The annual street play festival, “Mukhatib Nukkad Natak” festival organized by the students of Ramjas College, Delhi University this year was an occasion for students across colleges of Delhi University to express their anger against the attempt of the authorities to clamp down on their right to express their views.
At the festival held on March 30, the theatre presentations of only two colleges, Kirori Mal College and Miranda House were allowed by the college and university authorities. The Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) team attended the festival but one of its performers made a speech saying they would not perform when "abnormal constraints are imposed to curtail the right to expression"." What is the use of street plays - whose idea itself is revolutionary - if they are censored? It is very frustrating that for the last month, anything seen as a challenge to authority is being questioned. We are not performing because this censorship constrains us, Ramjas and theatre itself," the LSR student said.
The president of the Ramjas Theatre Society pointed out that 17 colleges had participated in the auditions held on March 28. Out of these seventeen, seven were shortlisted to perform on March 30. Of these seven, four were refused permission to perform on March 29. These plays were rejected even though they had been earlier staged in other colleges. He denounced this attack on the students’ right to express their views.
The four cancelled plays were Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College's The Trump Card, Gargi College's Main Kashmir, Aur Aap? Main Manipur, Dayal Singh Evening College's Jokistaan and Sri Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce's Sawaal to Uthega. Students from these colleges denounced the fact that the police were present during the auditions and that some of these plays were cancelled due to objections raised by the police and the ABVP, which they suggested were working together to stifle expressions of protest against the system.
Students pointed out that authorities and police were determined not to allow any plays which featured words such as "azadi", or "anti-nationals". Speaking to the press, the members of the organizing committee of the Ramjas theatre festival said that they were summoned by the Principal the previous evening and the content of the street plays was questioned. Students were asked to read out the synopses of the seven shortlisted plays. Four of the plays, which dealt with the issue of attack on the right to dissent and of all forms of dissent being labelled “anti-national”, were objected to by the authorities and cancelled. The students were forced to give an undertaking that they would not deviate from the submitted scripts. A student leader of the ABVP who had led a mob attacking students of the college a month back was present at this meeting, along with a police officer.
Faced with these conditions, the students collectively decided to convert the event into a sit-in protest. Several participants and members of the audience sat with black armbands and black tapes on their mouths, as a sign of protest. In the course of the protest, they actively participated in debates on the current political situation in our country and all over the world, the growing attacks on the rights of people including the right to conscience and on the need to organize and fight back to resist these attacks. They also sang songs of protests movements to highlight their opposition.