invited panelists on larger political and social themes present in the current situation of the country. While on day one, esteemed Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik and eminent journalist Neha Dixit spoke on the rise of the rightwing in India, on day two Badal Saroj, CPI(M) state secretary (MP) and distinguished economist Prof Ashwini Deshpande deconstructed the politics of caste and identity in the society today. On the last day of the meeting, JNU Prof Nivedita Menon and Avantika from Pinjda Tod analysed the issues of gender and sexuality under the rightwing regime. These sessions was followed by lively question and answer segments.
The second session was more of a focused discussion as the participants were divided in four groups. The first day’s group discussion on exploring new forms was initiated by Komita Dhanda, the second by Shubhoprasad Nandi Mazumdar led the session on development of audiences, and the third day Sudhanva Deshpande posed the questions about resource management by theatre groups during the discussion. The participants shared with each other their work of exploring new theatre forms and also the creative and organisational obstacles they face in the present political climate with rampant repression of dissent. The participants brought back new ideas that arose out of the intimate discussions to the larger group.
The last structured session of each day asked the participants to collaboratively, as a group, discuss strategies (old and new) that theatre activists mobilising different parts of Indian society should adopt. On day one there was an additional presentation given by Kallol Bhattacharya who runs a rural theatre group Ebong Amra and a self-sustaining theatre village ‘Tepantar’ in West Bengal. These sessions allowed for a larger group discussion regarding the current predicament of theatre.
The concluding session was addressed by Ramu Ramanathan, one of India’s foremost playwrights. Ramanathan spoke eloquently about the long tradition of vidrohi performance in Mumbai and Maharashtra, as well as about innovative protest theatre from other Third World countries.
At the end of this three day stimulating meeting, a joint statement by all the groups was released making the pledge to unite and counter the rightwing and neo-liberal agenda forced on the Indian citizens by the RSS and current BJP government.
The meeting was attended by Chennai Kalai Kuzhu, Tamilnadu; Goria Sucharcha, Kolkata, West Bengal; IPTA, Assam; IPTA, West Bengal; Jana Natya Manch, Delhi; Jansamskriti, Delhi; Jatan Natya Kendar, Haryana; Mukhota Kala Manch, Guna, Madhya Pradesh; Murasu Kalai Kuzhu, Kanyakumari, Tamilnadu; Navankur Natya Samuh, Pauri, Uttarakhand; Network of Artistic Theatre Activists Kerala, Allepey, Kerala; Praja Natya Mandal, Solapur, Maharashtra; Praja Natya Mandali, Andhra Pradesh; Pratyay Haushi Natya Kala Kendra, Kolhapur, Maharashtra ; Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangam, Kerala; Red Arts, Punjab; Sabrang, Indore, Madhya Pradesh; Samudaya, Karnataka; Shilpa Tirtha, Tripura; The Colour Bakery, Delhi; Thealight, Kolkata, West Bengal and Tripura Theatre, Tripura.