Kanpur: Rickshaw pullers, vegetable vendors, mechanics and tailors - they are members of his theatre group. With their help, Sanjeeba, the owner of a picture frames shop, has been running mass campaigns for justice for 10 years on the streets of Kanpur.
"All my street plays are aimed at social awakening and reformation...I always try to convey the message that people hold the ultimate power in a democracy like ours, and can even change any system with sustained efforts and cooperation," Sanjeeba, 43, told reporters.
From making people aware about their rights and fighting for them to undertaking mass crusades for delivering justice to rape victims and others, Sanjeeba`s plays speak loud and clear.
The speciality of the troupe is that its actors are all engaged in "menial jobs", Sanjeeba said.
"It`s only because they feel they have a social responsibility. If each one of us realises our responsibility, we in our own way can bring positive changes for the society," he said.
Sanjeeba, a graduate, feels `nukkad nataks` (street plays) are the best medium to convey a social message on a large scale.
"Besides having the entertainment factor, the other advantage of street plays is that you can deliver the message to the literate as well as the illiterate at the same time," said Sanjeeba, who honed the acting skills of his team.
His group includes people like Prem Pehalwan, a vegetable vendor; Kafas, a tailor; Durgesh, a watch mechanic; and Bahadur, a rickshaw puller.
"All of them reside near my shop in Nawabganj locality...As we used to meet on a regular basis, we gradually developed a bonding with one another, and my friends started helping me in staging street plays," Sanjeeba said.
Durgesh said, "He is doing a commendable job...He even helps us with money...And when we refuse, he asks us to keep the same as an honorarium meant for an artiste...Among us, he is the only one who, in a real sense, is engaged in social service."
Before staging plays, Sanjeeba used to write poems based on social issues.
"I always wanted to serve society but was not getting a proper platform...I used to write poems on issues related to the poor and the downtrodden or problems faced by the common man and distribute them among the public," Sanjeeba said.
"I was not able to connect to illiterate people whom I wanted to serve on a priority. It was then that I decided on an alternative to express my feelings in the form of street plays," recalled Sanjeeba, who is also the script writer of his plays.
On several occasions, his street plays have propelled the authorities to take action. The most recent case was the arrest of an influential school manager along with his two sons, in connection with the death of a girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted in September 2010.
"I staged several plays to protest against the incident...Within no time, I started receiving a massive response from the public," Sanjeeba said.
"Irrespective of their age and financial status, people in large numbers started demonstrations and it was no less than a mass campaign," he said.
"Considering the pressure from the public, the authorities handed over the inquiry of the incident to the CB-CID (Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department).
"The police were just not interested in nabbing the people named by the victim`s mother. Later, not only were the arrests made but several policemen were also suspended for their dubious role in the investigations," Sanjeeba added.
"A few years ago I staged a play just outside a police outpost where a woman was subjected to physical assault...There were several policemen who praised me and recommended action against the erring cops who were later suspended," he said.
Sanjeeba has staged street plays in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. Police have detained him several times.
Renowned social activist Medha Patkar invited him four years ago to Madhya Pradesh. "After being invited by Patkar, I sensitised tribal youths about their rights," said Sanjeeba, who uses his own money for props.