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Sunday November 28, 2021

Interactive play performed at prison for women and juveniles

October 16, 2021

An interactive play highlighting the plight of vulnerable prisoners and their family members was performed at the Central Prison and Correctional Facility for Women and Juveniles in Karachi as part of the Justice Project Pakistan’s (JPP) multifaceted campaign “This is (not) a Game”.

The play, which was watched by more than 150 prisoners, including women and juveniles currently incarcerated at the facility, follows the story of a woman trying to save her husband from the death penalty while navigating Pakistan’s flawed criminal justice system and making impossible decisions.

Should she compromise her children’s education to pay the legal fees? Should she relocate to protect her children? Developed by the JPP in collaboration with the Azad Theatre, the play has been performed at community spaces and educational institutes in Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad.

The final performance of the play was scheduled at the Central Prison and Correctional Facility in Karachi on Friday to mark the end of a two-week long campaign to commemorate the 19th World Day Against the Death Penalty, which is observed on October 10 every year.

Inspector General of Prisons Kazi Nazir Ahmed said that hope can be found even in the unlikeliest of places and during the most unfathomable times.

“All of these prisoners have similar stories to tell. Their family members have to live through these impossible choices faced by the central female character in this play.

“For an optimist like me, as it was shown in the play, hope is always an option no matter what you are going through. I believe that such interactions between artistes and prisoners will encourage inmates to rebuild and reform their lives, and find their place in the world outside.”

JPP spokesperson Laiba Zainab said: “We wanted to bring this campaign to the most vulnerable of all — the prisoners — to show that art has the power to touch hearts and souls even within these four walls.

“For us and for these prisoners, it was a dialogue between reality and fiction, societal pressures and the determination to keep fighting for justice, and, ultimately, between economic disadvantages and self conviction.

“We are grateful to the IG prisons and his team for allowing us to stage this performance and interact with the actual victims of the patriarchal norms that plague our justice system.”

Based on this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty theme — “Women and Death Penalty: Invisible Realities” — the campaign allows the audience to enact the perspective of this central female character, making them come face to face with the harsh realities of the lives of the family members of indigent defendants arrested for capital offences.

It engages different segments of society through various mediums, including street performances, radio shows, social media filters and a digital game.

“It was a challenge for us to take the performance to those who are the actual victims. But this has been a life-changing experience, and performing before prisoners has humanised us in many ways,” said the play’s writer and director Malik Aslam.

The cast of the play included Sarfaraz Ansari, Aliya Abbasi, Nadeem Abbas, Muhammad Naeem, Asiya Hameed and Imran Khan. Families of death-row defendants, particularly women, face tough and often traumatic experiences in a system that inherently discriminates against them.

Currently, there are almost 4,000 prisoners on death row, with thousands under trial awaiting sentences for offences that are punishable by death in the country.