The objective of the Trust is to
help spread the ideas of
Gursharan Singh and the
revolutionary cultural movement
which he represented.

Gursharan Singh Yaadgar Trust is a collective of close associates, family and friends of Gursharan Singh. It was set up shortly after Gursharan Singh’s death in 2011 under the guidance of Prof Randhir Singh who became its founding head. After Prof Randhir Singh’s death in 2016, the Trust has been functioning with collective responsibility of its members and associates. The members of the Trust include Kailash Kaur, Kewal Dhaliwal, Amolak Singh, Anita Shabdeesh, Harinder Mahil, Ikattar Singh, Priyaleen Singh, Neelakshi Suryanarayan, Navsharan Kaur, Areet Kaur, Atul Sood and associates. The objective of the Trust is to help spread the ideas of Gursharan Singh and the revolutionary cultural movement which he represented. The Trust is translating Gursharan Singh’s well known street plays in Englsih, re-launching protest music audio CDs, building an archive of revolutionary culture to bring under one platform his collective work and, subsequently the works produced under this movement.

Gursharan Singh has been duly
rewarded for his efforts in terms
of immense love, affection and
regard that he received over the
years from the people of Punjab.

Gursharan Singh began his theatre journey in 1958 and never looked back since. There is a well-known story of how his theatre activity began. In 1958, he was posted in Bhakra Nangal, where he worked on the Dam site as a hydraulic expert, the Dam was dedicated to the people of the country by Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin came to Nangal on this occasion and a cultural show was organised that evening for the dignitaries. Gursharan Singh was in-charge of the show – Gopi Krishan Maharaj; Yamini Krishnamurthy, Pundit Birju Maharaj; Lal Chand Yamla Jatt; Surinder Kaur and many others were invited to perform. The show was open to the visiting dignitaries and Bhakra managers. Gursharan Singh requested the management that workers be invited to view the rehearsal of the cultural show. He was told that it would be a wasted effort, as ‘workers don’t understand fine culture’. This shook him badly and he went around asking artistes to stay for an additional day to perform for the workers. Some stayed and others did not for a performance for the workers the next day. Shortly after the incident, the workers struck down work seeking a holiday on the occasion of Lohri. Impromptu he wrote a play “lohri dee hartal” and there was no looking back for the next five decades.

When he began his theatre activity is Punjab, IPTA was almost extinct. There was not very much theatre activity outside the confines of theatre departments with limited audience. He founded Amritsar Natak Kala Kendra in 1964 and introduced the best world drama to the audience in Amritsar in a sustained manner. Beginning in 1969, he began taking his theatre to the villages in Punjab. He believed that rural citizens of India were denied their share of culture of modern sensibility. A number of writers and theatre directors often declined to go to rural audiences because according to them rural people did not understand the language of theatre and therefore theatre was not for them. He challenged this wisdom and through his sustained work demonstrated that if theatre speaks to the lived experiences of people in the villages, they understand it, appreciate it, and own it.

He developed a new idiom of theatre

a theatre which was truly people’s theatre – the awami theatre. The people of Punjab and specially the rural people of Punjab fully took to owning his theatre. This theatre was not reliant on fancy auditoriums or perfect lighting. He developed a form where actors communicated with the audiences directly. Since the early 1970s, he performed in the villages of Punjab on an average, at least 150 nights in a year. Thousands of women, men and children came to see his plays, raised funds for the performance and invited him to their villages. They often traveled for miles on tractor trolleys, bicycles, bullock carts and on foot to see the plays. His biggest contribution to Punjabi theatre is to create audience for theatre in Punjab.

He insisted that marginalised rural people are systematically, practically and ideologically excluded from experiencing art and theatre. For him theatre and social change were deeply connected. He believed that they must not be cast as mutually exclusive and for him a theatre that is truly embedded in people’s everyday existential experience is theatre of relevance which he practiced. His mission was to change the world to make it a better place.

At the same time he developed street theatre in Punjab and performed street plays in cities and towns in market places, parks, streets and bazaars on issues of social relevance. His street plays on dowry murders, custodial deaths, police atrocities, women’s rights, dalit rights, human rights abuses, terrorist killings and struggles for equality, highlighting the prevalent inequality in the socio-economic landscape of India, were witnessed by thousands of people all over Punjab.

Over the four decades of 1970-2010, his theatre for social transformation, produced plays that exposed power relations by positioning marginalized voices – women, dalits, landless – centre stage in a dialogical relationship with their mainstream counterparts.

Gursharan Singh developed
street theatre on issues of
social relevance.

He authored close to 200 plays, published in seventeen books and 7 collected volumes. His theatre inspired scores of young women and men to what he called the theatre movement in Punjab. Today there are scores of rural theatre troupes actively doing theatre in Punjab. They have created several theatre complexes in villages with modern facilities where theatre activities happen on a regular basis. These groups are self sustaining because there is now audience and a culture of appreciation of rural theatre in Punjab.

His theatre and the new idiom helped to challenge the received notions of aesthetics and established assumptions about theatrical excellence that perpetuated rigid separation between theatre art and ordinary working people’s lives. His theatre included art practices which were embedded in ordinary people’s lives.

This is not to say that his theatre is dismissive of classical forms. He only questioned the aesthetic codes designed to perpetuate the hegemony of the powerful. He believed in meaningful collaboration between professionals and rural theatre artists and activists. He encouraged these partnerships and the result is broadening and democratization of theatre practices where people-centred theatre artists and activists bear on more mainstream theatre practice. This has attracted a new generation of artists as well as audience in Punjab.

In 1981, in association with fellow comrades, he founded Punjab Lok Sabhayachar Manch (People’s platform for culture), a forum where artistes, writes, and activists contributed to a unique rural theatre discourse about intersections between politics, culture and social justice and the stage. At present scores groups are part of this umbrella organisation.

We can say with confidence that his efforts of the last four decades have made a difference. This difference is not only in terms of inspiring scores of young men and women to adopt theatre as a profession, or in creating a critical audience for theatre, but also inspire the belief in young men and women that socially meaningful theatre is sustainable and has its rewards. His best reward of doing theatre and realizing its impact was the reach of his theatre during the troubled days of Punjab. In the early 1980s he knew that his medium, style and credibility was powerful enough for him to give a secular and rational version of the ‘Punjab crisis’ to the people. With this version many ordinary people of Punjab identified and were willing to engage. Some of the prominent plays that performed this role in the early 1980s were Baba Bolda hai, Ek Kursi Ek Morcha Ate Hawa Vich Latakde Log, and Chandigarh Puara Di Jarr. During the period of Punjab crisis, his voice of reason and a vision of society based not on religions but on social justice reverberated in Punjab – Hindu raajna Khalistan, raj kare mazdoor kisaan.

He has been duly rewarded for his efforts in terms of immense love, affection and regard that he received over the years from the people of Punjab. The genre of theatre that he pioneered is recognised as a formidable form and has come to be called as the rural theatre of modern sensibility for which he was awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy award in 1993. He is also the recipient of the Kalidas Samman which was conferred on him in the year 2004. He was also given The Shiromani Natakar Award, Punjab Sahitya Academy Award and many other awards from Punjabi people in Punjab, United Kingdom, USA and Canada. However, the biggest recognition of his work came about in 2006 when Punjabi theatre groups, writers, poets, playwrights and artists came together to give him the Revolutionary Dedication Award for his lifetime contribution to the theatre movement. More than 30,000 people converged in Kussa village on this occasion to show their love and affection for the work that he had been doing in the field of rural theatre. There are fewer examples of such an appreciation of the work of a cultural worker. He also received ‘Punjabi of the year’ award in 2005.

He passed away on September 27, 2011. The day, 27th is marked in Punjab as Revolutionary Theatre Day since then.

Gursharan Singh has been duly
rewarded for his efforts in terms
of immense love, affection and
regard that he received over the
years from the people of Punjab.

The Public Archive of Revolutionary Culture, Punjab, is a platform dedicated to deepening our understanding of the role of culture for social transformation. This is a collective effort and an open platform for discussion and dialogue. Conceived as a living archive eventually, it’s a work in progressive currently, to bring revolutionary cultural material from Punjab under this platform. The beginning is made by bringing Gursharan Singh’s work together in recognition of his immense contribution to building and shaping revolutionary cultural movement in Punjab. This includes his published and unpublished close to 200 scripts of long and short plays, documentaries, music, copies of the magazines Sardal and Samta that he edited or co-edited, photos, letters, diaries, TV plays, writings of scholars on his theatre and a few recordings of the drama performances. The material represents the expressions of deep seated belief that the lives of ordinary working people are not what they ought to be, and a passionate striving for change. Where art and culture had become a monopoly of the few, to the exclusion of working women and men from the benefits of culture, the revolutionary theatre of Gursharan Singh came to the working

people as a tool to understand their oppression and a weapon to fight it with. The themes he chose appealed to the intellect of the working people and the performance appealed to their emotions. In these challenging times, he said, the divide is clear, there is no place for middle-of- the-road art. It is only and only committed art where message emerges with extraordinary force to destroy the decadent old and recreate the revolutionary new.

This archive is a small effort with no claims to bring all revolutionary cultural material under one platform in one go. We hope that we will grow through the collective efforts of all those who believe in archiving, learning from history and seriously debating the role of revolutionary culture for social change. We would like this open access platform to be available to the students and others to understand, write and develop radical culture in Punjab. The aim is to see these records used, developed and reconstructed.

At the moment the collection is compiled mostly of records readily available with the family but we hope to receive more materials which will pave way for intellectual development, providing new views on culture and ideology and whole new ways of thinking and how we approach the role of radical culture.

A number of people came together with their contributions to make this website a reality, making it a truly collective effort. Acknowledging each one’s contribution here is our small way of saying Thank You. Your time, effort, guidance and encouragement has been instrumental in bringing all the works of Gursharan Singh together.

Once again, a big Thank You, and we really appreciate your contributions.