The day was bright and sunny, but the topic at hand was an “OUTCAST” with the cherry atmosphere. Beyond Borders hosted a Forum Theatre session on the 24th of March 2007 based on the “Ethnic Conflict” which has plagued this country for over two decades.
The play “OUTCAST” uses a simple yet volatile theme to depict the “trickle down effects” of the war which has had an impact on the lives of people in recent years.
Pathmanathan, a Tamil youth from Jaffna comes to Colombo to pursue his academics. Given the tightened security of recent months, Pathmanathan and his Sinhalese friend Sarith are encountered by a policeman on their way home after watching a late night movie. The story thus unfolds into a world of miscommunication due to language barriers, suspicion and hierarchical pressures. In spite of these negative attributes, the play very strongly shows how the bonds made by friendship and coexistence transcend all religious, cultural and ethnic differences.
The concept of Forum Theatre is fast gaining popularity as a tool for transforming conflicts. So what makes it such an effective tool? To understand this, a conflict should be understood objectively. For a conflict to arise there should be two or more parties, a want which needs to be satisfied and a difference in power. Hence, we find a strong party/parties and a weak one of the same. A problem is aggravated and sustained mostly because the offender doesn’t understand the plight of victims, and the victims concentrating more on survival and than on a solution mechanism.
Hence, Forum Theatre brings both these parties to the same ground situation and makes their eyes meet the same problem that lies between them through a theatrical means. After the dramatic portrayal of a problem, inclusive of a very tragic ending, it is restaged and the audience is asked to intervene at intervals which they think is best to avert the situation at hand. Here too, replacements can only be made to the weakest characters and a solution is expected from the subjugated person and not the offender. The ‘oppressor’ does is not expected to relax his policies but when a practical solution is put forth effectively (no magical solutions are allowed) the oppressor has to concede to it and play along.
This makes the people in the audience who have been in the shoes of the oppressor to rethink their stance and turn over a new leaf. Further, it also encourages the people in the audience who have been in the ranks of the oppressed persons to understand the fact that hope is never lost, and that a solution lies in effectively communicating eye to eye with the oppressor. Apart from these, institutional aspects that need to be changed or revised also crop up as a by-product from within the audience.
The play “OUTCAST” was fairly successful in keeping to the above factors mentioned. Many practical ideas were taken up by the forum and brought into discussion. Some ideas pertaining to the story line is as follows:
• The police force have certain academic qualifications to be met with regard to the main three languages been spoken in Sri Lanka, i.e. Sinhalese, Tamil and English. But, the evaluation procedures on the fluency of these are mostly theoretical, and the practical aspect of it is not given much thought. This produces policeman who could fluently speak and understand less than three languages.
• Families need to be more understanding and should not discourage their children in making friends with people of other communities.
• Practice what you preach should be the policy of the people with authority, if not the subordinates also tend to emulate the wrongdoings of their leaders.
• People in strong positions should wear the shoes of the weak to correctly understand their difficulties.
When the communication gap is bridged it gives way to dialogue which in turns gives way to understanding.
Forum Theatre is just a staring block for a full fledged solution to a problem. Hence, it becomes the duty of the participants to take with them the lessons learnt and put it into practice as and when the need arises. Though this may not solve the problem entirely, it has the capacity stimulate potential change makers in communities who can find lasting solutions to conflicts they have stake in.
Muwahhid is a Core Group member of Beyond Borders Sri Lanka and leads projects relating to forum theatre and development.