STAGING TRANSITIONS – THEATRE OF THE 90s IN INDIA
THEATRE IN EDUCATION
The 6th five-year (1980-1985) plan elucidates the association between education and culture as envisioned by the Indian State during the 1990s that continued till early 2000s. The plan placed culture within the ambit of education using it as a tool for furthering other sectoral (health and sanitation, social awareness) development goals.The intrinsic association envisioned among these sectors was institutionalised by the formation of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development in 1985, under which both, the department of education and department for culture, were formed.
The 8th five year plan (1992-97), while enumerating achievements of the 7th five year plan (1985-1990) in the field of culture, posits the formulation of National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986 as a leading achievement in the field, strengthening its argument of interlinkage between these departments.
“In the field of cultural policy, the three notable developments have been the NPE ’86, departmental efforts for formulation of a National Policy on Culture and the Report of the High-level Committee on Academies and NSD (Haksar Committee). The NPE 1986 emphasised the need to bridge the schism between the formal system of education and the country’s rich and varied cultural traditions, it suggested enrichment of curricula by cultural content and establishment of linkages between the university systems and institutions of higher learning in art.”
From 8th five-year plan (1992-1997)
The NPE became a major guiding force functioning of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the nodal body for the Department of Culture. The Ministry report of 1992-93 describes its new policy Assistance to Agencies for Strengthening Culture/Art/Values in Education and for Assistance to Educational Institutions Implementing Innovative Programmes as:
“The NPE, 1986 calls for bridging the schism between the formal system of education and country’s rich and varied cultural traditions. The policy also resolves to enrich the processes of education by cultural content, enable the children to develop sensitivity to beauty, harmony and refinement and to promote a Value Education to help eliminate obscurantism, religious fanaticism, and violence. In order to supplement the curricular interventions already made to actualise these goals, a Central Plan Scheme for Assistance to Agencies for Strengthening Culture/Art/Values in Education and for assistance to Educational Institutions Implementing Innovative Programmes was formulated in 1987 for providing assistance to Government agencies, Educational Institutions, Panchayati Raj institutions, registered societies, public trusts and non-profit making companies.”
From the Ministry of Human Resource Development Annual Report, 1992-93
‘Theatre in Education’ as an educational pedagogy for children first evolved in Europe in the 1960s with plays performed by children or theatrical presentations of works written for children. In India, the ‘Theatre in Education’ in the 90s was a departure from the state-led linkage between culture and education as it developed from within the field led by the practitioners, led by non-state actors and individual initiatives. The influx of information and methodology from fields as diverse as sociology, child psychology, political science and education, in theatre aided in broadening and diversifying the form and content of the theatre being practised.
Such an attempt was first undertaken (using the GRIPS method developed and widely popularised in the 1960s in Berlin) in Pune in 1986 with the active support of the Maharashtra Cultural Centre, Theatre Academy, Max Mueller Bhavan and actor, Dr Mohan Agashe. ‘Theatre in Education’ focused on adults performing for children with very specific objectives in mind dealing with issues of everyday life affecting children and young adults. The issues were wide-ranging – such as the positionality of children in family disputes, education system, racism, gender inequality, communal power structures, lack of confidence, etc. This was a highly political theatre form, in which children were not deprived of their agency or talked down to as recipients incapable of individual understanding and having a lower power position than the performer. The choice of adults as performers was a conscious decision so that alienation of the performance from reality could be maintained.
In its initial years, it dealt with problems of children as an outcome of their power positionality similar to those of lower classes, where they were deprived of access to resources and agency. But, over time, it developed into an understanding and exploration of the rationale behind the unequal power relations. There was a shift from the portrayal of adults as oppressors to understanding the reasoning of the oppression and finding solutions.
The magnitude of the importance of this interactive juncture of education and theatre and its internal contestations can be gauged by an article dedicated in Pioneer, published on April 22, 1994. Among the emerging schools of practice of ‘Theatre for Children’ and ‘Theatre in Education’, it was not only the content, the process of creation and participation but also the form of the performance were discussed and debated. While the proponents of the GRIPS method focused on a realistic and serious portrayal, the other groups like Kidsworld and Umang focused on employing the imaginative elements, which they argued formed the nexus of a child’s early development as important components.
Different non-government theatre groups like Kidsworld, Ruchika, Umang, Jana Natya Manch and Nandikar started conducting their ‘Theatre in Education’ workshops and performances followed by the National School of Drama in 1989 which began the Sanskar Rang Toli, a ‘Theatre in Education’ Company. This can be read as policy narrative and operations being influenced and directed by the changes in the field. This also points towards a possible two way linkage between practice and policy that began to take shape during this time.
Can such a moment in the changing form of cultural dynamics as reflected through Theatre in Education be seen as representative of larger socio-political contradictions emerging in India in the 1990s? While on one hand, government policies aimed at heightened inclusion, both in terms of access to policies and in policymaking, on the other hand, there was an increased impetus given to privatisation and private entities. These private entities became alternative spaces of policy operations. Did this contradictory process in turn result in the formation of elite circuits, which aided the larger scope of political contradictions and fissures, and laid the grounds for subsequent radical socio-political changes?
A newspaper clipping discussing activities with differing approaches for ‘Theatre in Education’ and ‘Theatre for Children’. From ‘The Pioneer’, April 22, 1994.
Courtesy: Anand Gupt Collection/ Alkazi Theatre Archives