Guest Post by MALVIKA SHARAD on the recent call by Delhi University Students’ Union for a ban on the street play by Khalsa College theatre group, Ankur.
One evening in 2013, a group of ‘street play seniors’ as we call them, visited us in the front lawns of my college, Lady Shri Ram College for Women. They were from various colleges across DU who had been actively involved in street theatre, and had been invited to give the newly formed street play team of that year, an introduction to the art form. Among those seniors was a dynamic young chap from Khalsa College, who reiterated several times that street theatre fills you with such immense courage that you end up doing things you never thought you would, for that courage comes from the sheer truth and brutal honesty that street theatre is based upon. He said that freedom of expression is taken to a whole new level when you perform amidst crowds, and state the truth looking directly into their eyes. A fire is born within you that cannot be extinguished, it burns brighter with every performance of the play. You become fearless in voicing your opinions and thoughts, so fearless that you don’t even realize how far you have pushed your own limits and emerged triumphant.
After a whole year dedicated to doing street plays in Delhi, I have learnt how right he was, that young student not much older than us. I find I have come out of my shell, shedding my inhibitions at a pace and scale I had never imagined. Torn chappals don’t bother me anymore, my sun-burned skin makes me look beautiful, I don’t flinch with embarrassment while sitting, sometimes lying, on the floor of the metro station out of sheer weariness, though co passengers stare at me with judgemental eyes, I can’t bring myself to stop romanticizing the mud and the dirt that hug me every time I wear my soiled street play kurta… But above all, I can articulate my thoughts properly now, I am not scared of speaking in public unlike the times when I was a meek docile person, cocooned in the comforts of home and parental pampering. I owe this change in my attitude and personality to street theatre, which taught me what it is to live confidently and fearlessly.
The recent demand by Delhi University Students Union for a ban on the street play ‘Welcome to the Machine’ of Khalsa College, not only horrifies me but also shatters my faith in the strength of student politics. DUSU says that the play by Khalsa College is anti-Hindu and is ‘gives a wrong message to the society.’
Before discussing whether DUSU should even ask for a ban on the play, I want to discuss what the play by Khalsa College actually portrays. Having watched the play at several cultural festivals of DU colleges, I am convinced that the play is not ‘anti-Hindu’ or anti any religion for that matter. It critically and satirically attacks the Sikh carnage of 1984 and does the same with Gujarat riots of 2002, saffronisation of education, gharwapasi, love jihad, misleading speeches of our political leaders of various political parties…. If behind the majority of the issues covered by the play can be glimpsed the rule and ideology of some political parties of India, it is for us to question our ideas on choosing representatives and forming governments. The play focuses on the consequences of narrow nationalism, the horrors of jingoism and the outcomes of dirty politics, and on the consequences of water-tight ideological compartments trying to limit the diversity of our country. These issues I believe, are pertinent and they need to be presented to the citizens of the country so that they have some food for thought, so that they engage in constant questioning of their representatives. The play by Khalsa College acts as a platform where such issues are presented to the audience at a closer level than is done by talk shows or debates on news channels. Yes, the play mentions names, but that is not done to defame anyone or stir sedition. Names are mentioned for authenticity, as part of the fact finding that the play uses to create its content as realistically as possible.
Banning the play is banning the objectivity one exercises while watching the play, banning the play is banning the individuality with which one perceives and interprets a piece of art.
Let us for a moment concede that the play could be ‘anti-Hindu’ in DUSU’s understanding. The Delhi University Students’ Union is a representative body of the students of Delhi University. They are the voice of thousands of students who belong to DU and hence are supposed to be acting as the spokespersons of the DU student body, acting as a link between the students and the University authorities and taking measures that are student friendly and aimed at addressing the interests and grievances of the students.
These students form a mini India within DU as they come from diverse cultures and regions, ranging from Kashmir Valley to Kerala and from Kutch to the North East. These students represent not just different religions but also the different and various connotations of Hinduism across India.
Why then should DUSU define Hinduism only on the lines of RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad? Why does not it take into consideration the definition of Hinduism which its larger student body aims to spread? Is Hinduism only that which some fringe groups wish to create or is it also governed by a profound philosophy of ‘Neti-Neti’, the Vedic philosophy of negation which is a method of constant enquiry into what one is not to ultimately find what one actually is.
In consonance with this philosophy, DUSU needs to find out the meaning of being a true Hindu. The demand for a ban on Khalsa College’s play by DUSU clearly shows that it is solely concerned with defending the ideology of the political party it belongs to, and not with the diverse student body it claims to be the representative of. When politics among students, who are said to be the nation builders, becomes so narrow and lacks inclusivity, it is a failure of democracy at its very initial stage.
When bans have become the order of the day in today’s times, from AK Ramanujan’s ‘Three hundred Ramayans’ to Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus: An alternative history’ to Perumal Murugan’s ‘Madhorubagan’ to Leslee Udwin’s ‘India’s daughter’, the demand for the ban on the street play of Khalsa College, should come as a wake up call for us. We have to rise before Freedom of Expression becomes merely a slogan.
We have to rise to show the power of truth. We have to rise to uphold the spirit of ceaseless students’ struggle. We have to rise to keep our fearlessness intact.
We have to rise so that the tyrants fear our might – if they try to bury us, we have to show them that we are seeds.
Malvika Sharad is a second year student of BA History, at Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi.