Redefining Art: From Bastar to Punjab

Nikita Azad

Author is a gender rights’ activist/writer from Punjab and can be contacted on

Bastar, one of the top rated conflict areas of India, has come to the forefront and managed to intervene in the public domain again for the incessant oppression it is facing at the hands of Indian state and its paramilitary forces. The modus operandi, however, is unique, and fascinating, this time.

Since 1967, when Naxalbari revolution broke out, Indian state has been trying to crush people’s movement in middle India, to pave way for maximization of profit of corporates, and become an honest toad of empires. The only argument for its continuous attacks, ranging from Salwa Judum to the recent real time high resolution images of Bastar provided by ISRO to air force, is that Maoists are damaging the principles of ‘democracy’ by deploying violence as a means of revolution. This propaganda is done by the same state which has killed ‘violently’ our dear friend Rohith Vemula, our own Jisha, enumerable farmers and workers, by seizing from them every hope of their futures, every memory of their past, and every dream of their present.

However, people of Bastar, have proved again that they are neither romanticists nor terrorists, but people with ideology, and colours. As a report published by The Hindu on May 26, 2016, people are using Gond traditional art to portray their tragedies. Squares, and triangles of modern art, blended with dancing themes of traditional, their paintings narrate a lot about their lives, and their struggles. They have put up stones in memory of their friends who were encountered, named villages after them, and used colours instead of conventional religious methods to pay tributes to their comrades.

Bastar, and art have merged beautifully, just as Einstien said, “The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution!” The role of art in revolution has been discussed and acknowledged widely, whether it was Dostoevsky’s literature, or Eisenstien’s silent movies. In India, artists and groups like Sanjay Kak, Kabir Kala Manch, revolutionary theatre groups are enriching art by their heart rendering performances, and giving people a culture which breaks away with cultural hegemony of state. These groups are spread across India, from Bastar, to Punjab. A particular group, named People’s Art, Patiala in Punjab is doing excellent work in this case, and I had a chance to experience their theatre, and Punjab’s villages through their plays.

People’s Art, Patiala was founded in 2007 , with commitment towards toiling masses, and people’s theatre. The first play it did, was Namolia, a punjabi play written by Sukhi Patran, a theatre artist from Punjab, which was a story of an unemployed dalit youth, and the hardships he had faced all his life. The group’s director, Satpal Bangan, founded a team thereafter and has been performing plays in urban and rural settings of Punjab till date. The group focuses on peoples’ lives, their broken dreams, their exploitation, and their resistance. They enact plays of Brecht, Gursharan Singh, Ajmer Aulakh, and write their own plays on various current topics to reach the masses which begin from female foeticide, caste, class, and record complexities of human relationships. The most interesting aspect about their art is that they reach every age group, as they perform in front of very young children in primary schools, as well as village centers where aged meet. Their varied and detailed experiences of people’s lives is reflected in their plays. A team of young activists, most of whom are students of colleges and universities, consider theatre as a call to action, but action includes both material, and psychological mobility.

In recent times, this group has increased its work, and has covered almost every village of South and East Punjab, whereby it has provided people with an alternative culture. A committed team and a revolutionary mission, they have a long way to go.

Such art generates hope by moving beyond time and space, yet joining all the exploited masses together. The paintings at the walls of Bastar, and dialogues of People’s Art, are geographically and culturally very different, yet they have one thing in common, i.e. Resistance. There has been a lot of debate around the importance and position of art since Aristotle, who thought art was merely an act of copying. Still, if one has to state in simple words, the prime question was, should art develop for people’s sake, or art for art’s sake? Bastar and People’s Art stand by the former, without realising that latter is a beautiful manifestation of the former.

Humans create art, and art makes us human.

Such art, which is omnipresent, in rain, in black and white, in grey, in the anatomy of human body, and in pyramids of class society, consolidates people’s emotions, and becomes history.

As Marx said, “Art is always and everywhere the secret confession , and at the same time the immortal movement of its time.”

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