Theatre artists focus on infant mortality

New Delhi: How do you take home the truth that nearly 2 million infants in India die each year before they even turn one? Probably through a hard-hitting satirical drama that portrays the alarming issue of rising child deaths prevalent in the country.

Two seasoned theatre personalites- Arvind Gaur and Lushin Dubey jointly conceived the play "I Will Not Cry", that was premiered here on Wednesday evening to highlight the high rate of infant mortality in the country.

"Only through huge awareness can we get shaken up. We will not be moved until it hurt us. So creating awareness is extremely important whether as a writer, or a painter or through theatre," said Lushin Dubey who in her solo performance enacted the role of five characters – a bureaucrat, a journalist, a socialite, a policy maker and an activist. Arvind Gaur has directed the play.

Organised by `Save the Children`- a global organisation working for the rights of children, the play blended theatrics and multimedia in the format of a television news channel talk show that weaves real-life incidents into it.

India loses nearly 20 lakh children before they turn one each year due to easily preventable causes like diarrhoea and pneumonia, according to the global body. As per the latest government statistics, infant mortality rate per thousand live births in Delhi itself has increased to 22.47 in 2010 compared to 18.96 in 2009 and over four lakh newborns die within the first 24 hours of birth every year, which is the highest anywhere in the world.

After its premiere in Delhi, the play focusing on the serious concern of child deaths in the country is now set to travel to other cities. "We would be taking the play to five more cities – Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna and Lucknow – and also plan to stage it in front of parliamentarians and policy makers for them to think over it," said Dubey.

The performance was followed by a short informal dialogue between representatives from various fields like development economist Jean Dreze, Planning Commission Member Sayeda Hameed, actress and activist Shabana Azmi, Fortis Healthcare Chairman Emeritus Harpal Singh and journalist Mohua Chaudhary. "We need to bring these facts in front of policy makers. The most ridiculous character in the play was the policy maker. It is time to take some very tough decisions," Sayeeda Hameed said.

Sharing her experience of meeting women who were waiting outside health centres at Okhla in Delhi, Shabana Azmi said, "There is a national shortage of 26 lakh frontline health care workers; we need to fill in this gap to reverse the increase in neonatal, child and maternal mortalities and under- nutrition amongst children. We need to allocate WHO recommended 5 per cent of GDP in the health sector.

Economist Jean Dreze said although the characters (in the play) were "ridiculous" what was showcased wasn`t. "It`s becoming more and more a gaping hole in the country and needs to be highlighted," he said. Lushin Dubey and Arvind Gaur have earlier collaborated to produce "Untitled" and "Bitter Chocolate" which focused on issues like plight of women and sexual abuse of children.