‘What if we lose everything till K-issue is resolved’

Singer Waheed Jeelani discusses his foray into politics
Photo of Singer Waheed Jeelani with Dr Farooq Abdullah
Photo of Singer Waheed Jeelani with Dr Farooq Abdullah

After giving 30 years to the field of music and art, WaheedJeelani would often feel happy on his personal success but at the same timedespair at the collective failure of the sector in Kashmir. Even as hispersonal career zoomed and he became one of the top notch artists in Kashmir,the situation with regards to art, music, literature and culture remainedeither stagnant or in certain areas went from bad to worse.

 "At a certain point oftime, when a person achieves individual success, he strives for the uplift ofthe hand that feeds him. I too tried a lot on my part to promote art andculture. We have been successfully holding Shashrang musical festival for manyyears. Similarly I also provided platform and guided many individual artists,all in the hope that this sector will flourish," said Waheed who besides beinga singer and musician is also a cultural activist.

Photo of Singer Waheed Jeelani

Waheed says that all the years he has been lobbying with the successive governments over various projects related to art and culture, but all in vain. "Many mainstream leaders are themselves art lovers, but at the end of the day even they don't take our suggestions seriously.

For every small thing we have to knock the doors of politicians and bureaucrats. Sometimes work is done upto a certain degree but on most of the occasions, culture takes a backseat," lamented Waheed. "So after years of running from door to door and trying to explain people at the helm of affairs that culture is not just Rouf dance before dignitaries, I thought enough is enough."

Much like few other leaders who have plunged into thepolitics with the same logic, Waheed too realised that the real power lies withthe politicians and all others are powerless. On January 14, the singer of DuayKhaer Karus Pot aalaw dis, joined National Conference.

 "When you have beenworking here for around 30 years and tried every possible way to help yourcommunity or uplift any sector, a gradual realisation dawns on you that unlessyou wield some power nothing changes here," said Waheed while trying to explainhis joining of politics. "Here everything gets linked with politics. I am toosmall a person to talk about Kashmir resolution. I cannot help in solvingKashmir problem but only thing I can do is to preserving the art and culture ofKashmir."

Waheed says that he has taken a huge risk by joining the politics only for the sake of his art community. "Somebody had to take the lead otherwise things are not going to change here.

Friends and relatives advised me against joining politics warning me that I am putting myself at risk," said Waheed adding that art and culture needs dire attention to prevent irreparable damage. "What if till the time Kashmir issue is resolved, we had lost all historical places, manuscripts, art, craft and historical legacy. We will be like a blank slate despite having 5000 years of history. It is the nightmare that I want to avoid."

Waheed now conducts almost daily sessions with artists and his friends at Nawa e Subah complex to discuss the future course of action. Asked what is the biggest problem faced by artists in Kashmir, Waheed says it is the livelihood. "There is almost no source of livelihood for artists here.

Many have left the field and others are doing odd jobs too make the ends meet. The new generation is also reluctant to join the field," said Waheed. "We have three biggest sources of income. The first and biggest one was DD Kashir. Then we have North Zone Cultural Centre (NZCC) and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). All of them have been closed down."

Waheed and other artists have been demanding for years with both state governments and central government for resumption of DD Kashir. According to him around two lakh people right from artists to technicians and other workers were associated with the field and now all of them are jobless.

DD Kashir stopped making any new programmes in 2010 and since then it has been either re-telecasting old programmes, films, songs. There have been number of protests demanding resumption of DD programmes, but all in vain.

Same has happened with NZCC and ICCR, which used to provideplatform and avenues to local artists, but were closed down after a shortstint.

 "We had been lobbying with government to talk to centre and open the tv channel. The previous chief ministers and ministers wrote letters to Centre, but nothing happened.

These half hearted measures wont work. State government needs to take up the matter with Union ministry of culture to sort out the issue for the survival of artists and talent here," said Waheed. "Families were destroyed when DD Kashir stopped commissioning programmes. People had taken loans and sold property to be associated with the channel. Even I left my government job when DD Kashir was launched. Every dream was crushed."

With no platform, Waheed feels that the talent in Kashmir is going to waste. "We have almost lost Sufiyana Kalam, various forms of Bande Paether, Kashmiri Qawwali, Kashmiri drama, traditional musical instrument players and other genres of art are equally in danger.

Our youngsters have no idea about Kashmiri music and without guidance they are infusing western influence in it. I am not against any type of music but we have to preserve whatever is our tradition in purest form," said Waheed. "If NC comes to power, we will be working on all these fronts. Make a culture policy and work from ground level in districts. We want to build a system or calendar of events which will become a norm no matter which government is in place."

About choosing NC over other parties, Waheed says that bothDr Farooq and Omar Abdullah are art lovers and the party has also done a lot inthis field previously. "I had been in talks with various political parties formore than a year and ultimately I thought NC is best to safeguard art andculture of Kashmir. In its previous stint they had worked on Tehzeeb Mahal, Artgallery, Coffee House for artists and other such projects," said Waheed. "Wewill revive all such projects if NC comes to power."

Terming digitisation as his focus after the culturalcalendar, Waheed says that in this global village it is unfortunate that weare  yet to introduce translations oflegends like Shamas Fakir to the world. "We have a huge tranche of manuscriptsand precious writings which should be taken to the world to benefit. Even oursingers like Tibetbakal, Kaleenbaaf need to be preserved in digital form forposterity. All this is possible by digitisation at a massive scale," saidWaheed while deliberating his ideas and banking on NC to come to power for themto come to fruition.

`On participating in elections, Waheed says that it is uptoparty leadership to decide who will get the mandate and who will not. "I didn'tjoin politics to participate elections, I want to help in whatever way I can.For me building auditoriums, art galleries and preserving art and culture ismore important than anything else," said Waheed.

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