Indore, the industrial hub of central India witnessed actors, musicians, lyricists, writers, directors, singers, journalists, teachers and cultural activists come together from across the country to mark the culmination of Indian People's Theatre Association's (IPTA) cultural journey titled "Dhai Akhar Prem Ke".

"The work of art and drama is to tell the truth, if we tell the truth, that itself is resistance," said eminent dramatist, actor, writer and director Sudhanva Deshpande during his keynote address at an event organised by Bharatiya Jana Natya Sangh (as IPTA is known in Hindi).

The event in Indore, marked the closing ceremony of IPTA's five state cultural journey. Deshpande recalled that playwright, actor, director Sombhu Mitra co-directed "Nabanna" after being moved by the horrors of Bengal famine, and later the play was turned into the film "Dharti Ke Lal". There was a renewed rise of resistance in Hindi theatre after Safdar Hashmi was killed while performing a street play in support of the workers. Deshpande said that it is the "power of drama" which shows the way even in adverse and difficult situations.

He spoke about "Freedom Theatre", a Palestinian theatrical group and how it made drama a medium of resistance there. Deshpande recalled the play "Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar" performed by a group from Jalna, Maharashtra, which showcased how Shivaji had actually reigned in the zamindars and moneylenders. It is ironic, he said, that "the present rulers in India are trying to divide the country in the name of Shivaji".

The 44-day "Dhai Akhar Prem Ke" cultural tour organised by IPTA travelled across five states and culminated with a performance of songs, music and plays at Indore. The artists of IPTA shared the reasons they undertook the tour, and their experiences from the trip. They also passed a resolution, demanding that the government release the arrested artists, writers, and journalists immediately.

The "Dhai Akhar Prem Ke" cultural tour began on April 9 from Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Deshpande said that "this yatra will be recorded in history and will inspire struggles to come. Powerful institutions and communal forces are harassing artists, writers, poets, musicians, and we do not want to lose any more intellectuals in our country."

He stated that there are many stories of challenging hypocrisy even in ancient Sanskrit literature, yet it has become difficult to speak about them today. "Patriotism does not mean only loving the country's map and flag, love for the people of the country is the basic premise of patriotism. Our present rulers are working against the people by only making noise about patriotism," said Deshpande, adding that an artist like "Safdar Hashmi was killed because he was presenting a play to raise the voice of the workers."

Ranbir Singh IPTA's national president said that "theatre did not remain silent even during the partition of Bengal, or even before Independence". He added that the first play against the British was staged in 1906. The play was based on the mythological story of "Keechak Vadh", and all the symbols used in this play were against the British government. It reportedly had a deep impact on society. Singh emphasised on the need for political dramas to make a comeback on the Indian scenario.

According to IPTA general secretary Rakesh, this is not the time for despair. He said it was during the 1857 Mutiny, that the poet Ghalib wrote "Aah ko chaahiye ek umr asar hone tak…" and we achieved Independence 90 years after that. Rakesh added that "even after our passing away, the journey of love will continue".

Mrigendra Singh, a journalist who also undertook this the 44-day long journey with IPTA, said "by singing Omprakash Nadeem's song 'Dhai akhar prem ke sunne aur sunaane aaye hai, hum bharat me nafrat ka har daag mitane aaye hai…', we established dialogue with the people. We learned many things from the people and enriched ourselves. "

Vineet Tiwari, the national executive member of IPTA, paid tribute to the former president of Indore unit of Progressive Writers Association, Com. S. K. Dubey. Economist Jaya Mehta from IPTA Indore unit said that while winning freedom from British rule was difficult, " in today's times the fight has become more difficult because now the identity of the enemy is not clear. "

The yatra began in Indore with the songs of life being sung by IPTA artists on May 22. "Hum ladenge saathi, Jaane waale sipaahi se poochho, wo kahaan jaa rahaa hai, Ye kiska lahoo hai, kaun maraa, Jam Karo, mil ke ye shoshan ka pahiya, Neend ki jugaad me khoi hai apni zindagiyan, tu zinda hai to zindagi ki jeet me yaqeen kar…" were some of the songs of life which were performed.

When the Yatra reached the industrial town of Pithampur, the play "Machine" written by Safdar Hashmi, was performed. The artists performed various plays including "Ek Akeli Aurat", "Dhirendu Majumdar Ki Maa" and also presented Kabir's hymns.

The "Dhai Akhar Prem" tour will also travel to other states in the future, as it carries the message of harmony that needs to reach more people. According to Tiwari, "petty politicians want to destroy our shared heritage and memories of shared struggle on the occasion of 75 years of Independence. But we will make people recall the sacrifices done by all as Indians, as humans and not as merely Hindu or Muslims. We will celebrate the martyrs and we will refresh the memories of our vast collective humanity."

Vivek Mehta is a peace activist and trade unionist based in Indore.