Less than a week after April 12 was celebrated as National Street Theatre Day, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has announced the launch of the first-ever ‘Street Theatre Festival and Award Scheme-2018’ and invited entries for the same.
The stated purpose behind the exercise is to "recognise, encourage and promote the creative methods of the Indian citizens for communication through street plays in order to build awareness about the protection and promotion of human rights". But the inaugural edition of the competition is restricted to college and registered theatre groups from the Delhi-NCR region, with productions rendered in "contemporary spoken Hindi" only.
An apex body to protect and promote human rights in the country could have widened the ambit of the award to include street theatre groups with a more pan-India cast. But nevertheless, as a start it is an important acknowledgement of an art form which effectively expresses the concerns and emotions of the marginalised and the suffering. Safdar Hashmi, India's foremost exponent of street theatre—and whose birth date of April 12 inspired the setting up of National Street Theatre Day in 1989—championed a kind of political theatre which voiced the anxieties of India's peasantry and the working class through the Jana Natya Manch, the street theatre group Hashmi co-founded in 1973.
According to the NHRC statement, the participating troupes can choose to focus on a number of themes and causes like the right to life, liberty, education, equality, clean environment and dignity; bonded and child labour; rights of women, children, elderly persons, indigenous people and the disabled; right to healthcare; issues pertaining to fundamental freedoms; human trafficking; domestic violence; police atrocities, custodial violence and torture; socioeconomic disparities; prison reforms; right to work; right to equality before law; right to food and nutritional security; human rights violations and their redressal mechanism.
Application forms for the competition can be downloaded from the website of the Commission. Entries should be submitted by 5pm, July 31.
Along with participation certificates, shortlisted groups will be given Rs 25,000 to make logistical arrangements for the performance of plays and cover production costs. The first, second and third prize winners will receive Rs 1 lakh, Rs 60,000 and Rs 40,000 respectively, in addition to certificates and trophies.
The NHRC will mark its 25th anniversary this year. And instituting an award for a form of theatre which aligns with its objectives and ethos is seen as a mutually-beneficial tool of communication.