Volume 2 Issue 24 - December 15, 2004

Celebrating art and ability

A week-long festival, featuring events around the theme of 'Inclusion', marked this year’s World Disability Day celebrations organised by NCPEDP.

A picture of a play being performed during the inauguration of the National Artsability Festival.

“If music be the food of love, play on…” Watching this whole week’s events reminded one of Shakespeare. Music and art have always had a soothing effect, a healing touch, and one never gets tired of them. But what’s special about this year’s National ArtsAbility Festival organised by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) from December 1 to 7 is that it has brought forth talent from a sphere that has been totally neglected or overlooked by society for too long. This year’s theme for the World Disability Day was Inclusion, in order to highlight the importance of providing equal opportunities to disabled people. And what better way to express it than through the medium of art and culture?

The week-long festival showcasing the artistic and dramatic talents of disabled people was inaugurated at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations on December 1 with the lighting of the traditional lamp by Vijay Kaul, Haemophilia Federation, Maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo, AADI, Asha Mehra, Swavalamban, Arun Rao, Deaf Way, Syed Sallauddin Pasha, Asia Pacific Therapeutic Theatre, and Javed Abidi, NCPEDP. In his inaugural speech Abidi mentioned, “After a lot of deliberation we decided on the theme of ‘Inclusion’ this year. While serious issues need to be addressed, art and culture are also important as they are an integral part of the overall development of disabled people.” The audience had a sneak preview of the visual treat in store for them as disabled children performed scenes from ‘Ramayana on Wheels’ and ‘Devi – The Ultimate Power’, which were scheduled for 5th and 7th December, respectively.

A week-long Photo and Art Exhibition was also inaugurated at Ajanta Arts Gallery, Delhi. Paintings and photographs by disabled children as well as professional artists with disabilities from all over India, selected after a nationwide competition, were on display. Artists featured in the exhibition were Amit Vardhan, Arveend Budh Singh, G. Prabhakar, Naveen Grover, Ram Raghubir Mishra, Reema Bansal, Sanjay Saraf, Sherry Arya, Shilpa Gupta, Shreekant Dubey (who had also curated the paintings) and Vipul Mitra.

On December 2, the prestigious NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller Awards were given away. P. Chidambaram, Finance Minister of India, was the Chief Guest at the awards ceremony held at the India International Centre. What struck one about Chidambaram’s speech was his comment that the media has a very important role to play. It should provide space for news of people and organisations contributing to important causes rather than focussing on politics and “antics” of people. The winners of this year’s Awards include three organisations and 10 individuals. (For details, see news ‘Helen Keller awards presented’.)

The Solidarity Campaign was also organised on the same day to increase public awareness on disability issues. Solidarity Booths were set up in 10 prime market places across Delhi, such as South Extension, Ansal Plaza, Greater Kailash, Saket, Dilli Haat, Sarojini Nagar, Basant Lok, Connaught Place, Nehru Place and Bhikaiji Cama Place. Visitors to the booths were asked to sign a pledge to show their solidarity with disabled people and were given a yellow and blue ribbon to wear. The campaign was a great success -- about 5,000 pledges were signed.

Guests at the World Disability Day celebrations at India Gate.

On World Disability Day, the ‘Walk to Freedom’ took place at Amar Jawan Jyoti, India Gate, on December 3. Around 10,000 people from various walks of life came together, expressing their solidarity. The programme highlights were a play by Barry John’s Imago, a play by Sahara, a song by Swavalamban, mime show by the Deaf Way, song by AADI, folk dance by Leprosy Mission, and the Walk To Freedom. The vocal performance by Shubha Mudgal was a real treat and the audience were soon dancing to the lively tunes forgetting all their worries. (For details, see news ‘Let’s Walk to Freedom!’.)

A scene from the play 'Ramayana on wheels'.

The high point of the festival was ‘Ramayana on wheels’, a theatre performance by disabled children at Kamani Auditorium on December 5. Based on the Ramayana, the play was a feast for the eyes, the melodious music soothing to the ears and the performance of the children, overwhelming. These child artistes conveyed with such ease, happiness, anger, vengeance, victory and a gamut of other expressions so difficult for one to express, proving that art has no limits. As little Ravana in the traditional Kathakali costume whirled around on stage, his wheelchair simply fading into oblivion; the only thing visible was his ability. While the audience applauded, the child artistes themselves were totally engrossed in their performances.

The production was directed and choreographed by Syed Sallauddin Pasha, Asia Pacific Therapeutic Theatre.

On December 7, the curtains fell on the colourful events of the week. The formal closing ceremony was held at the Shri Ram Centre for Art and Culture the same evening. The Chief Guest was Renuka Chaudhary, Minister for Tourism. The celebrations came to a close in style with the premiere of ‘Devi – The ultimate power’ by disabled children. The production was in keeping with Purulia Chhou traditions and costumes, and the children performed with traditional masks, adding to the grandeur and the novelty of the ballet. This was followed by a play titled ‘The kind tiger and the sincere cow’ by children from the special needs wing of Vasant Valley School, Delhi.

One hopes that this would act as a reminder that, with a little bit of effort and encouragement from various quarters -- including the Government which is at the centre of all development in the country -- a lot can be done to help integrate disabled people into the mainstream and bring in equality, which is essentially the true spirit of freedom!

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