Grant Period: over one year and six months
Ashoke Lote is a theatre practitioner and researcher who spends his time between Delhi and Haryana. Ashok did his Master’s Degree in Performance Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi. For last sixteen years, he has worked as a volunteer, social activist and a coordinator with many organisations such as Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti Haryana, State Resource Centre of Haryana, Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti, and Haryana Vigyan Manch. He has also worked with the daily Dainik Jagran as a photographer for two years. Currently, he is working with Pratham Educational Foundation as a resource person for developing content for experience-based learning in science and the role of theatre in education.
From the time it was established in the 1990s, Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti has played a significant role in promoting arts and culture in Haryana through progressive theatre. It is responsible for the beginning of a new cultural revolution that promoted equality in the deeply patriarchal and caste-ridden society of Haryana. It gave a platform to the socially and economically marginalised people to voice their concerns on gender and caste discrimination and challenge the structures that support oppression. With a focus on women theatre practitioners, through this project, Ashok will trace the history and evolution of the Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti and its role in the transformation of the social and cultural landscape of Haryana.
By focusing on eight districts of Haryana – Rohtak, Jhajjar, Hisar, Bhiwani, Jind, Karnal, Mahendragadh, and Kurukshetra – where Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti has been active, Ashok will explore the role played by this organisation in changing the image and representation of women established by traditional and patriarchal belief systems. He will look at the ways in which this organisation has ensured equal participation of women in decision-making and leadership and how society has responded and reacted to such initiatives. He will inspect the conditions and struggles of women who have emerged from progressive theatre, and understand how they have informed their personal lives with respect to decisions on marriage, jobs, relationships etc. He will, through his work, attempt to trace the journeys of these women and that of the organisation.
To seek answers to these questions, Ashok will interview the women performers, study the documents of the Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti and scripts of the plays and analyse the way female characters are portrayed in the plays. He will also interview women who are not part of Gyan Vigyan Samiti to know their views on the women who have emerged from progressive theatre and have rejected the social and patriarchal structures by presenting a sharp critique of it. As an active member of the organisation, Ashok will also collate his own experiences as a co-performer wherever, as a Dalit himself, he feels resonance with the experiences of women.
This project took two years of active development to mature into a grant. Programme staff travelled to Haryana and met Ashok to understand the context and the importance of this project. Sadanand Menon, who was one of the panelists for evaluation of the Arts Research programme, strongly recommended this project for a grant by pointing out the need to bring to light the work done by Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti in transforming Haryana’s social and cultural landscape. From a programmatic perspective, the decision to make this grant is also embedded in IFA’s concern to support projects in Indian languages other than English, so as to contribute to discourse building in particular language contexts. The outcome of this project will be a monograph. The Grantee's deliverables to IFA with the Final Report will be: An audio-visual documentation of the interviews with experts and performers from the field and the manuscript of the monograph.