In Focus 29th September, 2014

Badal Raha Hai Gumandi.

These days if you walk through streets of Panipat, Sonipat, Rohtak, and Jhajjar, you will come to meet ‘Gumandi’ – a middle aged man in his 40’s wearing a white ‘Dothi’ (traditional men’s garment worn in India), skinny body, thick mustaches, having a brown walking stick in hand to support him walk through. He doesn’t talk about his family, children, acres of land and fatty buffaloes he has -passes gestures sometimes funny sometimes scary. He looks upset about an awareness program organized by Breakthrough and a local youth group to promote awareness among women’s rights, gender equality and about gender based discrimination. Gumandi, looks more concerned about overall good of his community and thinks plays like these would be a potential threat to the deep rooted societal norms –e.g., one such norm requires women to be under veil always when they need to go outside the premises of their homes. With his evil intention, Gumandi, couldn’t resist size of the gathering to watch play and take messages which later could prove strong enough to challenge the socially conceived norms and patriarchal mindset. As part of defense and his belief towards social norms, he with his bold voice tries to interrupt play so as not to let vulnerability enfold these norms.

As play progresses, Gumandi, makes a special appearance somewhere from crowd and shouts to stop the play immediately – ‘Ka hu raha hai yeh natak shatak, bandh karo issey’ (What is this play going on, stop it). The audience and artists, both look surprised, some of them dumb to see this middle aged man disrupting the play. With courage, artists request the Gumandi to watch play, being confident about strength of societal norms – difficult to challenge, he manages to get a space in the crowd. Not in his deep imaginations, he would have thought that he may have to leave with a doubt in his mind about these norms he had come to learn from his forefathers. As the play highlights issues related to celebrating birth of a baby girl, girl’s education, lack o freedom to make career choices, their motivation to attend schools and professions patented for men, boys resisting playing games perceived to be for girls only – Gumandi keeps jumping in to remind about socially conceived perceptions, norms and traditions. Interestingly the audience seemed lost in characters and messaging of the play, which could be expected least given the long history of norms and values discriminating with women so much so that even “Thali Bajana” (beating the drum) becomes difficult on the birth of a baby girl. He feels helpless and left with less to defend, takes shield of such norms and mentions that he holds nothings against women and their rights, however feels compelled by such norms and people around. As the play ends, Gumandi seems to have changed his thought process towards social norms and traditions he believed on and defended in the beginning.

This group of boys and girls playing different roles, having one small drum, a harmonium and a Thali (plate) are determined to disseminate knowledge and build awareness about women’s rights, equity and justice among communities of Haryana. Gumandi, playing a role of an community member when asked mentions that though difficult to organize, the play aims to spread information about women’s rights among community member’s and thinks that they try each day to make it more interacting, more engaging. Community members when asked to comment about messages they received, express their happiness and acknowledge the messages or lessons they received about women’s rights, considering both a boy and a girl equal, about mobility of girls to attend educational institutions, their right to choose careers, gender stereotypes and norms undermining these rights. Further, they mention that initiatives like such need to be organized more and should to reach every other village given its need and value proposition.

To me, there are thousands such Gumandi’s around to be reached and Breakthrough’s works to let the message spread across all streets, all corners and ears and aim gender based discrimination not prevail.

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