“I wish we had programmes like ‘De Taali’ when I was young.”
It was a poignant moment for 55 year old Sushila (name changed) who literally relived her adolescence when she witnessed the theatre of oppressed staged during the video van show in her village Kubhara in Mohanlalganj in Lucknow.
She said, “I wish ‘De Taali’ programme was launched when I was young. I wish I was allowed to study. I wish I was not married when I was still a child.”
Video van and theatre of oppressed are tools that Breakthrough uses for community mobilization. These provide a platform for the community to come together and discuss issues relevant to their lives and an effort is made to change mindsets to bring about social transformation. Theatre of oppressed is staged at the various spots where the van stops. The theme of the play is centered around locally relevant issues so that spectators are able to identify with the issue.
Theatre of oppressed is a distinct interactive theatrical form in which the audience become active participants. The theatre is paused at a point usually, the climax or a moment of decision and people from the spectators are invited to continue the role of the protagonist. As actors they are encouraged to explore, display, contemplate and transform the reality in which they are living. Thus by reacting to the locally pertinent situation in the play, the community members get the opportunity to reflect on their problems and arrive at solutions.
Keeping in mind the empowering effects of education and the issue of early marriage, Breakthrough decided to keep these two intertwined issues central to its messaging during the video van run under its Adolescent Empowerment Project titled ‘De Tali-Banegi Baat Sath Sath’.The IKEA foundation supported Uttar Pradesh Project on Adolescent rights and empowerment was launched with the specific objective of reaching out to 4,00,000 adolescents in the region. The targeted beneficiaries are adolescent girls and boys. The project is based on an ecological approach and is also to engage parents, community and diverse stakeholders in improving determinants across gender, health, education and skill in 7 districts, viz. Lucknow, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Maharajganj, Siddharth Nagar.
As an important community mobilization strategy, video van run coupled with theatre of oppressed is planned for all 7 districts. Starting with Mohanlalganj block of Lucknow, these shows have generated a lot of excitement, debate and discussion among community members. The shows begin with title song ‘De Tali’ which invites all to join in clapping and singing to celebrate the participation and excellence of girls in different domains of life, to celebrate her laughter, to celebrate her sense of self respect, to celebrate her achievements. The song also appeals to all to collaborate to help girls grow, progress and achieve what they aspire for.
The emotionally moving theatre performance highlighting gender discrimination, juxtaposed with the vibrant messaging of ‘De Tali’ programme won many hearts. Some joined in the clapping and singing while some like Sushila wished that such programmes were held during their times.
Sushila shared with us that she was married at a young age when she barely understood what a marriage entailed. She was burdened with domestic responsibilities when she could not even cook simple meals. She laments the fact that her parents did not allow her to study. The memories of her ordeals as a child bride came flooding back when the theatre ‘Chanda Pukaare’ was staged during the video van run in her village. ‘Chanda Pukare’ is a daughter’s plea to her father to not force her into an early marriage instead to allow her to pursue her education and her dreams.
Though Sushila seemed aggrieved about her past but the silver lining is that the video van show has strengthened her resolve to ensure that other girls of her family do not meet the same fate. She is firm that her children should be educated. She says she will also strive to spread the message in her family, neighborhood and village that girls should not be married early; instead their educational aspirations should be promoted.
The response of adolescents during the video van run was also very encouraging. Adolescent girls from the village confidently came forward to play Chanda’s role and made bold statements. It was a pleasure to see that the girls are becoming articulate and conscious about their rights. They also actively participated in games and had successful turns at tongue twisters for which they were rewarded with momentos. The girls are showing courageous spirit in emerging out of debilitating circumstances surrounding them.
Video van run is planned for three blocks of Lucknow namely Mohanlalganj, Gosainganj and Bakshi Ka Talab. We hope to capture many more stories like Sushila’s or bold adolescents (in role of protagonist Chanda in theatre of oppressed) venturing to say to their father that they would take police help if they are forced to marry before 18 years. As the attractively fabricated video van and the theatre team proceed on their journey to other blocks of Lucknow, we hope community and stakeholders will be sensitized and motivated to support the education of their daughters, delay their marriage and encourage them so that in future they lead an empowered self reliant life marked by dignity and choice.