It is a show that gives women the strength to battle the odds and change their lives for the better.
Women in traditional attire pose for photographs as they practice the Garba, a traditional dance, ahead of the Navratri festival in Ahmadabad.
This is quite evident from the enthusiastic response it gets from a motley group comprising women, children and village elders at the Ramlila Maidan in Amethi. They gape curiously at the huge audiovisual setup on the stage. Suddenly, the sound system crackles and lights are focused on the narrator who briefs the audience about Jamuniya, the light and sound show that is about to begin.
Thousands of viewers who are initially unaware get a drift of the onstage happenings and, gradually, the ground begins to resound with roars, claps and whistles. And as the two- hour-long show ends, women say: “We want to become Jamuniya (the lead character of the show).” In poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, the show is fast becoming a rage, especially in the rural areas.
“Hum log to itta sab janit hi nahi rahe. Mann karat hai ki bass Jamuniya ban jai aur apan adhikar cheen leyi. (I feel I should become Jamuniya and demand all my rights),” says Rajmati, a poor woman in Amethi, after the show.
An initiative of the union ministry of information and broadcasting, the show is aimed at making the rural poor aware of their rights, the need to be literate and raise their voice against injustice. Similar to nautanki and tamashas used to communicate with the public, the show is an advanced form of the traditional folk medium. Jamuniya battled adversity, became literate and even won the pradhan elections - all by becoming more aware of the need to ‘demand’ her rights. Uma Devi, a resident of Amethi, says: “Ab hum logon ko bewaqoof banana asaan nahin hai. Hum apna neta khud chunenge aur unse apne adhikaron ka hisab bhi lenge. (No one can take us for a ride now. We will choose our own leader and make him/her accountable too).”
The show has become a runaway hit, making several rural women admit that they feel ‘inspired’ by its protagonist. The show has been held in six locations across the country so far and made waves everywhere. Such was its popularity at Amethi that several women arrived at the Ramlila Maidan well in advance to ensure that they didn't miss anything. Madhuri, a housemaid, prepared dinner early, fed her kids and headed straight for the venue.
Buoyed by the tremendous response to the show, the organisers have even started roping in locals to be a part of it. Pooja Tripathi, a postgraduate from Amethi, agreed to be a part of the crew wherever it goes to perform. “I wish to be Jamuniya in real life,” she says.
In the show, Jamuniya transforms a village by tapping existing government schemes that most rural women are unaware of, something which the I&B ministry's novel initiative aims to change through the programme. So far, it's all going according to the script, so much so that the rural poor, after watching the show, say they plan to question the politicians who will soon come to them for their votes in the UP polls, which are just a couple of months away.
The director DJ Narain says: “The performances started in February. Since then, wherever the group has performed, the response has been tremendous. The impact has been so remarkable that the senior officials called us and said that after watching Jamuniya, people have started queuing outside their offices, asking for their rights."
It is for this that the team is working to get the script translated in 14 regional languages so as to reach a bigger audience and make a greater impact.