I would like to share the recent experience of doing street theater aimed at raising awareness about the problems faced by women returning to their families/communities after completing their prison term. The play was to be performed in the twin cities – Islamabad and Rawalpindi. It was to complement a project “Aitebaar” being implemented by Strengthening Participator Organization (SPO). The script was provided by SPO. However, I revised it to enhance the duration of the play from 7 minutes to 12 minutes. We held 8 performances of this play – 4 in Islamabad and 4 in Rawalpindi.
Synopsis of the Play
Aitebaar is a story of Sohni – a woman who was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. The play opens when her husband Saeed receives a letter from jail authorities informing him that Sohni’s jail term is about to end. Saeed is not sure whether he should receive her back or leave her to her fate. Saeed’s uncle, representing the community, is hell-bent on convincing Saeed to forget about Sohni.
Sohni is also not sure whether she should be happy or sad. She does not know whether Saeed would take her back as Saeed has not come to see her for over one and half a year now. Her mate in prison tries to comfort her and assures her that Saeed would come to jail and would take her back to his home.
The final show-down or climax comes in the third scene. Saeed, probably under the influence of his uncle and the community, has decided not to take Sohni back. However, he is confronted by his 16 years old dauther Ghazala, who tells him that people do not care about him. She reveals that Sohni has got prison term not for her own crime but for a crime committed by someone else. This puts Saeed off, which shows that Sohni must have been imprisoned for a crime committed by Saeed. Ghazala has more and stronger arguments when she says people would not care for Saeed when he would be ill or hungry. Only Ghazala and Sohni would care for him. She tells him that he should not listen to the people but to his own heart. Saeed is convinced by her aggressive arguments, and decided to receive Sohni from jail. The play ends with Saeed and Ghazala meeting Sohni as she is released from the prison.
The theater team interacted with the audience informally, and found that people had enjoyed the performance a lot. Women in Shelter Homes were particularly moved by the performance. Some of them had tears in their eyes while watching the play. The intended message was delivered successfully, as mostly people agreed that women should be welcomed after completing their prison term and should be facilitated to reintegrate into the community/family, instead of turning them away.
Theater is a very strong tool and always appeals to the masses. However, it needs a lot more time to prepare and execute a street theater project. It is not a stand-alone activity. It must be complimented with community mobilization, and it should be integrated with other components of the project. Only then, it can bring about an effective change.