Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rohini: Empowered to dance

Some days back I was at my friend Mala’s house, watching my friend’s 4 year old daughter Chinni jumping in joy. The reason for her excitement: Chinni was going to participate in a group dance, to be presented at the school’s annual day. Mala was excited too, for it was the first time her child would perform on stage and she was trying to borrow a camera from a neighbor, so she wouldn’t have to miss the precious moment.

This, I am sure is the story of every parent, every child at every home. We celebrate the dancing and the singing moments of our children. Many of us send the children to formally train in dance. The reality dance shows on TV are getting more and more popular and are attracting boys and girls of all ages.

But as they grow up, things change. We see a great divide of morality slowly created by families. While boys, now men, are allowed to dance on, girls are barred from doing so. The same parents who once filmed/photographed their children – boys and girls alike – dancing, now reprimand the girls for doing the same because now it’s an immoral act, a taboo for women from ‘decent’ family background.

Rohini Powar comes from Purandar taluka of Pune district, once famous for its lavani - the famous folk dance form of Maharashtra. For generations, dancers have performed Lavani in courts, impressing kings and their ministers alike with their delicate movements and lilting singing. With time, the courts have vanished, but Lavani is very much a part of Maharashtrian culture and every school student performs Lavani in annual day event.

Born in 1985, Rohini was first forced to leave school by her poverty-stuck family at 17 and married off 2 years later. Post marriage, with increasing burden of financial difficulties, Rohini had to try different ways to contribute a little more to the family’s income. She learnt to stitch dresses, taught women in her villages the same and also worked as a farm labourer to help her family.

Of the many things that she wanted to do but wasn’t allowed, was dance. And so, while working hard eased her financial burden, Rohini still felt like a prisoner who had no way to express herself. She yearned for a way to self expression, to tell her thoughts, her stories. Joining Video Volunteers’ India Unheard program as a Community Correspondent was a result of this yearning.

From 15th of March’2010 to 28th, during the training of all the Community Correspondents in Sanand, Gujarat which she attended with 31 other people,
Rohini was one of the most active and vocal participants. Every evening after dinner Stalin and Mehul, two of our Directors would bring in a drum and start creating a musical wave to infuse some life into the group of trainees, tired from the day’s classes and lessons. As the beats grew louder, a group of watchers would surround the duo, before slowly joining in. And they would be followed by another group with legs ready to start a-shaking!

Evening after evening, the second group would have one steady face – Rohini. She would be the first one to swirl with the drumbeat and the last one to stop! Her energy was infectious, just as was her wide smile.

On 28th of Morning, there was a small event where we said goodbye to each other and what these training meant to each one.

Most of the trainees said the expected thing; that they learnt of videos, news, shooting, issues and new responsibilities. When Rohini’s turn came, she said ‘After 7 years, I danced. I came here, accompanied by 3 people. But I‘m going back alone’.

She didn’t elaborate further. She didn’t have to. The message was clear for all of us: Rohini had found her way to self expression. She had found her courage, suppressed so far. She had found herself. And she was going back, with the new self, to do something that meant the world to her: Get stories of the voices who lived within the margins, just like her.

Gujaratnama 2: What is 'Cinema'? It's 'Cine plus Maa'

Eid Mohammed is 81 and has lived his entire life in the Berhampura slum of Ahmedabad. A ‘dresswala’/tailor till a few years ago, Eid Mohammed always had something special: power of observation. He did learn to read the Quran in a madrasa, but never went to a formal school. Yet he always was, and still continues to be, popular in his locality as a man who knew a lot about the world. Of many interests in his life, films top the list.

It was at the screening of a film that I first met Eid. Samvad, the Community Video Unit had organized a get together of all their community members in Berhampora. I had accompanied Stalin, the founder of Video Volunteers, invited to speak on the occasion, which also had a special screening of several of Samvad’s films. As Stalin and other guests speakers finished addressing the audience, a frail old man walked on the stage. As everyone wondered what he would say, Eid Mohammed took the mike and started – ;Cinema’ is, for me, Cine plus Maa (mother). Just as a ‘Maa’ would never teach her child wrong things in life, Cinema also teaches nothing but the right thing. These cinemas that Samvad showed today also shows us truth.’

At this point, I knew I had to know more about this person. So post event I met Eid and asked what made him think of ‘Maa’ while describing cinema. ‘Because of these film makers of Samvad’, he said. My area – Narayandas –ki-chali, always had so many problems. We had no drainage, lanes were full of garbage and almost all the men were addicted to arrack or drugs. But I never knew these issues could also be the subject of a film until one day these young men and women of Samvad came and started shooting. When I asked who they made these films for, who would see them, who would do something about it, they said ‘you’. This reminded me of my mother especially when she would notice something bad that I did. She would say ‘Yes, beta, something bad has happened. But you are still special. And you can do so much better for yourself.

Eid was a regular at every screening. His eyesight was getting weaker, but his passion for films and change was the same. In fact his enthusiasm was fast spreading among other community members, earning him quite a few fans, I was told. What I didn’t tell him is that he had just earned another one – in me.

Gujaratnama 1: On road, but not at the end of the it

That Bhagwanpura village is just 100 km away from Ahmedabad - capital of the largest and supposedly the richest Indian state is hard to believe. For reason one, there is no running water, no toilets and no tar road. The only mode of transport for common people is Chakda – a strange combination of a cycle rickshaw and a push cart. There are so seats and no shed to save yourself from the blazing April sun, or pouring rain, if that ever comes.

Bhagwanpura has a population of about 10, 000, of which nearly half are landless. They are also Dalit or lower caste. April is the beginning of a tough time for these people. Because, this is when the village wells run completely dry. The fields, half baked in the sun, are not fit to be cultivated until the rain comes and with no work at the farms, the landless villagers have to face the eventuality: Leave their homes in search of work.

This year also several families are already on the move. Some are moving to Ahmedabad to work on the special road construction projects, while some will go to Surat, the city of textile factories. They will return after 3 months when the Summer is over and the farming is to restart. Apparently, there isn’t much to take except a few clothes and a few pieces of utensils. The doors will be locked, yes, but nobody fears looting or damage to their homes. No loss, save that of one academic year for their children.

The children follow their parents to wherever they go. This forces them out of school for 3-4 months. On return, either the school authorities decline to let them back in, or the students themselves refuse to go to school because they can’t grasp the lessons because of the long interval. Either way it’s an end of the road for them.

But this year will be different for people of Bhagwanpura, I am told. None of the children will have to drop out, they say. And why so? ‘Because now we have our migration cards’, they say. Explains Sejalben, a villager who will be leaving her village with 4 school-going children soon, ‘Apna Malak Ma people showed us a film where we learnt that government will provide special cards to migrant workers like us. If we showed these cards, the school in our new work place would admit our children in the same class. After seeing the film, we approached the sarpanch. The sarpanch formed a special committee and wrote our names to get us those cards, she said.

There was a smile on her face as she talked, and a sense of pride in her voice. I wonder if it was the pride of being able to protect her child’s future, or, empowering herself with information she never had before.

Apna Malak Ma is a Community Video Unit in Limdee, Surendranagar district, launched in partnership between Video Volunteers and Navsarjan NGO and the film that helped empower Bhagwanpura is called ‘Haal Beru Bhano’.