The place with most cultural activities in Ahmedabad-Chharanagar.
Once situated on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Chharanagar has now become a part of it. Consisting of a population of around fifteen thousand people. ‘‘This slum” as said by Dr.Ganesh Devy, a literature critic and founder of Tribal Academy in Tejgadh (of Baroda District in Gujarat,India),‘‘is now the only place in Ahmedabad where cultural activities are done in a huge amount.”
Chharanagar were notorious for its illegal activities since many decades, but education and tremendous amount of cultural talent in this tribe has helped to wipe out this image to some extent. Most of the youngsters here are now interested in Drama and Singing activities instead of involving in any type of illegal business. But how has this change occurred? Play writer and DNT activist Daxin Bajrange says,‘‘We have a small library in chharanagar. This library is different from other libraries because only book reading activity is not carried out here.” This library is been run in chharanagar with the help of Sneh Prayas, a NGO working for the upliftment of underpriviledge children. The Chharanagar library is a common place for many youngsters who are willing to change the notorious image of chharanagar. ‘‘The library is not different from our theatre group, Budhan Theatre, which is involved in many cultural activities. This theatre group is formed with the objective to wipe out the notorious image of chharanagar.” said Bajrange.
Budhan Theatre, struggle for symbolization is the name of this cultural group run by many chhara youths. It is an important activity not only for the development of Chhara tribe but also for 191 Denotified Tribes of India. One of the founder member of this group Kalpana Gagdekar says,‘‘Voice of these marginalized people is raised and communicated to the main stream society through the medium of street theatre.” The main activity of this group is to culturally develop chharanagar, so that some alternative source of income could be automatically generated in the community. In fact they had started generating employment in such areas. The celebration of 53rd Denotification day justifies this. ‘‘Basically chharas are the artist tribe and it is proved that, most of the chharas are comfortable with acting and singing, so the role of Budhan theatre is to hunt such talent through a singing competition.” Said Kalpana. Around 70 young and enthusiastic participant was a part of this programme. Daxin says,‘‘We are planning to come out with a album with all the winners of this competion, so that people could know that chharas are born actors and not born criminals.(The name given to Denotified Tribes by British in 1871). Budhan Theatre is a name of not only a theatre group but a movement fighting for their identity.
As stated earlier the library is run by this group with the help of Sneh Prayas, a NGO working for the upliftment and development of marginalized children. Other young chhara activist devoted to work hard for the development of Chhara Tribe, Vijay Chhara(26) says,‘‘We called it Chharanagar Samudayik Vikas Kendra(CSVK). The main objective of this center is to work for the development of whole Tribe. We had started this long journey by concentrating on the development of chhara kids.” An informal school, nutrition programme, outside visit, theatre activity, drawing class etc., are carried out in this center, all by the Sneh prayas.
Most of the parents of the students are involved in some type of illegal activity. But their kids are now-a- days busy to work on computer and do several cultural activities. One of the student Jayesh Machrekar(15) visiting the library daily says,‘‘It is the place next to my house. I have learnt to work on computer as well as to act after coming into this library.” Around 150 students are a regular visitor to this historical place. Yes many chhara people called it a historical place because such a successful movement has not ever been last for so long in this part of Ahmedabad.
But the development of chharanagar took its first step when social activists like Late Mansing Chhara, Adv.Raghunath Chhara, Late Rasik Gagdekar started the developmental movements in chharanagar. In fact it is because of their efforts that a graduate from each house is found in chharanagar. A Class II officer working in Information Department of Central Government says,‘‘The amount of Education has increased in our community since last two decades. The amount of primary education is almost cent percent.”
It is their movement that the chhara youngsters are taking forward. And there are many activists like Mahasweta devi and Dr.G.N.Devy who always says that they are proud to the friends of chhara and helpful to them in their struggle for symbolization.