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“Art Gives Expression To Marginalised Voices”
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This book is part of a doctoral project. The project itself was undertaken in the early 2000s as an attempt to study strategies of organised cultural resistance to right wing hegemonic cultures. It was a period when Hindutva forces were on the ascendancy and many academics analysed the processes these forces adopted. I was, however, interested in ways in which these processes could be countered. The Jana Natya Manch, with its experience of practicing progressive theatre for three decades presented an excellent opportunity to study on instances of counter-hegemonic cultural work. Being in Delhi was an advantage.
How do you place Janam in the history of Indian theatre?
There are very few instances in the history of Indian theatre where a group has continued to perform in almost unbroken breath for four decades. Janam's is an instance of a theatre driven by a dual commitment to art as well as to partisan politics. Over its long existence, the group has had to encounter several phases of difficulties and setbacks and it has responded to those challenges through creative solutions inspired by this dual commitment. Also, through its theatrical practice Janam has always striven to foreground a collective practice at every level of creative and organisational functioning. Of course, such attempt at democracy in practice is not absolute; I have taken a critical look at the implications of such functioning on the performance text. In a world where the big media is restricted in ownership to a few big media business, there is very little scope of alternative views and voices of dissent being given a real hearing. In a world where paid and sponsored news and marketing is a reality, realities of oppression, hunger and poverty remain sidelined. It is art practices like that of Janam, which thrive on voluntary effort and ideological motivation that can give expression to marginalised voices.
Your engagement with Janam began as early as your student life at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Ever since its inception, Janam has been performing regularly at JNU. So it was there when I joined JNU as well. Being a student of literature, I was attracted by Janam's ability to converse with audiences far beyond the circles of left-wing activists. JNU as we all know is a vibrant space for left intervention, and pamphlets and posters are ample objects on the campus. I could see how certain students who did not seem to be swayed by the political rhetoric would be regulars at Janam's performances. In fact, activists of the right wing would also seldom miss its shows. This was very interesting and when given an opportunity I took up the task of studying Janam's theatrical practice more closely.
How far has it influenced you as a person and as an academician?
The task of studying Janam ensued a lot of time being spent with the group, which included extensive touring of working class locales in Delhi and in other places. I have had the opportunity to experience a different Delhi; something that few from my background would ever be able to encounter and appreciate. To many, the city is made of flashy cars, snazzy buildings, tourist spots and wide roads, but there is a Delhi hidden away in its numerous slums, shanties, unhygienic ghettos, densely populated urban villages. When one performs for Janam, one has to be ready to spend several hours in travel to reach the peripheral regions of the city to which the poor have been displaced over decades to usher in 'development' and make Delhi a 'world class city'.
The murder of Safdar Hashmi in 1989 marked the beginning of another series of attack on the freedom of expression in this country. Do you think our democratic ethos are being eroded?
In India, remnants of feudalism continue to be an important part of the formations of power. Usually, the attacks on democratic culture and free of expression has the support of the government. For me this is a battle. And the answer to this is the same as that of Janam, when it returned to same spot three days after the murder of Safdar Hashmi. We need to be strong in conviction to keep our democratic assault on anti-democratic forces relentless. We also need to pressurise the government to protect democratic expression and civil liberties.
Occasionally, the book reads like a diary. Is this a deliberate choice of style? Academically speaking, this is the ethnographic style, adopted by most writers in performance studies. It tries to bring the reader to the centre of the action; to almost allow a mediated view of the subject. I intersperse
this style with that of critical and textual reading and materialist analysis. With the narrative, I hope to be able to offer to the reader a close view of Janam's activities and personalities involved in its practice.
(Compiled By Jinoy Jose P.)