The debate surrounding freedom of expression in India turned a deeper hue of red when a performance by the dramatics society of Shaheed Rajguru College of Applied Sciences For Women, Mukhauta, at The Great India Place, Noida, was interrupted by the mall authorities on March 1. The play, which was being performed as part of Manthan 2016, the Annual Dramatics festival of Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, was stopped by the coordinators after being pressurized by mall authorities claiming that the play titled ‘Voices.Choices’ about homosexuality dealt with too sensitive and controversial an issue. Another major concern for the authorities was the image of the mall. Following the rift at Jawarhalal Nehru University, the authorities did not want to get involved in any controversies and put the image in a spot and decided to stop the play being performed in the mall premises.
The students of the dramatics society were understandably gutted after the incident, sharing their thoughts through a Facebook status that said,
“This is with regret that we announce that our play, ‘Voices.Choices.’ was interrupted midway, by the authorities of GIP Mall during our performance at Manthan Mahotsav.
The coordinators stepped in our ongoing performance, on being pressurized by the authorities and stopped our instrumentalists, for the authorities felt ‘discomfort’ with a ‘sensitive’ issue like homosexuality, which shouldn’t be the subject of a play meant for the commonwealth.
This sort of behaviour was sad rather disappointing, since neither the coordinators nor the hosting venue played along. The reaction simply demonstrates the tendency of the so-called vocal powers to get away from any sort of ‘controversies’.
The incident puts us in a position where we question, for how long will the street plays remain prohibited from the streets ?
However, our message will stay as solid as the wall of numbness in the minds of the intolerant.
It’s a choice of love, and we voice it.”
The mall authorities were informed about the performance with details about the play in advance. A report was submitted and the organising committee was granted permission for the event said Chhavi, a member of Manthan 2016 OC. The matter was resolved by compensating the society by arranging another performance by them.
The incident, along with many others happening in the country today, prove that Manthan’s unique concept of reaching out to a large audience with the plays by using roadside stops, NGO’s, malls, parks etc. as venues is only as effective as the society’s perception of “non- controversial” topics.
Photo from the Facebook page of Mukhauta.