Case studies

‘Acting’ in Community Interest

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In Daadpuja, a Santhal populated village in Fatehpur block of Jamtara in Jharkhand, eatern India, awareness of government schemes and entitlements was very low. Supported by PACS, Lok Chirag Sewa Sanstha (LCSS), a civil society organisation working in the area, decided to use a novel approach to change things.

Youth perform a street play in village Daadpuja.

“Unemployment and lack of information about government schemes were quite common in our village till last year. Nobody came to us to solve these problems, nor did we approach anybody for help. That is the way it was,” says Shrimaan Hansda, aged 31, a resident of Daadpuja, a  Santhal  populated village in Fatehpur block of Jamtara district in  Jharkhand.

PACS partner LCSS began working in Daadpuja in 2014 to encourage community-based organisations to participate in the state-run Rashtriya Suraksha Bima Yojana (RSBY) health insurance programme, and develop the skills of volunteers called RSBY Mitras (friends), who would increase its effectiveness.

“In the region, the RSBY project was progressing well on paper, but the ground reality was not so positive. RSBY smart cards were being made but were not used like they should have been. Beneficiaries kept them safe but used them rarely because they did not know what the card actually meant or how it was to be used,” Shrimaan adds.

Women and children are part of the audience for the street play.

Using theatre to spread awareness

LCSS hit upon the idea of using street theatre to raise people’s awareness. Twenty of the most active RSBY Mitras were collected to start a street play group. The most active of them were sent for a 10-day training workshop, in Jamtara. “During these ten days, two students of theatre from Hyderabad trained us in the nuances of acting,” said Prem Soren, aged 20, a member of the group.

“After the training, we sat down with them to work on the script for our street play on RSBY awareness. We came up with a script in Santhali (the local dialect), called ‘Smart Card Kahan Hai?’ (Where is the Smart Card?), which conveyed the details of the project and its provisions with help of light-hearted dialogues.”

With the training over and script finalised, Lok Natya Mandali (folk theatre group) began doing shows of the play in May, 2014. It was decided that the play would also be a means of generating employment. The team did 10 shows in Dumka, Deoghar and Jamtara for Rs. 3000 per show. Another PACS partner EFFICOR collaborated in the programme by staging more shows and by facilitating a three-day refresher training workshop too for the troupe. 

“Apart from RSBY, we started covering topics like tuberculosis awareness, MNREGA, alcoholism, raising social awareness about government projects. Word about our work has reached even government bodies. The Deputy Commissioner of Jamtara hired our team to perform on the topic of voter awareness,” Shrimaan says.

The troupe has become so popular that it now has its own publicity wing. “Now we have 12 coordination volunteers across the district, with the responsibility to publicise the show and the actors before the Mandali performs,” said Sukhdev Marandi, one of the volunteers.

Members of the village theatre group.

Changing the way people live

The exercise has resulted in not only sensitising the people of Daadpuja about government schemes, but even changing the way people lived here.

“People now know about the RSBY and how to use the RSBY smart cards. They go to hospitals for getting proper treatment, and use their smart cards to pay for the medical expenses. Along with this, the youngsters are also getting employed, which is an added bonus,” says Babujan Tudu, aged 37, one of the senior artists working in with the group.

Sukhdev adds: “We Santhals are hesitant by nature when it comes to approaching authority. We did not take our problems to government officials, fearing them for the authority they hold. We did not take our ill to hospitals, both revering and fearing the doctors. But this is not the case in Daadpuja anymore.”

Prem notes: “Those associated with the troupe have developed better public communication skills. Our street plays educate the villagers that everyone is entitled to receive equal opportunities and equal benefits from the government schemes. There is a question and answer session at the end where we interact with the audiences and answer their queries. People have grown aware and confident enough to take their problems directly to responsible authorities.”

“With the opportunities and exposure Lok Natya Mandali has to offer and the motive it serves, girls of Daadpuja and nearby villages are appreciating this initiative by LCSS.  Many of my classmates and friends have expressed their interest in joining the team,” says Sonali, one of the female actors in the group.

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