Kolkata: In the midst of crucial state assembly election, local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in the Sundarbans’ Basanti heckled a small group of theatre artistes and stopped their play on March 27.
Theatre group ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was slated to perform a play called Indurer Kol (Mouse Trap) in the Mangrove Theatre Centre in the Sundarbans region on the occasion of World Theatre Day.
The cast and the crew reached Paschim Basanti’s Uttar Para area at noon and started setting up the stage on vacant fields. According to one of the crew members, everything was normal initially and they were busy preparing the stage and the surrounding area, with cutouts and posters, but suddenly locals came to the spot and started threatening them.
The theatre group alleged that BJP leader and local panchayat member Aurobindo Haldar stormed the venue before the play started and asked them to vacate the place immediately.
“We were making announcements about the play and were requesting people to come and join us. We were also playing a parody song written and composed by the theatre group. We have posters that are anti-fascist, anti-NRC, anti-CAA, about the LPG price hike, etc. Soon, some people barged in and asked us to stop the programme,” said one of the organisers.
After a brief negotiation with the protesters, the organisers of the play agreed to remove some of the posters and started the programme. But a few minutes into the play, BJP workers returned and allegedly used force to stop the play.
“They tore all our posters and ransacked our props and threatened to beat us. They called us ‘TMC dalals’ (stooges) for performing the play. They kept on saying that we are here to insult Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah,” said the playwright, Shubhankar Das Sharma.
When the cast protested saying that it is their democratic right to perform the play, BJP workers allegedly commented, “We don’t understand democracy. This play cannot be performed here or in any part of Bengal.”
As the situation turned tense, the audience started to panic and organisers decided to stop the play and they immediately left the spot. As BJP workers were mobilising crowds, the cast and crew, which had female members, had to take refuge in a local house for the night.
The group had a performance slated for another location the next day. The organiser decided to cancel that event for safety reasons. The Wire has learnt that this particular gram panchayat is controlled by the BJP.
“We have seen in BJP-ruled states that freedom of speech and expression was suppressed. Here also they are trying to silence people’s voices. They can try as much as they want to scare us, but we are not going anywhere, we are not scared. This play will be enacted in various parts of the state in the coming days especially in Basanti,” said Sharma.
When The Wire reached out to Aurobindo Haldar, the call went unanswered. However, speaking to a Bengali newspaper, Halder said, “How do they indulge in anti-BJP propaganda in the name of drama without permission while the election process is on? No one likes it, that is why the villagers have united and obstructed it.”