TAMIL NADU

Street plays highlight societal issues

R. Ilangovan

To create awareness about livelihood rights, caste discrimination, child abuse



Suresh Dharma’s street theatre group highlighted issues affecting oppressed people

Dharma, who passed away recently, toured extensively to enact over 200 street plays



SALEM: It was a chill evening in Kolli Hills. A tiny knot of people dressed in their traditional tribal attire huddled around the campfire and watched intensely the cascading events that unfolded before them.

A man in flowing black beard was at its heart while a few others around him were in performing their roles.

To the eerie and echoing sound of Udukkai and Parai, a street play portrayed the impending dangers that would fray the fragile environment of the pristine Kolli Hills where nature and natives have been coexisting in an idyllic consonance since the Sangam era.

After this, the troupe had moved on to another hill hamlet and yet another to repeat its performance on environment activating sensitive tribal groups to take up the fight against scores of issues including the state’s hydel project that endangered their livelihood rights.

On the plains, lanes and streets and busy bazaars became the stage to disseminate social issues such as caste discrimination, women rights and child abuse.

‘The Black Theatre,’ the social artiste Suresh Dharma’s street theatre group in early 90s, was one of a very few pioneering groups that had transformed the art of street plays in to an effective tool to sow the seeds of progressive ideals among oppressed people.

Dharma, who passed away recently, toured extensively to enact more than 200 such street plays, which carried the message of social renaissance.

He along with other social groups worked hard for the tribal welfare and their ecological democracy.

To save the indigenous people’s art and culture, he initiated the move to conduct the annual Tribal Arts Festival at important towns in the state.

Meanwhile tribal activists and groups held meeting in memory of Dharma in Salem recently, in which L. Antonysamy, Editor-in-Chief, North South Perspective Convener, Tamil Nadu Core Team, Siemenpuu Foundation, Finland and A. Renganathan, State convener, Tribal Associations for Fifth Schedule Campaign expressed their views.

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