The largest free Literary Festival in the world, the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival is one of the most exciting, stimulating platforms for an egalitarian exchange of books and ideas, bringing together some of the greatest thinkers and writers from across the world! From Nobel Laureates, Man Booker prize winners to local language writers and debut novelists, the magical lure of the festival attracts audiences from different parts of the world every year.
A highlight of the demographic population that JLF attracts is the large number of young people who throng to the festival grounds, thirsting to receive from some of the best literary and political minds! Keeping this in focus and hugely aware of their intent to give back to the city that plays host to them, Teamwork Arts – the organizers of JLF, run a Youth Outreach program every year, parallel to the festival.
The Yuva Ekta Foundation, a not for profit Trust working at the intersection of Youth and Governance, has been facilitating the Outreach program for 10 years now. With a core Vision of Equity and Social Justice, the Outreach program seeks to integrate Rural youth in Rajasthan with their more privileged Urban counter parts, thereby creating opportunities of mutual learning and creative exchange.
Each year a new theme is chosen, and using the Social Arts as a medium, the participants are encouraged to explore and ideate with young people from different realities with whom they will spend the next 10 days, thereby providing further food for thought.
The Outreach began with the launch of JLF in 2008, with the theme ‘Hands on Habitat’ – a conservation program that aimed to preserve and protect the natural resources of country, with the intent to secure a sustainable future for its citizens. This program empowered a new generation of individuals to clean up and care for designated areas, to protect and improve their natural reserves.
In 2009, the Outreach focused on ‘iPartner Citizenship’ Workshops, where the Foundation connected with a group of 50 young people from private and government schools as well as NGO institutions. Spread over two days, these workshops ignited the spark of social connect within the participants and encouraged them to actively participate in community issues, as equal partners.
The Year 2010 focused on ‘Being Human’, where amidst the color and glitter of the Festival 60 young people came together for 6 days, to share, learn and sensitize each other, as they explored different facets of Humanism.
Dilip Simeon, a firm believer in the Gandhian principle of non violence, shared his journey as young political activist, who committed to the Naxal cause in the early 70’s because he believed in their ideology of fighting for the rights of the landless labour. The debate was further enhanced through the presentation given by Ornit Shani and Frederik Gauteng from Jerusalem, on the Palestine Israel conflict. The highlight for this year was a one hour session with renowned Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, who shared his experiences on racial discrimination as a young student in London, and how it inspired him writing ‘Telephone Conversation’.
2011 carried forward the theme ‘Being Human’, wherein the focus was on ‘Building Bridges’ between people from vastly different walks of life and the workshops ended up making each individual connect with the lost little persons within themselves.
Along with the workshops exploring the theme using theatre and the Arts, the participants got a chance to interact with Gulzar Saab, Alex Belloss, Mrinal Pandey, Prasoon Joshi, Javed Akhtar, and Sudheesh Pachauri in their sessions.
Our theme for 2012 was ‘Democracy Dialogues’ .Through role plays and other games, this platform saw a diverse youth group express their differing ideas on how they understood democracy and its relevance in their lives. This became an opportunity to share and learn as the rural youth talked about engaging with the Panchayat and other rural democratic institutions while the urban youth drew upon their school education to talk from a national perspective.
The Outreach programs were conducted within the Festival grounds, in a venue specifically marked for Young Adults. This year, the venue was christened ‘SAMVAD’ a place for discussion and dialogue.
SAMVAD also became an exhibition space for photographer Kulwant Roy’s work between 1940 and 1960, with images captured the formative period of Indian democracy. Curated by Aditya Arya of the India Photo Archive, the exhibits focused on the leaders of the Indian national movement and their engagement with the people.
Participants also attended sessions in Samvad with renowned personalities; prominent among them were Gulzar and Prasoon Joshi, who discussed the role of imagination in the age of television and a panel discussion on Dissent and Democracy led by Tarun Tejpal, Dayamani Barla, Ayesha Jalal, Aruna Roy and Sunil Khilnani .
The theme for 2013 was ‘Myself, My World- a Search for Identity’, a quest for exploring a sense of self as well as the circles of influence that impact our lives every day.
This was one year in which we included web registrations into our group of Young Adults and our numbers swelled to a challenging 80 participants!
Divided into groups, they explored issues of Self with relation to their Family, Community and the World, using tools of Music, Theatre, Art and Creative Writing. Each group worked with a new tool everyday leaving behind an abundance of Creative Expression!
2014 focused on’ Freedom of Expression’. Changing our format for the workshops this year, we met our participants six days prior to the festival at Jayshree Periwal High School, when 60 young people made their way to a basement, to begin a journey that explored the finer nuances of Freedom of Expression. They came from places in Rajasthan as far off as Baran, Abu Road, Bikaner and homes on the outskirts of the city, to share experiences with privileged young people from prestigious public and IB schools in Jaipur.
These workshops were a reality check for the school participants to come to terms with the fact that bonded labour was still prevalent in our country. That despite the technological advancements they were familiar with in our metropolitan cities, there are large chunks of our country where inequity and social injustice are rampant.
‘Azadi ki Udaan’– our first street play evolved through intensive group work and was performed at the festival grounds for a wide audience.
The activities towards integration continued during the 5 days of the Jaipur Literature Festival, through one hour long Art workshops every morning, during which the participants further developed the theme of Freedom of Expression.
This year saw an interesting line up of speakers at the FORD SAMVAD tent from Master photographer Dayanita Singh to dancer and choreographer Astad Deboo, creative thinkers and story tellers Anita Roy, Jerry Pinto, Paro Anand and Anand Neelakantan, the amazing mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, the inimitable Prasoon Joshi and Sufi Gospel singer, Sonam Kalra added to an enriching experience.
In 2015, we explored the theme ‘Gender Justice’ using theatre. Once again we met our participants six days prior to the festival at the Jayshree Periwal High School, to explore issues of Gender Stereotypes through role plays and creating scenarios. The participants shared personal experiences of discrimination they had personally faced and together explored possible solutions.
Six days of work culminated in a street play titled ‘Naya Nazariya’ Moving towards a New Perspective on Gender Justice!’ that was performed at the Diggi Palace grounds for festival audience.
The theme for 2016 was ‘Finding Me’, where we explored everyday situations, complex relationships and attempted to understand the identity crises young people everywhere face. Using role plays and scenarios, the participants shared the challenges that they face on daily basis. The school groups from Jaipur presented scenarios that focused on issues like bullying, peer pressure, the choice of subject streams like Science, Commerce and the Humanities, in Senior School. These were interspersed with slices of life from the village children, who spoke about how most decisions are taken for them by their parents, about the conservative mind set still prevalent in their society including the discrimination between girls and boys.
This was another year of Firsts! The play that evolved during these 6 intense days titled ‘Finding me – Meri Pehchaan’ was then performed in 8 schools across Jaipur, during the days of the Festival. At the post performance interactive sessions, it was amazing to see how deeply the audience connected with us and was inspired to share their stories honestly, many speaking up publicly for the first time!
The play was also performed at Bandhali Dhani, Khonagoria Gaon District Community Grounds. Our interaction with this audience, primarily a conservative Muslim community was a bit more intimate. Hesitant at first, young people and parents from the community shared their feelings with us about the need to bring about change in their lives by being more progressive in their outlook.
The play was also presented at the prestigious Jaipur Literature Festival Grounds The audience enthusiasm reinforced the universality of the issues that the play addressed.
We are back in Jaipur this year with the theme’Freedom to Dream’. As we plan ahead for our workshops commencing on 10th January, the last 9 years have left us with heartwarming memories of young girls like Foranta Devi from Tilionia, who stayed bashful and shy in her ghunghat for the first 3 days of the workshop, but on the final day was on stage, singing confidently about the importance of educating girls in her village.
A sentiment echoed by the Muslim girls from Digantar fiercely narrating their ongoing struggle with their families and community, seeking permission to continue their studies beyond Class 8, an eye opener for many present.
Walls of Rural/ Urban, Privileged/ Marginalized dissolving, perceptions changing about the ‘other’ as they break boundaries, reject stereo types, even raise their own aspirations listening to their peers ‘it has been a fascinating learning for all of us as we shared their journeys and connected them to each other through love and trust. As one young student sums it up for us – ‘If there’s anything better than being loved, it is loving!’