Thirty years ago a feminist theatre movement came into being in Pakistan. Based in Karachi, the Tehrik-e-Niswan has used dance, drama and daring for raising its voice against injustices, in particular against women. It is currently celebrating its 30 years of existence. It was a magical evening yesterday when in addition to an inaugural programme, a play "Anji" was staged once again (after almost a quarter of a century) with its original cast. Tonight is an evening of dance-drama in celebration of the International Women's Day, and there are more plays scheduled throughout this week. I have a small role in one of those, adapted from Garcia Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba."
Some parts of an article highlighted below is called "Theatrics, Theatre Activism for Women by Women", written by Uzma Mazhar.
Although some argue that there has hardly been a tradition of theatre in Pakistan, it has always existed in this part of the world in one form or the other. In Pakistan theatre has almost always been a tool to vent frustrations since our society is considered oppressive. Looking at it broadly, we see two kinds of theatre activities — one is theatre with a purpose that is both entertaining and also sends out a subtle message; the other is purely commercial, somewhat crass but popular among the masses and it has been running to packed houses mostly in Lahore and Karachi to a certain extent.
Theatre activism came into the limelight in Pakistan during the military regime of Gen Ziaul Haq (1978-88). During the era there was an element of cynicism, ejection and hopelessness in society which gave birth to activism. The groups to emerge during those times were Dastak (now non-functional), Tehrik-i-Niswan, Punjab Lok Rahs and Madeeha Gauhar’s Ajoka Theatre in Lahore whose purpose was to struggle for a secular, democratic, humane and progressive Pakistan.
Ajoka and Tehrik’s main focus has been promoting women’s rights and social change. These two groups in particular have been at it for decades now and as Mansoor Saeed of Dastak put it, “The funny part is that all the men seem to have left the field and we have two women doing activist theatre. The only two strong women who have survived the eras and shown their girth time and again by raising their voice against oppression.”
So who is a theatre activist? Sheema Kermani of Tehrik-i-Niswan explains that anyone who uses the medium of theatre for a meaningful purpose is a one. “I believe that culture and cultural activists, the arts and creative media present many opportunities for the promotion of the understanding of human rights, and for forging unity and awareness amongst the people. Dance, music, visual and performing arts serve as an incredible, almost magical means of communication and bonding.”
This proves that theatre activism can also be termed as cultural action. All kinds of people all over the world are engaged in cultural action — organising projects, leading community activities, creating new approaches to cultural issues, making imaginative new uses of community cultural resources. They may engage with different issues, work with different kinds and levels of support and opposition, and envision the future differently. But it’s all cultural action which has been taken up in Pakistan by the Tehrik, Ajoka and Punjab Lok Rahs.
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