The stage is just a couple of large dining tables covered with white cotton sheets pushed together at one end of the room. The “commandant,” played by a young woman, has an elfin face and shy smile behind oversized dark glasses. On the surface, the scene appears lighthearted, but the emotions in the tiny room run deep: a group of Afghan women, scarred by the brutality of war, are using acting to address their pain.
“Every Afghan is a victim of the conflict,” says Neak Mohammed of the Afghan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO), a non-governmental organization managing the theater project. Mohammed should know. His father was tortured and six of his brothers perished in the violence that has plagued Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet occupation. Several of his siblings were “disappeared” by the various regimes that rotated in and out of power after the Red Army left Afghanistan in 1989.
Taking its cue from the “Theater of the Oppressed,” an initiative developed by Brazilian activist Augusto Boal, the Afghan participatory theater encourages actors and audience members alike to come to terms with their suffering by getting them to open up.
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Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul.