Theatre

Bringing rural realities on stage in urban India

The disconnect between rural and urban India is vast and voices from the forest and villages of India’s most backward regions are seldom heard in the cities. However, with some effort and using simple technology, urban Indians can make a big difference to the lives of those untouched by development, and grappling with Naxalism and official apathy.

Espousing this message, six Gond tribals, three of them women, have travelled from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to Mumbai to illustrate the travails of their lives through a musical play. Performed in Hindi and their native Gondi language, the play ponders over the rural-urban divide, focusing on the daily struggle for basic amenities. Titled Ek tha shehri,the near 45-minute play revolves around an urban man’s trip to the tribal land where he is astonished to see the shocking conditions of life — lack of clean drinking water, shortage of teachers (who are themselves over burdened with work) and language barriers; there are 25 lakh Gondi speakers but not a single government appointed Gondi teacher. Overpowered by irony, he is finally left wondering how a nation striving to ‘find water on Mars and Moon cannot ensure safe water to millions of its own citizens.’

The thrust of the play is to promote the tribals’ engagement with CGNet Swara, a voice portal accessible via mobile phone, which allows citizens to report and listen to stories of local interest.

“The idea is to tell people of Mumbai that the key to solving ‘India's biggest internal security threat’ is with them. They can help solve simple problems of rural, Adivasi people by using their mobile, Internet: One phone a day, keep problems away,” said Shubhranshu Choudhary, a former BBC journalist who founded CG Swara net. The problems may sound mundane to urban Indians — repair of roads, getting a hand pump fixed or receiving dues under government schemes — but for those surviving in India’s developmental wilderness these small anomalies matter a lot.

“When we go to officials with our problems we are brushed aside as we are illiterate. Even those with some literacy have to bribe their way. But city people, educated and well-connected, can record our problems and talk to the officials and help us out,” says Ramvati Wadde, from Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur, adjoining Maoist-affected Bastar.

CGNet Swara portal

Through engagement with tribals in Maoist-affected areas, via simple portals like CGNet Swara, urban people can to some extent check the spread of Naxalism, Mr. Choudhary feels. The linkages between rural and urban people can solve simple problems in these neglected areas, which if left unresolved can lead to disenchantment, he says. “The people join the Maoists for solution to simple problems. If we, the urban people, can solve their core problems, then what need will they have to take up guns?” Mr. Choudhary asks.

Trained in a workshop in Raipur, the group has over the week performed in prestigious schools, colleges, like St. Xaviers and TISS, residential places and open places amphitheatres in Mumbai. They aim at two shows a day.

Govind Salam, 18, from Kanker district in Chhattisgarh, hopes the publicity achieved through the drama would bring urban India closer to the woes of tribal living and educate them about Naxalism. He narrates his experience with the Maoists. “We had to prepare food for them or face the threat of violence. They would ask young boys like me to join them in the future… Since the [CRPF] post came, all of that has come to a halt. But there is little the outside world knows of our problems,” says Govind.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 6:20:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/bringing-rural-realities-on-stage-in-urban-india/article7592193.ece

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