Founded in 1973 by a group of radical theatre amateurs from Delhi, the Jana Natya Manch began their journey on the streets of India in October, 1978. Their first street play was ‘Machine’, based on the exploitation of industrial labour. Janam has played a significant role in popularising street theatre as a form of voicing anger and public opinion. It has done plays on price rise, elections, communalism, economic policy, unemployment, trade union rights, globalisation, women’s rights, education system, etc. Some of its best-known street plays are Hatyare, Samrath, Aurat, Raja ka Baja, Apaharan Bhaichare Ka, Halla Bol, Mat Banto Insaan Ko, Sangharsh Karenge Jitenge, Andhera Aaftaab Mangega, Jinhe Yakeen Nahin Tha, Aartanaad, Rahul Boxer, Nahin Qabul, Voh Bol Uthi and Yeh Dil Mange More Guruji. In 1989, while performing Halla Bol in Jhandapur, Sahibabad, Janam was murderously attacked by the anti-socials sheltered by the ruling vested interests attacked by a mob. On January 2, the convenor of Janam, Safdar Hashmi., died in a New Delhi hospital following the attack. Today, Safdar’s name has become synonymous with street theatre and the progressive cultural movement in India.
With changes in regimes, and introduction of newer and modern technologies into the industrial and other sectors, the role of money in India’s socio-political context has also changed. However, issues like closed factories, labour abuse, domination over women, foeticide, dowry, corruption, illiteracy, lack of medical facility, Dalit oppression and casteism, and most significantly, the strongly divisive socio-religious policies generated by the government of India, and not having the right to practice freedom of speech still keep abusing the fundamental sense of democracy and keep us from progressing as a society. The execution of street plays and the mode of their promotion may have changed based on the changing times. However, the necessity to perform street plays has not, as it is undeniably the only mode to break through the layers of society and unite us on any pressing issue. Janam is still keeping their stronghold over the people of India with their fearless and resilient voices. We bring the evolution of their journey from ‘Machine’ to ‘Rohit Vemula’s ‘Last Letter’ written and performed in 2016. The digital medium may not do justice to the street’s immersive experience, but here is a glimpse of what you must catch next time it is in town.
The first street play of Jana Natya Manch was written by Rakesh Saxena and Safdar Hashmi in 1978. In October, 2018 ‘Machine’ completed its 40 years. The play is based on a real-life incident that took place in Herig India, a factory in Ghaziabad, in which six workers were shot dead for asking for a bicycle stand and an oven to heat their food.
Jana Natya Manch staged a performance of Rohith Vemula’s “Last Letter” at the Freedom Square (Administration Block) in JNU on 2nd January 2016 in solidarity with the struggle by students and teachers of JNU against the retrogressive decisions taken at the Academic Council meeting in December and against the suspension of protesting students.
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