Chharanagar in Gujarat's Ahmedabad has a population of 15,000
When the nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 24, a small community of 15,000 members living in East Ahmedabad knew their safety wouldn't exactly be priority for the government. The biggest ghetto of the Chhara community, Chharanagar barely has a motorable road or continuous water supply or sanitation facilities. "Chharas is one of the hundreds of tribes originally listed as criminal tribes under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. While the Criminal Tribes Act of 1952 repealed the notification and de-notified these tribal communities, not much changed in terms of public opinion. Many Chharas continue to be perceived as habitual criminals and live as outcasts, in social isolation," says Dakxin Chhara, 47, the first Indian feature filmmaker to have emerged from the denotified tribe.
About 80 per cent of them are known to make a livelihood by brewing and selling liquor, illegally. "Gujarat is a dry state, so the practice is illegal. But the problem is most of the members, even if educated, are denied jobs." When the lockdown was announced, they stopped brewing alcohol for a few weeks. "But when they started incurring losses, they were at it again. As a result, more people began to get infected by the virus. In just 1.5 months, we lost 29. We even requested the government to declare Chharanagar a containment zone, but in vain."
Dakxin Chhara belongs to the denotified tribe Chharas. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
This was when members of Budhan Theatre stepped in. Founded in 1998, the Theatre was launched by the Chharas to bring about a social change in the community. The members perform street plays, intimate and other experimental forms of theatre to raise awareness about discrimination faced by Chharas. Dakxin, a member of the Theatre, adds, "We started to sanitise the area every alternate day. But it wasn't enough; none of them knew what COVID-19 is and how dangerous the infection could be." So, Dakxin sought help from a friend at the University of Leicester, UK. And on July 15, Budhan Podcast was launched on YouTube. "The project is produced by Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, created by Budhan Theatre and funded by the University of Leicester, UK. In total, we plan to release 12 episodes—one every 15 days."
While each episode comes with English subtitles, the primary language used in the podcast is Bhantu, spoken by denotified tribes. "We wanted to make the content easier to understand. Whatever information is out there is in English, which the tribes do not understand."
A member of Budhan Theatre records an episode for the podcast now available on YouTube
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