The Optimist Citizen

How Aagaaz Theatre is instilling new thoughts in the minds of children in Nizamuddin Basti of Delhi and is compelling the audience to think on deeper issues in society

Sanyukta Saha, a graduate of Delhi University, fell in love with theatre the minute she stepped on stage for her first performance at a college fest. Along with theatre, she worked with various organisations, especially those working in the education sector. Her work provided her the opportunity to visit places like juvenile detention, rural centres and special needs facilities where she would get to interact with children from diverse backgrounds. During a stint at the Aga Foundation, as an Arts Education Program Co-ordinator, she had her first embrace with the community Nizamuddin Basti. It was after this surreal meet that she decided to utilize the art of theatre to be instilled in some format for the learning of various children in the Basti. The children under Aga Foundation were just as enthusiastic to continue theatre and thus, began the journey of Aagaaz Theatre Foundation.
Registered in 2015, the initial aim of the organisation was to impart knowledge through art, particularly theatre. After a fellowship at UnLtd, their vision expanded to a new horizon. Aagaaz was essentially a theatre group of 20 children who would perform plays based on socially relevant issues, which compelled the audience to think. As they progressed, their vision broadened and 2016 onwards, the organisation took a life of its own, bubbling with endless possibilities for the children. Their aim today is to create inclusive learning spaces and make people question. Through acting, they want a person to think critically and not just accept everything that’s happening around them, at its face value. They want that the right to criticize and analyse to be propagated to every section of the section, instead of being clutched by a privileged few. Their first production, named Duniya Sabki, was inspired by a real-life incident and talked about how the world belongs to everyone, irrespective of caste, class and creed. They are now working on plays based on gender issues, nationalism and historiographies.

The core group has been put on a three-year intensive theatre programme with well-known theatre artists in order to give them a deeper understanding of the field. Each child also has a mentor, under the “MentorOne” program of the organisation. The aim to have at least one person in their life whom they can approach and share anything. The mentor is allotted on the basis of the interest of the child and come from varying fields like research, finance, music etc.

Since Aagaaz is a need-based organisation. Its productions and workshops are aimed to address a certain, prevalent need of a community or a group of individuals. Recently, it started sexual and reproductive health workshops for the adolescents. The average age of the group is 15-16 years and the founders realised that the beneficiaries are now at a stage in their life where they would have a lot of curiosity as well as questions related to sexuality and changes in their bodies. The workshop aims to create an environment where all the members can address their doubts, hold conversations without any inhibitions and get access to right information. The group, along with facilitators discusses issues of gender equality, consent, objectification, masturbation and break myths related to menstrual cycle.

Aagaaz is trying to diverge from the structured methods of learning and is trying to find new and more engaging methods. The Unlearning Uncentred workshop of theirs essentially focuses on this. Children from Nizamuddin Basti are a part of this programme and the core group works as volunteers for it. The aim is to break the structured, conventional ways of perception and the tools used for it are unconventional too. Toys made from trash, books read aloud in front of an audience, children deciding the agenda of the workshop, are some unconventional conventions used here.

People can support Aagaaz by becoming a “friend of Aagaaz”. As a part of this community, they pledge to donate a sum of Rs.10,000 annually for 3 years. Aagaaz plans to scale-up their programme Unlearning Uncentred and since they are a community owned organisation, they want one of the children from the core group to take up the leadership of the organisation.

Aagaaz is trying to diverge from the structured methods of learning and is trying to find new and more engaging methods. In a world where most of the things are imposed on people and usually come with a road map, Aagaaz is getting children exposed to new ways and tools of learning and is diverting from conventional way of perceiving the world.

To suppport Aagaaz Theatre trust you can contact the founder, Sanyukta Saha, at this number – +91 9873853348

This story has been published in collaboration with MASH Project.


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