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The Compassionate Gaze

Last year we began our journey of moving deeper within urban slums and communities in Delhi. Our work with ‘Juveniles in Conflict with Law’ had taken us to a different spectrum of urban life in the city. But it is always important to go back to places that have equipped us to take the next step in the field of Social Arts.

The Adharshila Observation Home for Boys has been that space. It is an area where urbanisation, migration and the law interact at complex levels. The recently amended ‘Juvenile Justice Act’ (2015) has changed the discourse on crime and punishment for years to come. The merits and demerits of the act continue to be heavily debated.

As one of the tenets of punishment, we strongly believe in the power of reformation and the ability of legal institutions to engender change. The Observation Home in Kingsway Camp has been one such institution where this transformation is being realized. All our visits to the home so far have increaseed fatith in our own work and the role Expressive Arts can play in the process of self-learning and self-growth.

This experience has been incredibly satisfying. Although we have been working in the Observation Home for the better part of the decade, the connection with the children this time is special. We started working with a group of 15 inmates in the first week of May towards a workshop that will culminate in a performance at the Delhi Judicial Academy. We are exploring the idea of ‘Dreams, Delinquency and Destitution’ in the context of ‘Youth at Risk’. The time spent so far has also revealed a lot that needs to go in working towards the issue of mental health and diverting public opinion towards a more compassionate gaze.

We started our workshops by introducing the children to basic theatre warm-ups and creative exercises before slowly moving on to ‘childhood dreams and aspirations’. Once we got to this playful core, the task ahead become easier and smoother. Participants shared their stories, circumstances, future goals, inhibitions and restrictions that have shaped their lives today. We also explored enabling oneself to overcome these barriers and look for respect where it matters the most: to the Self.

This connection of course, comes with its own set of challenges and precautions. We do not believe in any hierarchy and genuinely consider this process to be a mutual one.

Expressive Arts is a tool that allows one to go beyond the defined realm of conversation and thought and make room for a deeper probe into issues of identity formation, that the youth struggle with today.

Working at the Home only strengthens our resolve in the core vision of the Foundation, that of equity and social justice. We do hope that this time spent can only pave way for more work in the future that is centred on the idea of healing and empowerment.

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