The Rebellion of imprisoned hope: Letters written by 3 women incarcerated under UAPA becomes 'Firefly Women'

Firefly is set against the backdrop of letters written from Tihar jail by the three incarcerated under provisions of the UAPA
Manjari Kaul
Manjari Kaul

Firefly, a piece of interactive physical theatre and dramatic adaptation of the original text from letters and poems of student leaders and activists Gulfisha Fatima, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, is being staged in Delhi today. It is being performed by Manjari Kaul and Deepika Chauhan and is set against the backdrop of letters written from Tihar jail by the three incarcerated under provisions of the UAPA. In 2021, Kalita and Narwal were released from jail after the Delhi High Court granted them bail on June 15 in a case related to Delhi riots; Fatima is still in jail.

Directed by actor and movement artist Manjari Kaul, it was conceived by her during the lockdown after she read the letters that she says “spoke to a lot of us looking for meaning to understand what the times meant and to go ahead with our lives when protest sites were shut down during the lockdown…and it was important to regroup, to show that there are various ways of resistance”. Kalita was her junior at Miranda House, though she got to know her after she left college.

Firefly speaks of dissent, radical hope, and the ability to crack the code of survival in adverse circumstances. It  brings on stage the words of women writing about memories of cold winter nights at protest sites, learning lessons of resilience from their fellow inmates, the numbing monotony of prison life, keeping hope alive and the need to keep the work for a feminist revolution going, adds Kaul. And they are treading with caution.

The script is the letters and that is in the public domain. Says Kaul: “There are parts of the show other than the text used, that has our take on the letters and the sedition laws, we know some people will not be okay with the work.” The aim is not to convert, but to hold a space for those who want to say something, to hold up the idea of a collective, perhaps even before it is there.

Firefly is not character-driven as it wants to speak “in a larger sense of people incarcerated--and not just under sedition. Various circumstances lead a woman to jail and keep her there”. 

Firefly will be staged at Lilanoor Centre, South Ex 2, Dec 1 and 2, 7 pm

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The New Indian Express