Dukhini: A theatrical presentation with a purpose -MSNBC http://ndtv.msnbc.com/showbiz/showbiz.asp

After their critically acclaimed play Ek thi Nani, the Lahore based theatre group Ajoka was back in India, with their play Dukhini. The play is a joint collaboration with the Bangladesh Institute of Theatre Art and addresses the sensitive issue of the exploitation of women across the borders.

Dukhini is the story of a young Bangladeshi woman who like many others was bought and sold across India to Pakistan. A first-time joint effort by the Lahore based theatre group, Ajoka and the Bangladesh Institute of Theatre Art, the play attempts to address and create an awareness of the issue of exploitation of women across the borders. Shahid Nadeem the playwright said, "I came across the case history of a woman called Dukhini who was trafficked across from Bangladesh to Pakistan. We wanted to build our relations with Bangladesh and had theatre friends there. That's how we decided to work on this play and this was how Dukhini was conceived and produced."

Dukhini was first staged in Pakistan in 1997. It is the story of a young woman called Dukhini who commits suicide in order to escape humiliation. The other women envy her defiance and take her example as a valiant effort to fight the exploitation meted out to them by the corrupt law enforcing authorities. The production aims to go beyond the case histories of the women and explores the trauma and tragic lives of women like Dukhini who apparently have no rights as citizens.

Madeeha Gauhar, theatre director of Ajoka said, "It is very relevant to the whole of Indian subcontinent. It talks about the trafficking of women from Bangladesh to India to Pakistan. We performed it in Kathmandu and many of the victims of trafficking who are now free, saw this play and said to us that this was their story."

The script is partly written in Urdu and Bangla and has actors from both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Also performing is veteran actress Uzra Bhatt, one of the oldest members of Ajoka and who has been deeply committed to the cause of promoting socially relevant theatre. Uzra said, "I have been involved with theatre for a very long time. I used to perform in India and after the partition, in Pakistan. I joined Ajoka and feel an affinity to their productions since it suits my ideology. We are trying to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan and spread the message of brotherhood."

Ajoka also regards its activities as an attempt to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan. Its production Ek Thi Nani in 1999 reunited sisters Zohra Sehgal and Uzra Bhatt, separated by the India-Pakistan border. Despite the political differences, the members of Ajoka feel the cultural similarities between India and Pakistan need to be tapped. Shahid Nadeem said, "The biggest setback to theatre and the performing arts was the partition, when many of the actors, theatre and film came to India and the new regime did not promote theatre because of their ideological differences. It is very difficult for a theatre group to survive in Pakistan, especially one that is socially relevant. In the current situation, I think projects like these need to be encouraged."

The group, which is on its South Asia tour has performed in Bangladesh, Kathmandu, Delhi and Chandigarh and is the latest harbinger of cultural exchange between the neighbours and their deep-seated common roots and problems.

[This message has been edited by mohabbat (edited June 08, 2000).]