Author: Eva Cunningham, Tate Soller
In December of 2012, Delhi, along with the world, were propelled into a state of shock and anger after the fatal gang-rape and assault of a 23-year old student. At the time of this incident, Anish Singh was working in drama. Horrified just like the rest of India, Anish awakened to a brutal reality marring his community. “What should we do?” was his first question, “where do we go from here?” He pondered how he could use his position as an artist to approach the topic of gender and the shapes it takes in society, many of which going unnoticed or un-vocalised. Anish wondered where this duality existing within gender emanate from, a duality of power and weakness. He pinned this dichotomy down to gender rules. These rules pervade society and underlie gender discrimination and gender based violence. The choices I make as a boy, or as a girl, are determined by gender, Anish explained, and he wanted to explore how exactly this transpired. This duality though manifests in pressure arising on both sides though, he notes, although varied. Boys are expected to work and to uphold the family name and honour, but restricted emotionally with taunts like 'boys don't cry' and 'are you a girl?' Girls, on the other hand are subordinated in this masculine jeer, denoting them as weaker. They have societal pressure to learn to cook, to keep the home and to marry. These, though, are some of the surface level pressures, while a myriad of gender-based pressure are omitted from public vision and discourse, existing below the surface. This difference between gender conceptualisations begins at birth, the roles and the training are markedly different, Anish explains.
In order to dissect these notions Anish devised workshops for youth, aimed at sensitising them to the problems surrounding the concept of gender. He began working in schools, running these workshops as a tool to break down gender biases and to instil that such biases should not simply be accepted. Theatre is a powerful tool to enable social change as can connect with life, Anish describes. In theatre, one performs through experience, expressing what happens around us. But, in society such platforms for expression often don't exist, he remarks. Theatre provides this missing platform and if issues are illustrated, others then watch and then questions are asked. Children are able to explore their own stories and own experiences of gender through this medium.
In society, children are seen as incomplete, Anish notes, they are only complete once they are 25. They must learn, must abide, but are seldom asked their own thoughts, opinions or feelings; there is no space for expression. But this is an integral space in his opinion – of self-expression – and is one he has sought to create. This process is a two way street though, as his involvement in theatre has brought him where he is today, Anish reflects.
Such endeavours aren't without their share of challenges though. Stress is a constant undercurrent of his trying work. He hadn't expected the work load to be as big as anticipated prior to commencing, he explains. But the intensity of such a pursuit isn't something he could have ever imagined. His commitment to the project though has kept him going despite his stressful load. The Changelooms program has also aided him with this, giving him a solid deadline to commit to.
This deadline provided by the Changelooms programs has meant Anish has achieved what he hadn't thought was remotely possible – to achieve the goals he'd laid out for his project within one year. His commitment to being a changeloomer has made him fasten his progress, due to his drive to meet his target. On top of this, Changelooms has also granted him the opportunity to meet a range of other change-makers working on gender issues, with whom he can connect & reflect.
The attention and appreciation his work has garnered is Anish's biggest success, he concedes. The students' enjoyment especially, is something he takes the pride in most. Giving them a platform like they haven't had before and the moment when students come back despite no obligation to; their excitement to talk about issues pertinent to them, are fundamental successes for Anish.
In Anish's opinion there needs to be more of this open dialog in order to substantiate lasting change. Time has changed and people are beginning to notice this, Anish states. The more people talk, the more people start noticing. Gender is something we live with, Anish discusses, so it is hard to notice sometimes what the privileges and disadvantages are; asking the questions is first step, he says.
He dreams of continuing to create even more with students, as well as broadening this into film too. He wants to make it a meaningful and accessible medium for students, as well as creating something that lasts; to be able to retain theatre and the conversations it raises long after the production itself.
He also pushes for others to follow their dreams as well. “Whatever you are really passionate about, you should do that”, Anish implores, “you can contribute to the society in any way – if you follow your passion”. Every pursuit of passion and change will benefit society in one way or another. For Anish, “everyone is a changeloomer”.