Celebrating movement in peace and togetherness: Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed – West Bengal

The idea of Theatre of the Oppressed was born in South America in the early seventies from the work and practice of Brazilian theatre theoretician and director Augusto Boal. Jana Sanskriti was the first group to bring Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre to India.

In Forum Theatre members of the theatre team select, construct, and narrate a social problem from their daily life. With artistic direction this play is taken to an audience who must now find a solution to the problem. Passive spectators then become engaged spect-actors. Spect-actors come on stage to enact the solutions they have thought of, debating with trained activists about the feasibility of the solutions suggested.

Since 1991, Jana Sanskriti has removed itself far from conventional theatre and spread the practice of Forum Theatre to remote villages of the Sunderban in Bengal. With 20 theatre teams active in rural Bengal, Jana Sanskriti is today perhaps the state’s largest theatre group. Jana Sanskriti has also taken this theatre pedagogy beyond the boundaries of the state to different parts of the country – to Tripura, Orissa, Jharkhand, Delhi, Utranchal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. […]

Jana Sanskriti on the other hand wants to develop rationality within the people. Through out in last two decades this is where Jana Sanskriti has focused her artistic activities.

Jana Sanskriti believes the biggest form of violation of human rights is not to create democratic space for the people to think. They should not be seen as the implementers only they can contribute in the making of the policies. That is the reason Jana Sanskriti left propaganda theatre and started Theatre of the Oppressed  devised by Augusto Boal. They are the first exponent of Boal here in India and the largest and long-lasting Theatre of the Oppressed movement in the world according to Augusto Boal.

Today Jana Sanskriti has created the Federation of Theatre of the Oppressed, India where a number of large activist movements are present. They have handed over theatrical means (means of making theatre) to the poorest of the poor, to the tribal communities, lower caste, to the rural people.

Jana Sanskriti is a work of art and the name of a space where total transformation is constructed. It is an organization founded in 1985 which practices Theatre of the Oppressed among the most disadvantaged sections of Indian society. From its inception in one remote village, Jana Sanskriti now has constructed theatre teams consisting of men and women agricultural labourers. These actors come together transcending divisive social and political affiliations to plan constructive action and provide dynamic leadership for social justice and community development. Their plays onstage and their political activism offstage feeds one another to mobilize around issues as wide-ranging as domestic violence to political violence, from reconstruction of public institutions to resistance against aggressive forms of development. Rather than use theatre to deliver development messages and services, Jana Sanskriti has used theatre to establish dialogue in society.  […]

In our work on Forum Theatre we have dealt with a range of issues which are relevant to different groups in different regions – Displacement, malpractices in the public distribution system, communalism, exploitation by contractors, undemocratic culture of political parties, and corruption in the Panchayat, blind superstitions, domestic violence, lack of quality in rural primary education, illicit liquor etc. […]

Usually Forum Theatre is performed before audiences who are also facing the problem portrayed in the play. Since problem solving and understanding the problem sociologically through collective action is the primary intention so the  spectators and actors form a homogenous group. […]

Finally, the name ‘Muktadhara’! ‘Mukta’ means free and ‘Dhara’ is a flowing stream. A flow that is free from dogma and all those structural constructs that prevent a dialogue between people, is what is implied by the term Muktadhara – celebrating movement in peace and togetherness! This is when the glory of development is said to have taken place – participation in togetherness.

Source: janasanskriti_more.pdf
Address : www.janasanskriti.org/pdf/janasanskriti_more.pdf
Date Visited: Mon May 28 2012 12:00:12 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Jana Sanskriti
Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed
Girish Bhavan
42A, Thakurhat Road
Post : Badu, Kolkata 700 128
West Bengal

Email: [email protected]
Website: www.janasanskriti.org
℡ 00 91 33 2526 4540 / 00 91 33 6500 4941
Tax exemption under section 80G – No. DIT (E)/142/99-00/5913-15.

The Jana Sanskriti Forum Theatre team from Maharashtra comprises Katkari tribals from Raigarh District. These people are landless and have faced deprivation and discrimination for generations. They performed the play Choracha Rajya re Hai which depicted their daily experiences at the ration shop, at the landlord’s fields where they go to work, and their interactions with the local political leader. The team started by singing a Bengali song as a way of greeting the Kolkata audiences. Even though their play was in Marathi, there were a large number of interventions from spectators. And interactions in Forum Theatre occurred through double translation – Marathi to Hindi to Bengali and then Bengali to Hindi to Marathi. Perhaps this is another first!

The Jana Sanskriti Forum Theatre Team from Orissa put up two plays at the Festival. Phulmonir Bichar highighted a year in Phulmoni’s life. A tribal girl, Phulmoni works in a brick kiln and is sexually exploited by the labour contractor who takes advantage of the fact that Phulmoni’s father owes him money. At the village trial, Phulmoni is judged guilty as the contractor goes scot-free. A flood of interventions followed in the Forum Theatre session. The second play from Orissa, Paharoro Chhai was about blind beliefs and superstitions still followed by people in their villages. It focused on witch-hunting and how it constituted a form of violence against women.

Source: Muktadhara: A Forum Theatre Festival Organised by Jana Sanskriti
A Report [2004] by Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed
Address : http://www.janasanskriti.org/muktadharareport.pdf
Date Visited: Mon May 28 2012 11:42:06 GMT+0200 (CEST)

In his play Muktadhara (The Waterfall), Tagore robustly employs this element of freedom. The play relates the story of an exploited people and their eventual release from it. By setting up a dam, Ranajit, the king of Uttarkut, attempts to penalize the citizens of neighbouring Shiv-tarai, who have failed to pay their taxes. Abhijit, the crown prince, differs with this harsh stance and steps forward to help the people of Shiv-tarai by opening a passage that links that state to the wider world. His vision is a broad one—a reflection of Tagore’s own—encompassing the good of all people, regardless of nationalistic boundaries. […]

All these different strands of the theme of freedom are often concurrent, sometimes even converging into each other in Tagore’s analysis and in his works. In the present times, the situations Tagore highlighted in the plays discussed here are manifest in different variations. Entire tribal populations across India are being uprooted with impudence so dams can replace their homes; children’s imagination, especially in urban areas is fuelled more by video games, television, and the internet and less by direct human interaction; education for a lot of societies means little more than students cramming recycled information inside boxed classrooms, pushing for higher grades and bagging lucrative jobs; and capitalist economies all over the world are being remote-controlled by avaricious, profit-minded corporate houses, which care little about the development of those who need it most. In such a scenario, Tagore’s message of freedom, in all its shades, is of utmost relevance.

Source: “Freedom in Tagore’s Plays” by Bhaswati Ghosh, Parabaas, 9 May 2011
URL: https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pBhaswati.html
Date Visited: 5 September 2021

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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