A single actor plays the Woman, who is actually several women: the school-going child; the young woman married to patriarchal rules; the young woman who wants to pursue higher education in the face of stereotypes; the woman who is subjected to sexual harassment as she faces a job interview; the woman who is arrested for joining a demonstration against unemployment; the worker woman who is retrenched, but finds solidarity and strength in struggle. The play was written by Safdar Hashmi and Rakesh Saxena.
The following are three pictures of the first performance of Aurat in 1979.
The occasion was the first conference of working women under the aegis of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the trade union wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This was amongst the first such conferences in north India. The venue is an unfinished building in Rup Nagar, a traditional middle class neighbourhood in north Delhi. Handmade posters with slogans adorn the bare brick wall. Moloyashree Roy (later Hashmi), then 25, plays the Woman. The pictures are shot, in all probability, by Safdar Hashmi, who was killed during a Janam performance in January 1989. In the first picture, the housewife Woman is subjected to domestic abuse by the drunk husband (Deepak Gulati). In the second, the worker Woman is thrown out of her job by the factory owner (Shripal). In the third, the workers are attacked by goons (l to r, Rathin Das, Rakesh Saxena and N.K. Sharma) as the worker Woman looks on.
Aurat toured extensively all over north India in the early 1980s.
These are pictures from a tour of Haryana in 1980. The performances are in the open, to audiences of hundreds of villagers, who sit or stand in a circle around the play. The pictures are shot by Surendra Rajan, artist and photographer and later Bollywood actor. In the first, the student Woman (Moloyashree Hashmi) is subjected to sexual harassment by three louts (l to r, Deepak Gulati, N.K. Sharma and Subhash Tyagi) as the policeman (Rathin Das) looks away. In the second, the worker Woman begs the factory owner (Subhas Tyagi) for forgiveness as three workers (l to r, Deepak Gulati, Safdar Hashmi, Manish Manocha) look on.
Aurat in the mid-1980s.
To the east of Connaught Place, the circular shopping district in downtown New Delhi is Pragati Maidan (‘Progress Grounds’), the sprawling exhibition grounds complex designed by the architect Raj Rewal and inaugurated in 1972. In November each year, the grounds host the International Trade Fair. For a while in the 1980s and 90s, this also became the occasion for the grounds hosting cultural activities. This is a picture of the marriage scene, where the Woman is progressively burdened as one patriarchal rule after another is hurled her way. Moloyashree Hashmi (veiled) plays the Woman, with Subhash Tyagi as the husband, Safdar Hashmi as the priest and Jitendra Dagar as the father-in-law. This picture was shot by designer-photographer Ram Rahman.
National Street Theatre Day, 12 April, 1990.
Amongst Delhi’s oldest educational institutions is Zakir Hussain Delhi College (previously Zakir Hussain College, Anglo Arabic College and Delhi College, founded 1692) which used to be housed in an old, colonial era building in the trading quarter of old Delhi. This is a performance on 12 April 1990 in front of the college (not visible). 12 April, birth anniversary of Safdar Hashmi, is observed as National Street Theatre Day since 1989 after his killing during a Janam performance. Here, the young Woman is confronted with stereotyping as she faces a college admission interview. Moloyashree Hashmi (centre) is surrounded by, l to r, Jogi (yellow shirt), Raju, Rakesh Sharma, Lalit Ratan Girdhar, Vijay Kalia (back to camera) and Joy Sengupta. Photographer unknown.
Aurat in 'resettlement colonies'. Early 1990s.
Resettlement colonies were set up after the Emergency (1975-77), which saw a major reconfiguration of Delhi’s urban topography. Slum clusters in many parts of Delhi were demolished and their residents relocated (with all the attendant violence and corruption that such a process entails) to far flung areas. Mangolpuri in west Delhi was home to some 200,000 people in the early 1990s.
These are pictures of two performances in Mangolpuri. In the first, the Woman (Moloyashree Hashmi) is raised by the actors as she raises the red flag at the end of the opening poem (a translation of ‘I am a Woman’ by the Persian poet Marzieh Oskoui, killed in the late 1970s). Other actors in the picture include Sudhanva Deshpande (left) and Brijender Singh (foreground). In the second picture, the factory employer (Brijesh, left) and police (Sudhanva Deshpande) withdraw as the worker Woman raises the red flag and the other workers (Brijender Singh, centre) get up to join her. Photographer unknown.
Aurat in a slum cluster, 1999.
These are three photographs from a performance at Kusumpur Pahadi, a slum in south Delhi, next door to the posh Vasant Vihar. In the first picture, the student Woman is arrested for taking part in a demonstration of youth demanding jobs (others in the picture include, l to r, Vishwa Bhanu, Vijay Kalia and Brijesh). In the second picture, the worker Woman falls at the feet of the factory owner (Soman), begging not to be retrenched from her job, while other workers (l to r, Sudhanva Deshpande, Brijesh, Vijay Kalia) look on. The final picture shows the worker Woman raising the red flag of protest. Moloyashree Hashmi, then 45, plays the Woman. Photographer unknown. Over the years, the play was translated and performed by several groups across the country and became a landmark play of the women’s movement in the country.
Curated by — Sudhanva Deshpande
Image selection — Moloyashree Hashmi
Text — Sudhanva Deshpande
Photos from — The Jana Natya Manch archive