Finding a Voice was first published in 1978 and was the winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize that year. This book bears witness to the struggles and strife of South Asian women including violence of immigration, family, isolation, school life and marriage. Amrit Wilson beautifully creates a platform not only for these unheard voices but for and social change! To open up about these issues was and is still a massive milestone because its not easy when at every corner there is barrage of oppression. I wish I had a copy of this book as a child growing up in the 80s / 90s because I wouldn’t have felt so alone. But crap became the catalysts for my activism and I speak for all the accounts in the book. This book has now be re published with a new chapter titles ‘In conversation with Finding a Voice: 40 years on’. I am honoured to have my story published in it because I am the daughter of a historical struggle and this is not only my story but the scorn of my fore-mothers. A dialogue that will continue for all the some day daughters.
I was honoured to be invited to give a small talk at this beautiful gathering at SOAS, University of London . It was an opportunity to share and hear stories from fellow warriors, poets and performer’s that have been through hurdles, barriers but refused to be silenced. Keep rocking!
My talk touched on unveiling cultural shame, silence and caste discrimination. The fight still goes on and we must speak up. I am sick of hearing ‘it doesn’t happen to me”. If it affects one of my people it affects us all!
Please buy this book and become part of the change. Know yourself. Own your heritage. Embrace your struggle and indignation. Become one with women/ people because no story should ever be forgotten. Buy a copy on this link:
This has to be the most rewarding project we have done to date! Caste Away Arts are in collaboration with University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire’s Healing arts team. We are delivering a drama programme called Play-up for people with chronic illness in hospital care.
Play-up involves myself and Leshanth going on to hospital wards and offering drama sessions in groups or 1-2-1 for those who are willing. This really has enabled us as practitioners to work outside of the box because our participants are hooked to a machine and are not mobile. I was so nervous about going onto the ward at first not because I was scared of delivering the project but my fear of blood! Our taster was on the Renal Unit where people are having dialysis. Leshanth had to calm me down before starting – thanks you DR in the making. I was cured of my fear of blood because focus was totally diverted to the smiles of people’s faces! We successfully engaged most people on the bay in an activity and those that fell asleep on us we didn’t take it personally. It became part of the fun.
Inspiration for this project came from visiting a friend in hospital who was miserable as was everyone else on that ward ; and being my usual self I get talking too everyone and ended up having banter with all the patients on the ward. I noticed how they laughed, joked and momentarily their focus was on the sickness but in that conversation. The dialogue spread on the bay and by the time I left everyone was friends. I did walk away thinking ‘wow did I do that?’ and this got me wired to the idea of delivering my own projects in hospitals.
There is a direct link between wellness and arts. Arts opens people up. It’s cathartic. Its painless. Play up has not only challenged the participants creatively but cognitively and emotionally too. One of our participants said that this helped pass hours like minutes. Some people said this is the first time someone has spoken with them. Others were honoured that we took an interest in them as people and not as patients. This project has tackled isolation, engaged people on the ward to start talking, boosted well-being and made people laugh.
Yes it was challenging thinking of activities on the spot with people you have never met or not sure who will be willing to work. This is the beauty of Caste Away Arts. We are inclusive and bring arts to the people whether that be to a hospital bed. There are no barriers. Most importantly out focus was on our participants as people with no mention of their illness unless is comes up in awkward jokes as it did. We were totally buzzing after every session! looking forward to more.
Caste Away Arts were bestowed with the opportunity to work with some lovely young people in the beautiful town of Ternopil in Western Ukraine. With over 30 schools all specialising in different areas we chose one of the most disaffected. For the students of Ternopil 7, this was their encounter with someone from the British South Asian community so they were excited to say the least. This created the perfect opportunity for us to create positive images and give them a real taste of diversity to build a bridge between us. The experience was like stepping back in time literally. They had black boards, no internet, minimal facilities but they were liberal. the students were delightful. There was a buzz and I certainly felt welcome.
I worked with two sets of year 9, one where we totally deranged the room as I do and the other outside in the sun. The drama workshop consisted of really getting the young people out of their comfort zone and celebrating what was weird, wonderful and unique about them. It took a while to warm up but they soon came out of their shell bursting with character.
As always our workshops are a bag of laughs and really stretch the imagination including mine as there was a language barrier. The outcomes: Everyone is different and that is OK. The kids also got to learn English from a native speaker and learned the meaning of ‘Namaste’ a true enrichment for them.
The sessions ended with a Q&A’s which was a chance to get to know a new face and an opportunity to dispel negative pre-conceptions. During my time in Ukraine I noticed a lot of hostility towards the ‘Gypsy’ communities which was deemed perfectly acceptable. Islamophobia too was very rife because of negative reporting. The discussion was an opportunity to talk about diversity, acceptance and tackle some inflammatory subjects. All of this was well received and opened the minds of these young souls. It all ended in tears of joy and selfies. I walked away feeling like celebrity.
Thank you School 7 for your time and I look forward to working with you again. Namaste
In the Summer of 2016, participants of Kairo’s Feeling Safe project created a short animation with Caste Away Arts to communicate the issues affecting the lives of young women in Coventry. Catch 22 explores how young women have to contend with a vicious cycle of expectations, stereotypes and demands, when their full potential goes unnoticed.
‘It’s not easy being a young person, its hard to explain in words but this project helped us say it with pictures’ – Feeling Safe participant
The Girls On Top project was delivered in partnership with Caste Away Arts and Harmeet Chagger-Khan (a local film animator) with the aim to build young women’s confidence and provide a platform for their voices to be heard. In a short space we were able to develop a rapport and trust with the girls and with our specialist skills we were able to draw out stories of the reality that young people face. The animation was completed in a less than 5 days and the girls felt on top of the world!
The film launched on November 1st 2016 at the Roots to Shoots event for up and coming animators and film makers, held at the Tin in the Canal Basin, Coventry.
In City Final, nine groups led by the Belgrade’s Community & Education team invite audiences on a journey back in time to the days when the building was filled with the hustle and bustle of busy newsrooms.
Drawing on stories covered by the Coventry Evening Telegraph over the years, a series of short performances will fill multiple floors of the building in a large-scale promenade experience.
As well as reliving headlines from across the decades, the show also offers audiences the chance to explore the building itself for one last time before a major redevelopment sees it transformed into a hotel later in the year.
I can proudly say that Asian youth theatre did a fabulous job over the year to bring the untold stories of the Asian communities to life. Set in the early 80’s we gave our audience a candid experience of biased reporting, how families pass on racist sentiments and the ramifications in to local communities like shops and local people. We are very proud to be part of the journey. There has never been a show on earth like this. I am privileged to have been able to work and direct this piece.
Reena Jaisiah – Belgrade Asian Youth theatre Leader
Hey guys, it been long. Totally forgot to post this out. Our biggest achievement to date! Many years ago I set up a drama club as a volunteer for young people torn up by war. The group called themselves Release UK and it was a safe platform for young people to play, express themselves and explore their identity. The group came up with the idea of voicing the experiences of their families through poetry and and short stories. So I started work shopping and so much sprouted out. This journey was only only a voice for the young people but the experience was very cathartic for the families. Then we got a little stuck with how to go about publishing this collection but in summer 2017 we did it! Camboga’s Scream out Silence’ was launched the Comfy book club in Coventry and what a lovely reunion it was. I am very proud of my kiddies. They are all grown up now and some at university. A huge well done to you all. This book is available libraries and copies have been donated to schools. Oh yes forgot to mention Benjamin Zephaniah wrote the foreword! My G
Reena Jaisiah ran the Belgrade’s theatre’s first ever Asian Youth theatre now names The Dark Youth! It was important for the Belgrade Theatre’s Community and Education to collaborate with stakeholders in the Asian community to celebrate the diverse voices of the Asian communities that Coventry gives host to…because were not all the same! In this mix we had young people from various backgrounds, such as Tamil, Mongolian, Afghani, Gujarati, Punjabi, Slovakian, Caribbean, African, Mixed races like French and Indian etc.
This project began in January and was led by myself and Leon Philips to young people across Coventry. Sessions were always fun packed and we explored theatre making techniques such as movement, voice and improvisation and then did what I do best at…stirring up a reaction and creating dialogue. I put forward stereotypical statements about the Asian community and the group discussed and explored these and devised a number sketches from them which became ‘Fresh Tales’-An exciting cocktail of sketches that presented and then challenged stereotypes and myths attached to Asian communities. The piece was also a chance to celebrate not only the young people’s identity but honour well known and illustrious Asian role models such as Dr Ambedkar, Zain Malik from 1D, Jackie Chan, Goddess Lakshmi etc.
The group whom consisted of young people from 5 schools were fantastic and they took away a valuable lesson in theatre making and knowledge and experience about their own identity and others around them. Well done guys we are so proud of you! See you for next phases devising for Positive Images Festival and Belgrade’s outdoor Theatre in July!!!!
After the triumph success of Women on Top 2012, this project could not be left to rest. We kick started summer 2013 with Women on Canvas, led by Jen Bakewell. This project used inner-self-portraits created Kairo’s services users (marginalised women) to depict their inner beauty. These canvases were used as inspiration to devise drama sketches and monologues celebrating the voices of women. WOT has been a wonderful journey of discovery, sharing and sisterhood. Issues that were raised in the prices performed were organically sprung from workshops that incorporated the portraits as a talking point and then the ideas just poured out.
Women on Top Monologues was performed at Ego Arts, Coventry on Sunday 22nd September to a full house with an exhibition of Women on Canvas!
I cannot express how proud I am of these women. It takes so much courage not only to perform but to perform about something you are passionate about or something you are afraid to speak out about. Some of the issues raised in this performance were about Domestic vabuse, Puberty, Pros and Cons of Sex work, Sexual abuse, Grandma –Granddaughter relationship, Confusion, Life before the NHS, Bra’s and we women can just carry on and on…
We are also joined by Women’s Drama Group, Poplar. Thank you for your contribution.
Here are a few reviews:
‘’Great to hear real women’s stories and feminist voice live-and-kicking on stage.’’ Justine Themen – The Belgrade Theatre
‘’I would just like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the production. I was ‘blown away’ by the standard of acting. The sensitive topics evoked in me some harsh realities of what it is like to be a woman, and worse still, what it was like years ago. Well done to you all. Looking forward to the next performance’’. Elaine O’ Neil
‘’This was the very first time I went to theatre. All I can say the show was amazing. It really touched my heart and has made me think in a different was. Everyone was amazing!” Imran Khan
Thousands of Cyclists took part in the Sky Ride festival in Leicester. The cast of cyclists were expected to ride miles and miles into the city in a circuit which included through the heart of Leicester ‘s Curve theatre.
The festival included theatre performance that showed the; Evolution of Cycling. This is where Caste Away Arts youth came into the scene and relived the flower power age. Super stars actors Mario, Vaisshalay, Rita and Leshanth who got a blast from the past and performed solid as ‘hippy’
Cool dude characters from the past for hours as the cyclists rode bye. They soon got into character chanting ‘Vegetarians live longer’ and ‘Give peace a chance’! We sang, danced and encouraged all those sky riders. Lovely day and excellent acting and improvisation skills from our young people who continue to represent Caste Away Arts to the fullest! Thanks dudes. Peace Reena Jaisiah
The young Caste Away Arts community are always up for an experience and Sunday 11th of August was defiantly one to remember.
We offered to volunteer at a charity event for Vista; an organisation that supports people with visual impairments and those who are losing their sight. This Jazz Garden party event was held at Belviour Lodge which is the residence of the Dowager Duchess of Rutland! Seeing it was in Leicestershire we thought we’d have a pop at it and give back to the community…it’s not too far! Well the ride there was nothing short of a drama which is the least to expect when you’re Caste Away Arts. So I had Mario, Anupriya, Leshanth and Vaisshaly in the car and where is this place. We were been directed at all these windy country rounds and then an hour and 15 min into the journey I took at look at my petrol gage and it was almost empty. Arrgggh! What a plava trying to find a petrol station but we did in the end only to have the Sat Nav conk our on us. Glad these guys saw the real funny side to my mellow drama. But nonetheless we made it though we were tired, cold and a little hungry. The lodge was one of the most beautiful scenic places we had ever seen, dressed in black and white and ready to serve along with the other volunteers organised by a friend in the arts Anand Bhatt.
All praise to the young people who not only worked relentlessly as a team but as one family like they had been doing this all their lives. They took real pride in serving, cleaning and washing up. We took charge of serving cream tea and the barbecue as well as guide guest around the gardens. Their social skills and interaction between visitors was amazing. Wonderful day indeed and very proud of the young people who represent caste away arts with this selfless service and they truly took away not only valuable experience but life’s skills. The previous week to this all these young people had completed their CRP training which really surprised the older volunteers who probably would not have known what to do in a crisis. Caste Away Arts youth as always left and lasting impression and can’t wait to find out how much money was raised for Vista. We will be back next year and hopefully take a mini bus of young people.
It was high time that Caste Away Arts put down some artistic roots in the big smoke. What better way to do it than to launch Women On Top London! We will be beginning a 6 week course of women only drama classes in April. These will take place in Tower Hamlets with the aim of bring together women from different faiths and walksof life. We are being backed by the funding body Near Neighbours.
After our successful WOT Monologues in Coventry last March, we are sure that WOT London will be equally fabulous.
More details to folllow soon…..
On Saturday 15th 2012 at the Coventry’s Railway club, Caste Away Arts’ Release UK group performed an epic sketch for a charity function in order to help raise money for building school in Punjab.
This piece called ‘Children are what they live’ challenged the view that education is all about grades, competition and being a book worm. Instead it depicted the benefits about getting out and experiencing the world and being a citizen of the world. I guess everyone was expecting a cheesy performance about how good it is to study … a sentiment we echo but Caste Away Arts always takes it one step further as we embraces a holistic approach to education.
The short comedy was about a dictator teacher who treats his students badly and runs off leaving his students when it starts to thunder. Mrs Pupinder a supply teacher comes to the rescue and is shocked at the austere conditions that the kids study in so she decides to adds a bit of fun (the forbidden F word). The kids try and rebel against the teacher but give her a chance when she orders them to step outside into the real world. When they return the truth hurts such as there is such thing as readymade roti’s and you could have cheated all this time instead of ensure years of nagging. There is also such thing as rain…remember these kids are very sheltered and for one the experience was just too much.
A great reception and the sketch really livened up the place. . Thanks you so much guys and I just want to say how wonderful it was to performance.
On 28 July 2012, Imagineer Productions 21st Century fronted a massive carnival called Godiva Awakes. This spectacular performance involved dancers, actors, aerialists, musicians and pyrotechnicians and US!
Caste Away Arts working with the Belgrade theatres team represented freedom and peace – Sunita, Anupriya, Kavin, Jem, Ann, Vaishalay, Vishahan, Vithyan and me Reena.Godiva Awakes is about Artists taking the lead, a series of 12 public art commissions across the UK to celebrate the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, funded by Arts Council England.
This event was nothing short of wonderful. The colour, the costumes, the diversity and yes Vishahan’s mad antics are always amusing. Some of our reluctant dancers (Anupriya) had a few reservations about dance but truly conquered her fears and home on a high dancing all the way. The beauty of this event was the reception from the people of Coventry. We were one community united and that’s important. This event has surely inspired us and left a lasting impression myself and our young people. Watch this pace were out to do more. Reena J
Release UK finally got their first shot at the stage on the 14th July at Civic Hall in Bedworth town centre with the Tamil Welfare Association whom hosts their annual celebrations and put on a variety show of Tamil Arts and literature. This lasts pretty much all day till the early hours of the morning but it’s all fantastic stuff!
Release UK performed their devised drama called ‘Breaking the Silence’ inspired by the groups own writing tackling injustice to communities that suffer human rights abuses. The black sketch was daring and bold and had elements of mime and song. A real winner with the audience whom were drawn in from beginning to end despite the group only having 5 hours to devise the piece in a space of 6 weeks. We nailed it beautifully.
It was a real honour to receive my golden robe by the Tamil welfare Association but the real honour has been working with the young people. A Huge shoat out to you all.
Young members of Caste Away Arts’ Release UK Programme have been taking part in accelerated learning that this involves trips and experiences that promote social skills and learning to network. Leshanth (12), Gem (13) and Vaishali (13) attended a conference for the first time did the initial meet and greet which was praised by members of BOPA (British Organisation for people of Asian Origin). This Coventry held conference covered the promotion of community cohesion, solidarity and integrations with a celebration of the achievements made by people of oh Asian origin. One of those achievers is Apache Indian a childhood here of mine hero-Apache Indian who stormed into the charts during the early 90’s and had a huge success with his Bhangramuffin style and singing in patosis and bits of Punjabi. What we appreciate about Apache is his ability to create catchy tunes while making social criticism- something that resonates with the Caste Away Arts ethos e.g – ‘Arranged Marriages’ and ‘The caste system’ are some of few song that Apache has made an enormous patch on. Well done to his recent award for It was a pleasure for me and our young members to meet him. Chak de!
Saturday June 30th brought caste away arts and Ekatva together at the end of their amazing journey after their sell-out UK tour. A special workshop took place at Sai community school, in London with local students led by Reena and Rena; and special appearances by the youth of our programme Release UK. Anupriya, Vaishalli, Jese and Leshanth whom helped us lead the workshop.
The objective of the workshop was to build a group bond but explore identity and getting to know each other. It was fun packed and lively as always. We split the whole group into the two sub groups and they were given word stimulus that had to be recreated physically as a whole group. At first both groups devised something very similar but then as a group jelled their competitive streak kicked in and they created their version of freedom, a waterfall and the Olympics. Really excellent outcome and we just let them flourish with creativity without us intervening and that’s always works. We had the opportunity to work in pairs and get to know each other and present whet we learned about each another which was very insightful and interesting to see how similar we all are despite our social and geographical circumstances. There were some language barriers but a bridge of unity and friendship was built and communication isn’t just about words. We then made a montage of out hand prints and had a mess around with the paint and created a piece of art that will be cherished.
The local young people stayed to have a chat with the youth from Ekatva and observing over lunch a kinship had already developed. Vicky called his new friend ‘Bhai’ and beckoned him over to sit with him. There was an exchange of hugs and the last touch to this workshop was the presentation of handmade gifts that Release UK had made after watching the show in Birmingham. Anupriya kindly gave and tied each friendship bracelet (that she lovingly made) on the young people from Ekatva and Leshanth presented everyone with his origami birds inspired by the birds in their production. This was a real talking point and no body went home empty and everyone took away something positive.
Leshanth from Caste Away Arts Release UK group says ‘’ the origami is a token of friendship and I will never forget this experience and how much I’ve learned from Ekatva. ”
Vaishalli sacrificed a Bharatanatyam performance just to see her new friends again and said it was well worth it.
Reena Jaisiah says “Giving does not have to be a commodity but a smile, a bit of warmth, exchange of handmade gifts rather that flashing your cash as we do in our materialistic society. Though we are all different in many ways, but strip us from our ego, individuality, culture fame and fortune and the remainder of all this difference is essentially the same. I have learned from this whole project is that we do not ever feel the need to feel sorry for people because we may think they are poor. We were the poor ones that have now become enriched with this experience. “ Just want to say a HUGE Thank you to our good friends who have left us with a lasting impression of inspiration. Vicky, Payal, Gaurang, Bharti, Krishana, Vishal, Sanjay, Devram, Niktia, Chandani, Dharmaji, Priyanka, Bhavnik, Nitesh, Dipmala and Asha. See you again ONE day.
Young people from Coventry Youth service, Caste Away Arts’ Release UK, Members of BOPA got the rare opportunity to experience Ekatva at Leicester Peepul Centre and the Drum Theatre in Birmingham.
The production by the young protégées of India conveyed the message One-ness with the universal language of dance-drama. There were no fancy sets and backdrops just pure talent and professionalism from the amazing performers. They used physical theatre to perfection and their choreography was flawless! Inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther king’s teachings of equality and snippets of inspiring people that had one thought that one thought made a change in the word. We were in total awe of the message and fell in love with each and every performer who kindly gave us garlands on arrival and small broaches that were made by their mothers that they had left in India to be with us. Meeting them at the end was a real privilege. They feel like our extended family. Krishana’s cute laugh, Asha’s sincere hug, Sanjay’s exchange of teaching us Gurarai for Tamil and Vicky’s not so inncoent cheeky smile.
At the end of the show the audience and cast connecting with each other by holding hands, seemed a little weird because we have become desensitised and accustomed to putting up barriers that it all felt a little unreal. But it was touching experience. The one thing I would change is for the young people themselves to have had an input into the creative process as opposed to been taught it. Would have added so much to the experience if they had an input into the writing and ideas but they are all equipped for next time. Thank you a million x
Internationals Women’s week 2012 went out with a BANG. With a candid, moving and heart filled performance from WOMEN on Top – WOT Monologues!-Inspired by the eminent Vagina Monologues. WOT Monologues is a collection of women’s voices in Community Theatre. Voices united with 11 women of diverse backgrounds and diverse bra sizes converged in a journey of self-discovery, uncovering hidden talents, building confidence and most importantly reviving SISTERHOOD in the 21st century. The show was performed on 8th March at Warwick University to a packed and lively audience who heard our voices LOUD and CLEAR. The Monologues performed were written by the women involved and for some this was their first brush with stage. It does indeed take real ‘ovaries’ as opposed to ‘ball’s to do this, so a huge well done to WOT. You had to be there! I felt these women deserved recognition for their commitment, enthusiasm and support so I announced that they had been awarded a Women’s Achievement Award as individuals by Coventry Women’s Forum. What a fabulous way to end the night! “One of the aims of this project was to elicit truthful narratives from the women through storytelling and improvisation workshops. The thought of getting unadulterated narratives into the form of theatre I thought was going to be a massive challenge but this happened organically, there was little need for direction because you can never superpose the real life voices of women! Eventually we spill! A wonderful journeys that was truly cathartic” Reena Jaisiah Reena Jaisiah
Get ready for WOT Monologues! – a creative project which brings together women from diverse background and celebrates their unique voices. As with previous Women On Top projects it’s a collaboration between Caste Away Arts and Kairos WWT and it is our offerring for International Womens Week 2012.
As Women On Top launched last year for International Womens Week 2011, this project is a celebration to mark our progress.
You can come and see WOT Monologues on 8th March 2012 at Warwick University. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for ticket information.