Interview: M.K. Raina

Removal of Article 370: I have never felt this kind of alienation, says theatre personality M.K. Raina

Print edition : August 30, 2019

Pilgrims crossing a mountain trail during their journey to the Amarnath cave on the Baltal route, 125 km north-east of Srinagar, on July 1. Photo: THE HINDU

M.K. Raina. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Interview with M.K. Raina, veteran theatre actor, director and film-maker.

Theatre doyen and activist M.K. Raina, who hails from Kashmir, strongly believes that the bifurcation of the State and the revocation of sections of Article 370 and 35(a) will only compound the problems faced by the people in Jammu and Kashmir. Talking to Frontline a day after the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill was moved in Parliament, Raina said it was “a very dangerous development”. He added: “The country won freedom through non-violent ways. Today we have departed from that path.” Excerpts from the interview:

As a veteran artist and activist hailing from Kashmir, how do you see the latest developments?

Thirty years is too long a time for this turmoil. I go there, I work there, I have lost everything there, but it [Kashmir] is my home, I still want to go there. My pain with this decision is you cannot reduce a State to a Union Territory, a State that has a textual, performative tradition of 5,000 years. The relationship between the [Kashmir] Valley and Ladakh goes back 1,500 years, through art, craft and culture. The way it [the bifurcation] has been done is so shabby. Nothing will be solved. Come Friday, it will be prayer time. We will shoot those boys, they will kill our soldiers. I have seen the corpses of our soldiers with my own eyes. It used to break my heart.

Violence is not the solution. This country won freedom through non-violent ways. Today we have departed from that path. This particular path [the bifurcation] will make it more complicated. I do not think it will be able to solve much, or anything, in Kashmir.

But Home Minister Amit Shah has gone on record saying that it will bring peace and development in the State.

I laugh at it. I cannot say anything more. Isn’t the Home Minister the one who brought 35,000 soldiers to the State before the announcement? He needs to humanise his statements. He might have positive intentions, but it does not solve any problem. He might talk of development, roads and so on, but that is no substitute for human beings and self-pride. If it were so, we would all have been in Mumbai. There are young lives involved, their future is at stake. This whole precedent of demoting a State to a Union Territory is so ridiculous. They talk of disturbance in the State as an excuse. If that be so, what about Andhra Pradesh or Chhattisgarh? There is a violent row going on with naxals there. Are you going to demote them also? Is this the way ahead? It is a very dangerous development. As a Kashmiri, honestly, I have never felt this kind of alienation. I had to leave the State in 1990. Today, I feel I have been robbed of my own State.

Does it not also go against the Instrument of Accession?

I do not know those legalities. I am not a lawyer. All I can say is that the people of Kashmir stood for India as a bulwark against Pakistan and [Muhammad Ali] Jinnah.

I talk from the point of view taken by Sheikh Abdullah, who opted for a united secular India instead of the theocratic state of Pakistan. Does this development betray that faith?

[Kashmir was] the only Muslim-majority State which embraced India’s secular state at the time of Independence. When the Indian soldiers went there, they were welcomed everywhere. When Jinnah came to arouse sectarian sentiments, he was booted out by the locals. I cannot understand why people do not read history. History is not linear. It is a kind of zigzag line which has its own curves…. Many things have happened in history. If you have a nuclear bomb, you can go and bomb any place. But in our country, our subcontinent, it is not possible. You bomb Karachi, and Mumbai will be affected. You bomb Lahore, and Amritsar will be affected. Everything is interrelated.

At the same time, does it not compromise India’s position internationally?

Of course it does. China has already started talking. Pakistan is talking in terms of going to the United Nations. The Arab countries, too [are talking]…. Finally, it will be talked about in the international fora. Look at the international press, see what they are writing.

Will it make life easier for a young Kashmiri studying or working in Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru?

No, far from making it easier for Kashmiris, I think it is the sickness of Indian society [on display]. They think it is a cricket match that they have won. The same mentality was on display in 1984 when Sikhs were massacred. We have seen this happening. It is a dehumanising trend. There are people with whom I have worked for 18 years. They are in Kashmir today and there is no way of getting to know about them. The humanitarian angle is lost. It happened in the previous regime also.

But then this party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was talking in terms of insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and jamhooriyat [humanity, the culture of Kashmir and democracy], has forgotten about all that. [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee sahib talked of that. Even our current Prime Minister talked about it in Parliament.

Is it not the ultimate betrayal of the Kashmiri people who had entrusted India with their future? The government did not take them into its confidence about their own future.

It is like when they [the people of Kashmir] were sold to Raja Gulab Singh [of Jammu, in 1846]. They did not know they had been bought for a few lakh rupees. They did not know that they had been robbed of their statehood, their identity in fact. Kashmir has a great tradition right from the ancient days, of Sanskrit, Persian, Buddhism and what have you. It is a crucible. Kashmir was at the crossroads of many, many cultures and faiths. Ideas developed there. If you take out the Sanskrit tradition of Kashmir, only 25 per cent remains of the rest of India. That is Kashmir’s contribution to literature, language, poetry and historiography.

And we also have the tradition of Sultan Zainul Abidin.

Yes, that is another tradition. Today, I feel Kashmiri leadership deteriorated from thereon. In a way, the contemporary Kashmiri leadership is also responsible for the mess. They are stuck on one thing.

Diplomacy and politics are a game of patience. You had these windows open, certain ventilators. But they were never capitalised on. I look at the youth. They have no future ahead of them. The boys who come from Kashmir to study here [in Delhi]—you will not believe how they muster the funds to finance their studies. There is widespread poverty. There is no business there, no industry. They are dependent on tourism for funds. Now the tourists have also gone away. The Amarnath yatra is quite a money-spinner. It was extended this year. But that is not the tradition. The tradition is only for 15 days.

Amarnath yatra

This year, just before the announcement of the bifurcation in Parliament, the Central government asked the Amarnath pilgrims to go back, citing terror threats. But now it appears to have been to push their agenda through. Maybe they had threats. I am not disputing that. This is not the first time the threat has been issued, but the yatra has always gone on. It is a great tradition. Who mans it? All the Muslims man it. The yatris who are unable to walk, the Muslim boys take them on their shoulders to the cave and bring them back. It is not an ordinary tradition. It is a rare tradition. It is symbolic of what Kashmir stands for.

One final question. There have been televised images and print media photographs of Kashmiri Pandits celebrating the government’s decision. It seems like everybody wants to go back, buy property there, settle down.

I am sorry, I am not part of that. I cannot say anything about those Pandits, or those images. The media are also responsible. I see many photographs floating around, manipulated to give legitimacy to a certain narrative. What will they do after the celebrations? Can they go back? They have lived for 30 years over here. What is left if they go back?

Can they go back?

I have my own doubts. Even if you go back, you will be looked upon as an outsider. They will see that you came as an invader this time. Ultimately, you have to live with people. For how long can you rely upon security personnel? Will the camaraderie of earlier days be there? There is a Kashmiri tradition under which a Hindu’s life was tied with that of a Muslim. A Muslim was responsible for giving the Hindu his first haircut, and for his cremation too. No legal change can ensure those things.

Theatre doyen and activist M.K. Raina, who hails from Kashmir, strongly believes that the bifurcation of the State and the revocation of sections of Article 370 and 35(a) will only compound the problems faced by the people in Jammu and Kashmir. Talking to Frontline a day after the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill was moved in Parliament, Raina said it was “a very dangerous development”. He added: “The country won freedom through non-violent ways. Today we have departed from that path.” Excerpts from the interview:

As a veteran artist and activist hailing from Kashmir, how do you see the latest developments?

Thirty years is too long a time for this turmoil. I go there, I work there, I have lost everything there, but it [Kashmir] is my home, I still want to go there. My pain with this decision is you cannot reduce a State to a Union Territory, a State that has a textual, performative tradition of 5,000 years. The relationship between the [Kashmir] Valley and Ladakh goes back 1,500 years, through art, craft and culture. The way it [the bifurcation] has been done is so shabby. Nothing will be solved. Come Friday, it will be prayer time. We will shoot those boys, they will kill our soldiers. I have seen the corpses of our soldiers with my own eyes. It used to break my heart.

Violence is not the solution. This country won freedom through non-violent ways. Today we have departed from that path. This particular path [the bifurcation] will make it more complicated. I do not think it will be able to solve much, or anything, in Kashmir.

But Home Minister Amit Shah has gone on record saying that it will bring peace and development in the State.

I laugh at it. I cannot say anything more. Isn’t the Home Minister the one who brought 35,000 soldiers to the State before the announcement? He needs to humanise his statements. He might have positive intentions, but it does not solve any problem. He might talk of development, roads and so on, but that is no substitute for human beings and self-pride. If it were so, we would all have been in Mumbai. There are young lives involved, their future is at stake. This whole precedent of demoting a State to a Union Territory is so ridiculous. They talk of disturbance in the State as an excuse. If that be so, what about Andhra Pradesh or Chhattisgarh? There is a violent row going on with naxals there. Are you going to demote them also? Is this the way ahead? It is a very dangerous development. As a Kashmiri, honestly, I have never felt this kind of alienation. I had to leave the State in 1990. Today, I feel I have been robbed of my own State.

Does it not also go against the Instrument of Accession?

I do not know those legalities. I am not a lawyer. All I can say is that the people of Kashmir stood for India as a bulwark against Pakistan and [Muhammad Ali] Jinnah.

I talk from the point of view taken by Sheikh Abdullah, who opted for a united secular India instead of the theocratic state of Pakistan. Does this development betray that faith?

[Kashmir was] the only Muslim-majority State which embraced India’s secular state at the time of Independence. When the Indian soldiers went there, they were welcomed everywhere. When Jinnah came to arouse sectarian sentiments, he was booted out by the locals. I cannot understand why people do not read history. History is not linear. It is a kind of zigzag line which has its own curves…. Many things have happened in history. If you have a nuclear bomb, you can go and bomb any place. But in our country, our subcontinent, it is not possible. You bomb Karachi, and Mumbai will be affected. You bomb Lahore, and Amritsar will be affected. Everything is interrelated.

At the same time, does it not compromise India’s position internationally?

Of course it does. China has already started talking. Pakistan is talking in terms of going to the United Nations. The Arab countries, too [are talking]…. Finally, it will be talked about in the international fora. Look at the international press, see what they are writing.

Will it make life easier for a young Kashmiri studying or working in Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru?

No, far from making it easier for Kashmiris, I think it is the sickness of Indian society [on display]. They think it is a cricket match that they have won. The same mentality was on display in 1984 when Sikhs were massacred. We have seen this happening. It is a dehumanising trend. There are people with whom I have worked for 18 years. They are in Kashmir today and there is no way of getting to know about them. The humanitarian angle is lost. It happened in the previous regime also.

But then this party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was talking in terms of insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and jamhooriyat [humanity, the culture of Kashmir and democracy], has forgotten about all that. [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee sahib talked of that. Even our current Prime Minister talked about it in Parliament.

Is it not the ultimate betrayal of the Kashmiri people who had entrusted India with their future? The government did not take them into its confidence about their own future.

It is like when they [the people of Kashmir] were sold to Raja Gulab Singh [of Jammu, in 1846]. They did not know they had been bought for a few lakh rupees. They did not know that they had been robbed of their statehood, their identity in fact. Kashmir has a great tradition right from the ancient days, of Sanskrit, Persian, Buddhism and what have you. It is a crucible. Kashmir was at the crossroads of many, many cultures and faiths. Ideas developed there. If you take out the Sanskrit tradition of Kashmir, only 25 per cent remains of the rest of India. That is Kashmir’s contribution to literature, language, poetry and historiography.

And we also have the tradition of Sultan Zainul Abidin.

Yes, that is another tradition. Today, I feel Kashmiri leadership deteriorated from thereon. In a way, the contemporary Kashmiri leadership is also responsible for the mess. They are stuck on one thing.

Diplomacy and politics are a game of patience. You had these windows open, certain ventilators. But they were never capitalised on. I look at the youth. They have no future ahead of them. The boys who come from Kashmir to study here [in Delhi]—you will not believe how they muster the funds to finance their studies. There is widespread poverty. There is no business there, no industry. They are dependent on tourism for funds. Now the tourists have also gone away. The Amarnath yatra is quite a money-spinner. It was extended this year. But that is not the tradition. The tradition is only for 15 days.

Amarnath yatra

This year, just before the announcement of the bifurcation in Parliament, the Central government asked the Amarnath pilgrims to go back, citing terror threats. But now it appears to have been to push their agenda through. Maybe they had threats. I am not disputing that. This is not the first time the threat has been issued, but the yatra has always gone on. It is a great tradition. Who mans it? All the Muslims man it. The yatris who are unable to walk, the Muslim boys take them on their shoulders to the cave and bring them back. It is not an ordinary tradition. It is a rare tradition. It is symbolic of what Kashmir stands for.

One final question. There have been televised images and print media photographs of Kashmiri Pandits celebrating the government’s decision. It seems like everybody wants to go back, buy property there, settle down.

I am sorry, I am not part of that. I cannot say anything about those Pandits, or those images. The media are also responsible. I see many photographs floating around, manipulated to give legitimacy to a certain narrative. What will they do after the celebrations? Can they go back? They have lived for 30 years over here. What is left if they go back?

Can they go back?

I have my own doubts. Even if you go back, you will be looked upon as an outsider. They will see that you came as an invader this time. Ultimately, you have to live with people. For how long can you rely upon security personnel? Will the camaraderie of earlier days be there? There is a Kashmiri tradition under which a Hindu’s life was tied with that of a Muslim. A Muslim was responsible for giving the Hindu his first haircut, and for his cremation too. No legal change can ensure those things.

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