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Attack on Kashmir play sets up test for Rajasthan CM Gehlot

Vandals force Eidgah ke Jinnat off the stage in Jaipur, compel director Abhishek Majumdar to leave city

By Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi
  • Published 21.02.19, 2:46 AM
  • Updated 21.02.19, 8:46 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
A moment from the play, Eidgah ke Jinnat. Picture courtesy: Abhishek Majumdar

Several eminent theatre personalities have appealed to Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot to ensure that a play on Kashmir returns to the stage again after right-wing activists forced its withdrawal and ransacked the state-run performance centre in Jaipur on Tuesday.

The protesters forced Abhishek Majumdar, the Bangalore-based writer and director of the play Eidgah ke Jinnat, to change his flight tickets and leave Jaipur.

The theatre personalities, including eminent dramatists Arundhati Ghosh, Sanjna Kapoor, Sudhanva Deshpande, Sunil Shanbag and Neel Chaudhuri, said the play’s cancellation had left them “shocked and saddened”.

“The true test of any democracy is in enabling difficult conversations about issues on which there is difference of opinion among various people,” the signatories said on change.org in their online petition to the Congress leader.

“Today, more than ever before there is need for all to consider the Kashmir issue with compassion and sensitivity, not aggression and jingoism. Abhishek’s play does exactly that…,” the signatories said, possibly alluding to the complaints of assault, intimidation and show of aggression in the name of condemning the Valentine’s Day Pulwama attack that left 40 CRPF personnel dead.

“We call upon the government of Rajasthan to ensure the safety and security of all those involved in the play, as well as the staff and premises of Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur…. We fervently hope that theatre lovers in Jaipur will get the opportunity to watch, discuss and debate this play. That is the democratic way.”

Among those who led the right-wing activists was Suraj Soni — a Jaipur resident who was in the news in 2015 for disrupting the display of an inflatable cow to highlight the danger of polythene bags for bovines.

The play, a translation of Majumdar’s critically acclaimed The Djinns of Eidgah (2012) that has played at London’s Royal Court, is a result of months of interviews of Kashmiri youths and security personnel in the state.

“The lines objected to are actually verbatim from a soldier, whose permission I have to quote him. Soldiers want to be heard, but these goons don’t want to hear him,” Majumdar told The Telegraph.

The play, he said, is about the lives of young people, including security personnel, in the middle of militancy. “It’s about stone-throwers, kids who have to go to Srinagar’s mental hospital, the pressure on a young Kashmiri who doesn’t want to pelt stones but is finally compelled to... there are also two CRPF policemen who are there to protect Kashmiris but realise that Kashmiris don’t like them.”

The line objected to is one in which a CRPF constable tells another to turn off the Hanuman chalisa playing on his mobile while they stand near an idgah.

The play had been screened for the media on Sunday. A public screening was held on Monday but some people left the hall during the interval and complained to staff at the theatre that they objected to some lines.

On Tuesday, after a report in a Hindi daily, police visited the venue and convinced Majumdar to withdraw the play because of security concerns.

Later in the afternoon Majumdar addressed a director’s meet and fielded questions from the audience — who included some of the protesters — and explained what his play was about.

But a mob gathered around 2.30pm. “We were in the dormitory (at the venue) when a mob gathered outside. The staff quickly escorted us out through the back gate. Video footage shows them walking around the dorm and raising slogans in the presence of the police. The tore the display flexes and blackened our names on the posters,” Majumdar said.

“I had to change my flight tickets and leave Jaipur. In the evening, I was told that they searched cars near the venue for me.”

Majumdar has not complained to the police, and no action has been taken yet in the case.

The protestors have demanded an FIR against the director.

Majumdar, who made several trips to Jammu and Kashmir to write the play, said goons were using Pulwama for visibility.

“They don’t care about soldiers… I took a huge risk to write the play in Jammu and Kashmir. One can’t imagine the conditions in which stone-throwers and CRPF men live,” he said. “But, back to normal life in mainland India, goons run the show.”

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