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The end of innocence
A group of 30 adolescent children from Nizamuddin basti performed a street play woven from the strands of their past, where they witnessed gender-based discrimination and violence.By Angela Paljor
A family of five, where the parents limit the two daughters to do household chores as they are to be married once they are over with their secondary education, idolises its son. With the latest android phone in hand, he refuses to study and the parents succumb to his wishes as they see him as the one who will support them in their old age. The sisters bear the injustice of rejection with pain.
Then there’s Seema, who supports her children’s dreams and goes against her husband, who looks at them as mere parasites who will end up draining his hard earned money. And she gets beaten up in the process. Her son and daughter swallow the violence in silence.
But the children spoke up in the end. They told their stories on the Henry Lawson Club lawn of the Australian High Commission. Brought together by Aga Khan Foundation, the young adults narrated how they personally witnessed discrimination on the basis of gender. The story-telling was a cathartic group therapy and an attempt to make them self-aware and chart a new course in their lives. Their experiences became the subject of a series of plays based on the theme of “equal and healthy gender relationships” and “engaging boys in strengthening gender empowerment.” The initiative was supported by the Australian high commission as part of its activist campaign.
A group of 30 adolescents — 15 girls and 15 boys — from Nizamuddin basti participated in a day-long theatre workshop conducted by the Sukhmanch Theatre.
The stories were improvised from the ones the children shared during the workshop. Said Shilpi Marwaha, the director, “We started the workshop with discussion on various issues and some theatrical games in between. The children came up with what they had observed in their homes, schools and around them which was incorporated in the script.” The workshop was basically organised to think back and churn up their minds, so that in future they could raise their voice about what they had been through. The other important aspect, for girls particularly, is to question what is wrong and to believe that they have equal rights and are at par with the opposite sex — to dream of becoming a princess rather than being with a prince.
For Marwaha, the process was emotionally draining as the children shared their personal experiences. “Theatre helped them vent, thus helping them face the situations they weren’t ready for, accepting them and moving on. Some even cried, but they felt better once they were through with it. So, on the whole, it was an enriching experience,” added Marwaha, who has been working on this concept for the last 14 years. “I have been trying to enforce the thinking that men and women are equal. I was performing in college and a girl told me that she doesn’t want me to respect her as it will put her on a higher ground and she would be idolised. But she being a human was bound to make mistakes and did not want that pressure playing at the back of her mind. So, this made me work towards an equality project for young people.”
She strongly believes that not only girls but even boys need to be made aware of the fact that chores can’t be divided on the basis of gender. “Children are the ones who will usher change in the society. If one becomes aware, he/she will in turn educate others, thus creating a ripple effect.”
Sania Qureshi, who is to appear in her Class X exams, was a bit hesitant. “It was my teacher who told me not to miss the chance and I took two days off from my school.” She was terrified about how she would interact with the people as she assumed it to be in English which was not her forte. To her utter surprise, “Shilpi ma’am talked in Hindi and has been so warm. All of us were able to easily bond with her and found comfort in sharing our stories.”
This workshop has given Qureshi a chance to think over what has been going on in her house. “My mother has always been a little bit more concerned about my brother. No matter what he asks for, it is done but on the other hand, though she loves me, my needs always come second. Even though she realises that she doesn’t treat us the same, she continues to hide the truth with her affectionate behaviour.” But she still appreciates that her mother is supportive of her education and even pushed her to go out of the boundaries of home and school and discover herself. Today, she teaches toddlers in her locality while concentrating on her studies and household chores And she aims to become a teacher.
Syed Alina, another participant, feels confident enough to face the world. “I hardly went out but this workshop brought me face to face with reality and helped me work my way around life’s challenges. During the workshop, we were taught to maintain eye contact with the players and the audience. This made me confident and bold.”
Alina from Uttar Pradesh fears being married young as is custom in these parts. “Back home, people believe that girls should be restricted to household chores and marriage. Fortunately, since my family moved to Delhi, I felt the need to educate myself.” She lost her father few years ago and her two elder brothers work on a part-time basis to support the family while completing their graduation. Now she hopes to run a business.
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