Slums and Urban Villages have been an ongoing fancy of Social Sciences globally, particularly due to the acute problems of ‘Urbansiation’ they represent. Methodologies and conceptual paradigms have evolved over the years. There has been a steady rise among policy makers, activists and academicians alike, to focus on the idea of community growth and development. To be able to understand politics and social setup in a city like Delhi, requires us now more than ever, to get a firm grip on local political activities in various hinterlands of the city.
Jahangir Puri is one such area, forged carefully on lines of migration, region, religion, caste and class. A perfect microcosm for anyone who goes with the intention of ‘studying’ or ‘understanding’ the ‘other side of urbanisation’. However, we have to be careful not to romanticize our opinion on Jahangir Puri.
The Yuva Ekta Foundation has been trying to build in-roads into the area to start a ‘Community Theatre Program’. This project is a logical extension of our work at the Sewa Kutir Complex, Kingsway Camp, wherein we worked with ‘Juveniles in Conflict with Law’ for the past 5 years. Jahangir Puri has an inglorious reputation for being the bedrock of crime in the city.
Addressing issues specifically related to ‘Youth at Risk’ is a mammoth task. For this purpose, we have decided to take up one specific location in the city and start implementing a few of our ideas.
We have so far been able to fight innumerable barriers present either within ourselves as human beings and activists, or outside of our immediate control, in our ‘system’ (as we like to call it). At the first level, these barriers present us with unending questions about life ‘on the fringes’ and conditions, we in our offices aren’t used to. We begin to accept these questions not as challenges, but enriching experiences, which need to be looked at practically. Thus start our community visits, where we spend hours each day, going to people’s homes and trying to look at their problems empathetically. Most of our own beliefs are shattered for good; breaking inhibitions and creating ground for further work.
At the second level these barriers present us with institutional problems. How do we convince people to be a part of our project? What do we tell them? Are people willing to experiment with ‘Expressive Arts’? Where do we start our workshops? Of course the situation is out of control. Slowly and steadily however the pieces start falling into place. We are able to get people on board as we share our intent with them.
Here we are today, 2 months into the project, rounding up our first phase. Up to now, we have been able to get across to a little more than 60 families, each of whom has shared their ideas as to why they want to join this program. Each household has a story, each captivating enough for us to go keep going back and strengthening our connection.
Our Community Theatre Project is an experiment in ‘Community Centered Expressive Arts’. The idea is to make individuals more aware and involved in their life and surroundings. The challenge for us would be to address critical concerns in people’s lives through techniques like theatre, crafts, dance, music, up-cycling and more. We believe that through this medium, we will also be able to provide a reason for the residents of Jahangir Puri, to come together as one single unit, which can assert its rights and demands, collectively.
In this rather relentless exercise, we hope that as a Foundation, we can learn and grow manifold. The idea is not to impose our views and opinions on residents. We aren’t going there with the intention to ‘help the inferior’ in any possible way. Any inclination to think likewise is foolhardy. We, as facilitators, want to simply share, learn, expand and grow.
We start our second phase in the month of May. Schools are shut, the heat is on, but so is the intensity. We have invited all community stakeholders to participate. The group would be a pulsating unit cutting across age, gender, region, caste and religion. We simply cant wait to get back out there.
- Rijul Kataria works as a Research Coordinator with The Yuva Ekta Foundation.