Ahmedabad: different ways to marry the arts and social issues..

In Ahmedabad, the theatre and music groups worked together, as a performance group. In one part, we visited Bhudan Theatre and in another, Darpana Art Academy, to look at two different ways to combine arts and social issues.

Bhudan Theatre was started 15 years ago by a group of people from the Chara community, in Charanagar, Ahmedabad. The Chara community were originally spies for kings in India. However, after British colonization, they lost their livelihood and adopted a nomadic life. The Charas used to be one of the 191 tribes classified as the criminal tribes by the British on account of their nomadic lives. The criminal tribes were then kept in “open jails” which was enclosed pieces of land, they couldn’t leave without permission. While India became Independent in 1947, the criminal tribes were given their independence only 5 years later, during which “India was busy celebrating its Independence” as one of the founders of Bhudan theatre said. Since 1952, these communities are called the de-notified tribes. Since there wasn’t any rehabilitation, many Charas had to resort to thieving in order to survive. Bhudan theatre was founded to fight the stigma still associated with the Chara community. It uses theatre as a medium to express that Charas are artists too and to talk about stigma, discrimination in jobs, child marriage and other issues relevant to their lives. Their plays are based on improvisation by the actors. In addition, they have a library, and help students with academics and theatre using activity based learning.

Darpana Art Academy is a very prestigious art academy in India. It is 60 years old. We learned about one wing of Darpana, called Darpana for Development. This wing works with funding organizations like the UNICEF and travels to villages across Gujarat, and sometimes India to communicate issues of health, hygiene and girl’s education. Their model usually involves working with very specific issues like diabetes or cervical cancer, and then creating a play that talks about the issue, remodeling popular songs and games to incorporate new meanings. They also work with people from the community to create this play, and in doing so try to learn the dialect of the people, in order to communicate better.

Bhudan and Darpana have similar, yet quite different approaches. Both Bhudan and Darpana seek to work as mediators through theatre- Bhudan as a mediator between the Charas and mainstream India, and Darpana as a mediator between UNICEF and the villages. On the other hand, while Bhudan is an organic group of people from the Chara community (although as is expected, not all appreciate their work), Darpana brings issues from the UNICEF which definitely is an outsider for the people in the villages. They also come from different backgrounds- Bhudan theatre has to fight against stigma for the Charas, while Darpana is an established and respected institute. Also, as Darpana is a much older organization, it would be interesting to see Bhudan theatre when it has been around for 60 years and then compare and contrast them.

That is an update from our week in Ahmedabad, which has given me a lot to think about. About which choices I would be comfortable making in the shoes of Bhudan and Darpana…

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