Play: Ambedkari Jalsa, 1991
Directed by: Prakash Tribhuvan, Dalit Theatre Aurangabad
In the 1930s, originating from Jyotiba Phule’s Satyashodhak Jalsa (the Satyashodhak Jalsa/Tamasha was an instructional theatre of the Satyashodhak Samaj in the 1880s) Ambedkari Jalsa emerged to spread the message of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar through popular musical and poetic verses. The first Ambedkari Jalsa was presented by Bhimrao Kardak on 4th February 1931 at Chandori, Nasik (Makarand Sathe, A Socio-Political History of Marathi Theatre: Thirty Nights, 2015, 382). “The decline of the Jalsa in the late 1960s was explained in terms of the political subordination of Dalit politics to the Congress (Sharmila Regge, “Interrogating the Thesis of ‘Irrational Deification’”, EPW vol.43 no.7, 2008, 19).”
The Mandal Commission/SEBC (the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission), headed by B.P. Mandal was established to determine and identify the socially and educationally backward classes in the country in 1979. The announcement of the implementation of the Mandal Commission in 1990 produced debates about merit and reservation with a focus on socio-economic equality and consciousness of caste, communities, and religion. The politics of Hindutva, the Hindu nation, and the imagining of a Hindu consciousness were gaining momentum with the inception of the Ram temple movement in Ayodhya. In this context of Mandal, Mandir, and Masjid, the play, ‘Ambedkari Jalsa’ (Marathi), directed by Prakash Tribhuvan and produced by Dalit Theatre in 1991 at Aurangabad, foregrounds the difference between the forms, Ambedkari Jalsa and tamasha of Maharashtra. The play follows the century-long struggle between Dalit, ‘low’ culture, and the dominant order of Brahmanical ‘high’ culture with the Jalsa intending to educate Dalits.
The first half of the play brings out the anti-caste sahir tradition, educating the masses about the issues of untouchability, the importance of education, and religious conversion. The second part of the Jalsa depicts the struggle to win over a raajkumari or princess, amidst three persons (Pandit, Vikram, and Raju) who belong to different castes. Questioning the logic of merit, in the end, Raju, who is a Dalit, secures his place with the princess with his knowledge, wisdom, and valor.Ambedkari Jalsa, 1991
Source: Brochure, ‘West Zone Theatre Festival 1991’, Courtesy – Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi