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LIVING ON THE EDGE

Mending the heart with art

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Activists in Dantewada use theatre, dance and music to help children overcome disturbing memories of violence and bloodshed.

Hoo haa. Hoo haa. They kicked their legs in the air, raised their fists, swirled around, and then exploded into peals of laughter.
In a training hall in the ashramshala at Dornapal, as an evening session came to an end, a group of boys beamed and talked excitedly.

"Didi, don't go, " pleads one, addressing a young woman with kohl-lined eyes, tinkling silver jewellery, and the air of an artist. For the past six months, Mrinmoyee, a theatre professional, had been staying in Konta, Injaram, Dornapal, Errabore, locations of giant industrial-sized ashramshalas, stuffed with hundreds of children. As she packed to go home to Delhi for a short break, the children made her promise she would be back soon.

It is called 'therapy' and has children hooked. Started in 2010, it aims, as UNICEF state chief Shaheen Nilofer says, to create a space to heal the wounds and overcome the pain and suffering of a whole generation that has been born into violence and strife. "Not every child needs therapy, but the idea is they all need to express themselves, " says Anirban Dutta, director Metamorphosis Films, who works with children from conflict zones.

Dutta along with creative co-workers play interactive games with children, dance, perform, ask them to share their stories, give them cameras and crayons.

Many children draw odd shaped figures, some with a stretched out limb that tapers and turns into a gun. A child gives the gun a context (see pic). In a comics-making workshop, he draws 'Raju' pointing a gun at 'Ramu'. In the next panel, 'Raju' lay dead. Titled Banduk ki Kahaani, it is a breathtakingly simple story, not of the gun, but of what it has meant for the people of Dantewada.
Dutta says his team is committed to staying on in Dantewada for the next two years. But given the number of children - Dornapal alone has 1, 400 children - he admits the work will remain limited, "unless we are able to train local youth and, more importantly, unless the government introduces art as a part of the curricula".

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