'The banyan tree, where water cannons were used to disperse rioters, became the venue for the Rajasthan Kabir Yatra'
Rajasthan Kabir Yatra, India's longest travelling folk music festival, is underway from October 2-8. This 'pilgrimage' is co-hosted by Rajasthan Police under its Project Taana Baana. Poet saints of Rajasthan have helped the police to strengthen the warp and weft of communal amity. To know more about this initiative, Gaon Connection strikes up a conversation with Dr Amandeep Singh Kapoor, Director, Central Detective Training Institute, Jaipur, which is under the Bureau of Police Research & Development, Ministry of Home Affairs.
Pankaja Srinivasan 4 Oct 2022 11:46 AM GMT
Can you tell us how the Project Taana Baana started? It isn't usual for the police to co-host a folk music festival.
The journey of Project Taana Baana began in 2016 when I was SP (Superintendent of Police) Bikaner. Bikaner was smarting from the riots and hurting terribly. Local administration was looking for solutions. A need was felt to mend bridges in a way that involved the local communities.
Taana Baana was in a way acknowledging that there was a problem, and that it had to be tackled.
As it happened, it was around 2016-17, I had watched a documentary on an earlier Rajasthan Kabir Yatra [the first Yatra was organised in 2012], and the quality of it had appealed to me immensely. I mooted the idea of the police backing the Yatra in Bikaner.
Project Taana Baana rejuvenated Rajasthan Kabir Yatra that was struggling to stay afloat due to lack of support.
How did you involve the local communities in this project?
In Rajasthan there is something called Community Liaison Group, or CLG. It was an initiative that had become almost defunct. CLG was meant to help the police liaise with people at the local, panchayat and district level.
It was to be in close touch with the communities and it was to help the police keep a finger on the pulse of what was going on. Local communities and the police were to meet regularly to discuss matters, identify sensitive issues and find amicable solutions.
Having the Rajasthan Kabir Yatra in places that were communally sensitive or volatile seemed like a good way. And the slumbering CLG was woken up and put to work.
How did the rural communities respond?
In November 2015, Dungargarh, in Bikaner had seen terrible riots in the bazaar area. A venerable old banyan tree, a bargad ka ped, had witnessed the violence. So, when we decided to have the Rajasthan Kabir Yatra in Bikaner, we chose Dungargarh as one of the venues for the festival.
The previous year, the police had used water cannons to disperse the rioters. This year, the same water cannons were used to wash the tree and the performances took place beneath its canopy.
Arjun Ram Meghwal, who was a minister at that time, Union minister of state finance and corporate affairs, actually sang 'O Bejo Ranukaar Me Baaje'. We conducted the festival where the worst of the riots had unfolded, beneath the banyan tree.
Both Hindus and Muslims took it upon themselves to welcome the Yatra, they were the perfect hosts.
Music as a symbol of communal harmony – you agree?
There has always been a need for a way to counter terrorism, radicalism. While well meaning theories and narratives abound, and there are any number of papers on it, there was not much on how to convert these theories into practice.
Project Taana Baana has been one such experiment for Countering Violent Extremism, which is a global problem and it covers a vast domain.
The Rajasthan Kabir Yatra and Taana Basna have returned post COVID, and we chose Udaipur because of the recent communal strife.
Is there any larger assessment of this unique initiative – what's working, what's not?
Project Taana Baana is working with IIT [Indian Institute of Technology] Jodhpur to conduct a detailed study. Several researchers are collecting data from before, during and after the Yatra. They will apply psychometric tests, and see if the Yatra has had any lasting impact on people's psyche, or is the Yatra nothing more than a feel good event. The teams will visit places where the Yatras were conducted and compare the findings over two years.
Whatever results we get we will deliberate on it. It is a scientific and professional way of handling the road map and it shall be tweaked accordingly. This is no superficial exercise. This is something concrete and tangible.
Future plans and vision of Taana Baana
Kabir is but one of the threads of peace that Project Taana Baana has woven into its plans. More poets and saints will join in. Meera, Peepa, Dhanna… all those who contributed to Rajasthan's spiritual strength.
Through the Rajasthan Kabir Yatra and similar initiatives, we want to bring back pride and love in the communities for their homegrown spiritual poets.
We will engage communities with Project Taana Baana by promoting legendary poets from their areas. That is a great way to forge bonds.
It could be Meera Bai for women related issues. Why not conduct a Meera Yatra. We have police sakhis who can be involved in.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has also shown keen interest in this initiative. Police from other states have enquired about Taana Baana too as something they can replicate in their region.
The journey has been mesmerising so far. Every year we learn new things. I hope the Taana Baana becomes institutionalised. We plan to have a proper calendar.
Note: Dr Amandeep Singh Kapoor, an IPS officer, is based in Jaipur on deputation to the Ministry of Home Affairs.