A bus blown up in a landmine blast, people crouching behind trees with guns and reflections of the trees in a water body are not what you expect in a painting by a 13-year-old, but Kumari Soumya is different.
Born in a Maoist-hit village of Narayanpur district in Chhattisgarh, tribal girl Soumya has not been able to prevent the impact of bloody conflict seeping into her heart and art.
Growing up in conflict zones of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, where Maoists and security personnel have been killing each other for more than a decade, thousands of tribal children are aware of the same brutality that Soumya captures.
The awareness of violence has forced them to wisen up beyond their years, but, mercifully, they retain the carefree abandon of childhood: full of life and given to the joys of playing, dancing, singing and painting along with the pursuit of education.
A unique talent hunt — Eklavya-Dandakaranya Ki Shaan — conceptualised by former journalist Rajarshi Roy’s RAA’ Media private limited began on February 17, giving the children a unique platform to showcase their abilities over nine days.
Ladli Netam, 5, whose father escaped a Maoist attack last year, took to the dance floor at one of the events, as did Shweta Mandavi, 9, who was injured after Maoists attacked a wedding party bus she was in by mistake.
Apart from songs, performances on the dhol, tabla and harmonium as well as group shows, the children also had a field day in general knowledge quiz events. Roy, who shot and recorded the event, brought the participants —between 4 and 16 years old — out of their shells.
He is in talks with Doordarshan and radio channels to take the talent of these children, and inevitably their stories, to the world. “India needs to realise rich talent also exists in such remote tribal belts and, perhaps, the time has come to unleash their undiscovered potential. This is a start.”
Nearly 5,000 children from the seven districts of Bastar have shown interest in taking part in Roy’s talent hunt. After screening, 150 children will perform in state capital Raipur and the best 15 will be chosen for a grand finale.
The children’s enthusiasm has created a ripple effect, touching nearly half a million tribals in the Maoist heartland.
The concept has also caught the attention of Sukma district collector P Dayanand, who attended one of the shows. “I am really moved. The tribal students need encouragement. I will soon organise a similar event.”
Social worker and Padma Shri awardee Dharampal Saini who was among the judges at one of Roy’s talent hunt shows in Jagdalpur said, “Such action to organise and encourage the new generation in arts, culture and sports in tribal areas is commendable.”
Roy is already planning the second season of his talent hunt in Bastar. He is keen on taking his event to similar conflict zones in adjoining Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.