Saksham, Nithari – Early workshops
After the Gujarat pogrom, along with pandies’ , a sustained campaign of workshop theatre was started in 10 slum zones of Delhi. Many of these, like Nithari, were originally small villages devolving not slums to support the migrant population, especially unskilled labour that came from small towns and villages in search of work. The target was to make aware, politicise the young who were targets of bigotry and violence. The primary themes were gender and religion.
Together with the sustained foray into workshop theatre with ‘platform kids’ (young runaway boys) Nithari, put pandies’ workshop theatre on the International map and ensured for Sanjay a place among global pioneers of theatre activism, drawing accolades not only for the work but for the methodology.
The Carnage and its Context
A slum village on the borders of Delhi having a population of migrant workers, Nithari was placed on the national centre-stage in December 2006 – January 2007. After two years of unceasing complaints from its impoverished residents, the police finally moved in to discover carcasses of fifty-three children from the drains of the posh houses bordering the village. That story of severed limbs and rotting body parts forms one of the most enduring narratives in the written and electronic media in the country.
Pandies was already there, doing theatre in many slums and villages including Nithari, before the news of the pogrom hit headlines. Children had been disappearing but it came as a shock when 53 pairs of legs (as per the first official release) were found in the drains of the posh houses next to the slum-village. It was a literal case of the rich eating the children of the poor.
Pandies’ focus was on the survivors, the friends, neighbours, classmates and siblings of those who died. The most important factor is the equation and interaction between the participants and the facilitators. For the facilitators, many of them from middle class families, this interaction was a difficult experience, questioning many of their beliefs.
Still continuing, workshop theatre this sector is remarkable not only for the success achieved but also of being located in an identifiable community where a close study of the nuances of this mode can be studied and honed.
The opening 3 years found a stress on performance oriented workshop theatre
India Habitat Centre – April 2007
Constitution Club – January 2009
American Center – July 2010
From unsure talk back theatre (2007) to moving beyond into a criticism of the functioning of middle class and its hypocrisies (2009), to challenging world beaters and opinion makers (American Center, 2010), we got it all.
The workshops thereafter acquired a tool and result effect, that is, in the best of this tradition they were the tools of amelioration and also the end of the ameliorative process.
Performances, story telling (Dastan/Kissa Goi traditions) they have it all.
Joining pandies workshops and productions as facilitators and actor/activists, they were badly hit in the lockdown, like all migrant workers.
Working with us in the workshop mode (albeit cyber), they told stories, not only to each other but to the powerful of our world, India and abroad.
The work continues. And they take out time from their killing capitalist routines to create.
For a detailed analysis of this process here, refer: Sanjay Kumar on Nithari’s Children