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Karnataka: Theatre Artistes Condemn Disruption of Play by Bajrang Dal Members

The play, Jotegiruvanu Chandira, was staged by a Shivamogga-based theatre group, Rangabelaku, in Anavatti village of the Shivamogga region on July 3.
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Prominent theatre artists and intellectuals in Karnataka have condemned the disruption of a theatre performance by Bajrang Dal in Anavatti village of the Shivamogga region on July 3. The play, Jotegiruvanu Chandira, was staged by a Shivamogga-based theatre group, Rangabelaku, at Anavatti's Veerashaiva Kalyana Mandira. The group was "invited by the Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Karnataka Janapada Parishat, and Kannada Samskruthika Vedike in Anavatti hobli to perform the play."

In the middle of the performance, Bajrang Dal members, led by a man named Sridhar Achar, took over the stage and announced that the performance would not continue because it had Muslim characters and the play featured an inter-faith marriage. The right-wing members forced the 150-strong audience to leave the hall.

Kotrappa Hiremagadi, a school headmaster and a veteran theatre artist, said that the theatre group was into the last 30 minutes of the play when an organiser called, asking his team to halt the play as it was "controversial". Hiremagadi informed the organiser that discussions about the play could wait till the end of the performance. As this was going on, Bajrang Dal members barged into the hall and climbed onto the stage to disrupt the play.

Hiremagadi was shocked by the actions of Bajrang Dal members. "The play tells a story of coexistence. How could they disrupt it just like that," he asked in an interview with The News Minute.

The play Jothergiruvanu Chandira, written by writer and lyricist Jayant Kaikini, is a Kannada adaptation of Joseph Stein's 'Fiddler on the Roof.' Stein's play is set in early 1900s Russia and tells a story of a Jewish man who has to go through the strong actions of his daughters.

The Kannada adaptation bases the characters in post-independent India. Rather than the Jewish family, the adaptation features a Muslim bakery owner, Bade Miyan, in the backdrop of migration and partition. Miyan's youngster daughter Saira opts for an interfaith marriage in the play, even as he is forced to migrate due to partition. Over the years, the play has been hailed for its message of communal harmony in the midst of conflict and turmoil.

Theatre practitioners in Karnataka have reacted strongly to the stopping of the performance. Although the artists didn't approach the police with a complaint, the inaction by the police in the case has been condemned.

"This is a dark day for democracy. The act of disrupting a play on-stage is an attack on the freedom of expression. The threat that they would push the artistes off the stage if they do not stop the play is a criminal act," the Havyasi Rangakalavidara Okkoota, an artiste collective, said in a memorandum submitted to the Shivamogga District Commissioner.

"There are no words to express the anguish one feels on learning that the audience of 150-odd people in the auditorium did not protest against the stopping of the performance that was underway," noted theatre personality Raghunandana S said.

"The Department of Kannada and Culture, the Karnataka Nataka Academy, and the Anavatti unit of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat that had sponsored the performance are all answerable to the people of Karnataka for not taking action against the fascist thugs, even after four days since the incident," he said.

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