ITF Not The Drama Seminar: Pathologies - Response by Moloyashree Hashmi
Duration: 00:09:07; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 12.688; Saturation: 0.082; Lightness: 0.295; Volume: 0.207; Cuts per Minute: 0.219; Words per Minute: 127.746
Violences of various kinds are routinely unleashed around us. Communal violence, caste violence, violence of the rich against the poor, and so on. What are our social pathologies? How do we understand them? How do we counter them? Does our theatre reflect these pathologies? Which sorts of violences and pathologies has our theatre paid attention to, and which not?
These questions were meditated on in presentations by Shiv Visvanathan and Makarand Sathe. Responses were offered by Sundar Sarukkai, S. Raghunandana and Moloyashree Hashmi.
Organised 50 years after the original Drama Seminar in 1957, the Not the Drama Seminar (NTDS) brought together theatre practitioners from all across the country to convene at Ninasam, Heggodu in March 2008. This seminar meditated on the nature of theatre in India today, on how we got to where we are. The attempt was to understand 'Indian Theatre' in all its multiplicity and diversity, bringing these several faces of Indian theatre face to face, and problemetize the issues that arise therein. These ideas were exchanged through a series of presentations and discussions over five days, and each day ended with a performance.
Moloyashree: I want to add an aspect of violence which nobody has really touched upon...
I am a school teacher by profession. When children are not able to go to school because of social and economic circumstances, it is violence of a kind. But what about those few who do finally reach school? They have to go through a highly prescriptive educational process, and that too is a kind of violence. I am not talking about the emotional violence and brutalization that we often
hear about – too often, actually. But once the child enters even primary school, what happens there? Frankly, nothing much. Here, the kind of curriculum methods used, the teaching methods, the actual classroom transactions, that, I think, is a kind of insidious violence being perpetrated on the mind of the child, which is also unfortunately quite deadening. This is a sort of brutalization of the mind, yet a deadening of thought. This is a very primary kind of violence, and as theatrepersons we need to address this. I don't have any answers. I am not raising this issue only from the perspective of theatre for children, or theatre and eduction. Those are of course important. But I am raising this as a practicing teacher, and as a theatre person. The interventionist and the subversive role of education - the way the child thinks, the way the child is growing up is actually a kind of subliminal violence that I certainly see a lot around me.
Let me talk about another sort of violence which I see around me in Delhi, the city I come from. This is the violence that the working class has to face, the very naked violence of the industrialists. Recently, we saw this garment factory where many workers had got burnt when a fire broke out. Why? Why didn't people get out? Well, they couldn't go out because
the door was locked from the outside. This is quite common, by the way. All over Delhi, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida, there are factories where the owners lock the workers in. They can't go out. The work conditions are inhuman. 16 hours of work, 18 hours of work, abysmally low wages, high degree of regulation, including bathrooms that are opened only twice a day, and then you cannot even escape if there's a fire.
Then there is a factory called Bhushan Steel in Ghaziabad. It is a huge factory that melts scrap metal. It gets scrap metal from all over the world, including war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq. This includes empty artillery shells. Except that sometimes these are not spent shells, but actual live bombs. A few years ago, one such accident took place. There was a blast. People got killed. How do you count the dead? Normally, when workers go into a factory, they sign a roster. Not here. Since the work is hazardous, the workers sign when they exit. In other words, if you come out fine, then you sign. If there is an accident, the management can easily say the worker was not working there that day at all. Your existence is not recorded when you work, but when you survive work.
So when the last accident happened, a few months ago, how did they count the dead? By counting the number of hard hats that were missing. Your going in is not recorded, there is no record of your existence, your existence is only recorded when you survive the day's work. (The management may get workers to sign the roster when they leave, but they can't do that with hard hats – they have to be issued when the workers enter!)
Many innumerable instances like these exist - and we've heard of them. A lot of women work in the house to meet their domestic budgets and we know how poor the payment is. At one place, women have to clean a small machine part – they have to dip it in one chemical, clean it, wipe it, then dip it in another chemical, dry it, and then pack it in small plastic pouches. Of course all ,this is done with no protection for the hands. And how much is the payment? Two rupees fifty paise for cleaning and packing 144 pieces. And this work is done alongside all the chores at home, cooking, cleaning, etc. So the women doing this kind of home-based work are actually working non-stop from 6 in the morning till about 11 or 12 at night. For what is less than a pittance. This is also another kind of violence.
The last two days we have been hearing from Devi of Praja Natya Mandali, from Sanjay Upadhyay, Sushma, Dakshin about their experiences. I think their work is immensely important, because it is rooted in the community. This kind of work becomes the aspirational voice of the community. The economic and social violence that is faced by the community is not only expressed but also explored through this theatre. That is what gives their work a certain power. However, there are other theatre groups which are not rooted in the community quite in the same way. But the issues they address are often quite similar, and the work can be quite powerful. I belong to one such group. Jana Natya Manch is not rooted in any particular community, but our work derives whatever value it may have from a larger alignment with the cause of the working-class. These instances I mentioned a while ago are part of a play that we're doing in support of a wage structure revision of the working-class in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Faridabad. It's the wage structure that is the focal point. Minimum wage in that area is Rs. 3516. Almost no one gets that. There was a time when eight houts a day was the norm, so anyone working over that would get overtime. The government also accepts that - the norm is sixteen hours with no overtime. These are the sorts of things we are addressing, trying to bring into a play and this is how we are aligning with the cause of the working class in trying to make our work valuable. I think this kind of larger connection is essential for anyone doing theatre. I don't mean that everyone should do activist theatre. Not that it is bad, I do it, out of choice, but somewhere I think we are not aligned to social movements at the ground level. I understand that different people do theatre with different sorts of motivations.
So that is not what I mean. I only mean that some larger connection to the real world, a world where people strive very hard to make ends meet, where they are subjected to all sorts of violence and brutalization, a connection with this world is essential for our theatre to come alive. Otherwise, theatre may have skill, it may have technical finesse, it may have a grand conception, but it will not have life, it will not become part of life.