PSi#21 Fluid States - Interview with Dakxin Bajrange, by Ajay Joshi, India Correspondent

Interview with Dakxin Bajrange

by Ajay Joshi

1 March 2015

PSi#21 Fluid States - India: Rethinking Labor and the Creative Economy - Global Performance Perspectives

PDF available here.

The penultimate session of the PSi/JNU conference brought together two stalwarts of political theatre – Sudhanva Deshpande of the communist street theatre group Janam based in New Delhi and Dakxin Bajrange of the Budhan  Theatre in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, which has played a pioneering role in opposing the stigma against so-called ‘criminal tribes’, designated by the colonial administration, and now re-named as ‘denotified tribes’ by the postcolonial Indian state.

Ajay Joshi, correspondent from Pune, reports on his interaction with Dakxin.

When I first met Dakxin Bajrange, he would have passed off as any other young, carefree teenager zipping through life. But talking to him revealed a person who had encountered fear and brutality. His only crime was that he belonged to the family of Chhara nomadic tribes, shunned by society, demeaned by authorities, stigmatized for life. Countering this reality, he chose the practice of theatre in an innovative way, to lead his generation on to a path of dignity and self-respect.

Enduring years of mental and psychological torture in school, where he was ostracized by other children and humiliated by teachers, Dakxin refused to budge, even as his parents resorted to theft to support him. The stigma of belonging to such a lineage lingers, and despite being educated, Dakxin’s life has been a struggle. This would not appear to be the case if you examine his credentials.  He is a graduate from Gujarat University in psychology, an award-winning filmmaker, the founder of Budhan Theatre, whose plays have been translated into many languages and performed worldwide. He is a faculty member at the National Tribal Academy, Tejgarh and a fellow at the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, Baroda, whose director Prof. G.N.Devy and celebrated writer Mahasweta Devi have been keen supporters of his work.  At a more formal level, Dakxin has represented the Nomadic and Denotified Tribes of India at the U.N. in 2007 and at various universities in the US.  In spite of these awesome qualifications, the irony is that to this day he never gets to celebrate a single festival at home, as he could get rounded up by the police in anticipation of communal disharmony by his community.

Background on Budhan

It was the custodial death of a toy-seller, Budhan, and the landmark judgement in favour of the Nomadic tribes, that initiated the Budhan Theatre, wherein the tragic story of this unfortunate man was enacted. It got an overwhelming response and set the stage for the future theatre activities of Dakxin and his colleagues.

 

Budhan Theatre began in 1998 in the infamous area known as Chharanagar in Ahmedabad city. To this day this area is regarded as a ‘no-go’ zone, a ghetto of thieves and bootleggers who are even today ‘forever suspect’ in the eyes of the legal and judiciary system.

 

As Dakshin says, ‘The art of theatre was used by our forefathers for thieving … you could say, it was a form of Invisible Theatre. This art was in our genes. Adapting this art, we used it for social change and community development.’ Calling attention to the paradoxical fact that his group performs anti-police plays outside a police station, Dakshin adds that, ‘We performers are often harassed, arrested or even asked to stay outside the police jurisdiction. Even I was arrested for 3 months but was given probation time and asked not to perform. But I continued. We all know that we cannot challenge the police at any level; our strength lies only in talking through our theatre… We don’t necessarily get scared of the police because we know what they are going to do to us. We have a long relation with them. So we just move on.’

On a more personal note, Dakxin adds, ‘My father always had a dream that his children should attain such a stature in society that one day even the police would salute his son… Today the irony is that I have been invited to the police academy, to demonstrate how we have used theatre for reforms made by the youth…  The artists of the children’s group have also been taken in the police van for performances. Along with this assistance, the police have made arrangements to implement the worldwide popular project ‘Hole in the wall’, whereby computers are made available in public places. Our community has benefited immensely from this project. Sadly, on the one hand, these positive inputs continue, but, on the other hand, the atrocities against the community persist’.

Even as I interviewed Dakshin last week, another tribal Budhalal was killed in police custody, a false statement was issued, a protest was registered, a play ‘Budhan to Budhalal’ was scripted and performed by Dakshin’s group, an enquiry was initiated, and fresh investigative reports revealed that Budhalal had been brutalised and killed. Attempts are now on to charge the accused and seek justice. This is the power of theatre. But the question is: For how long will these initiatives continue?  And what is their ultimate effect?

 

Copyright –  Ajay Joshi  (2015) “Re-thinking Labor: Arting”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available http://www.fluidstates.org/page.php?id=10

Tags: Class Labor Economy and Performance  Community and Performance  Daily Life Daily Rituals and Performance   Performance Studies in Asia  Performance Studies in Languages Other Than English  

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