Changing the world with puppets

Y Merina Chishi 
Dimapur| December 29 

Meet Uttar Pradesh’s most intelligent puppet couple, “Mughle-e-Azam” and “Anarkali.” They have traveled across 72 districts and thousands of villages in UP, educating people on various social, environmental and health issues. Born in 1987 at Allahabad, Mughle-e-Azam and Anarkali have come a long way from educating people in the rural areas of UP to the hilly state of Nagaland, where they are participating in 16th National Children’s Science Congress (NCSC).  

Under the banner of VICAS (Voluntary Institute for Community Applied Sciences), children in Uttar Pradesh are using applied-learning strategies like puppet shows to educate people living in small towns and villages. As a very large population of UP is illiterate, VICAS use methods like puppetry to draw attention of people and create awareness in communities. Also with puppetry being a century-old tradition in UP, people are able to relate to it and today puppet shows have become an innovative way of sending across social messages.   

VICAS is a non-governmental organization based in Allahabad, UP, and has branches all over the state. It works mainly for community development, engaging scientific methods and publications on various issues. With VICAS, the puppet duo have traveled to remote tribal areas talking about HIV/AIDS, dowry (bride price), conservation of environment and other social and health issues. Made out of waste paper and balloons, Anarkali is dressed in a bright orange lehnga- choli (dress) while Mughle-e-Azam wears a typical UP style kurta-pyajama. They encourage the use of eco-friendly materials and discourage the use of non-biodegradable substances. Awareness on various rights, IPC laws and women oriented issues are also imparted. 

In UP where the status of women in rural areas still remains low, these puppets have transformed and educated lakhs of women. In most areas where there are no means of communication, Anarkali, Mughle-e-Azam and their friends accompany children and stage shows with women generally comprising the larger audience. 

Farmers are also taught how to use modern science and technological methods for farming even while awareness on sanitation and water conservation has been very productive. The puppet shows are generally staged in community halls and open spaces. Those who provide voice-over for puppets are given voice modulation trainings. They also send out messages through popular Hindi film songs. Many unemployed youths and women are engaged in making puppets and are today able to sustain their livelihood through this. The puppets have been able to reach out to a very large population, both literate and illiterate, and hope to go international someday.