Karachi ~ Pakistan
Madeeha Gauhar: theatre director, Pakistan (b. 1956, Karachi) An actor, theatre director and women’s rights activist, Madeeha Gauhar is honoured for her contributions to public theatre in south Asia. While still at school she was involved in an anti-establishment drama production, and was later arrested and twice jailed for participating in human rights protests. Following graduation in literature studies she lectured at a university in Punjab, travelled widely in the country and became involved in theatre both on television and stage. Efforts to convey her political and feminist sympathies led to her being banned from television for several years. In 1983 when oppression under the military dictatorship was at its peak, she set up the Ajoka Theatre, pioneering a street theatre movement to reach a broad audience with the aim of promoting a secular, humane, just and egalitarian society. Their first play was performed outdoors in Lahore in defiance of strict censorship laws. Since then Ajoka has been performing socially and politically relevant quality theatre, both on stage and on the streets, in remote areas as well as cities and in the vernacular languages. Ajoka works mainly with young people and organises training and technical workshops including script development for actors, theatre workers and community activists – an important role in a country with few educational facilities for theatre. Challenging political frontiers, they hold cross-border performances with actors in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri-Lanka. Ajoka also has a children’s theatre, and has participated in numerous international drama festivals in Asia and Europe.