Home Articles & Books Tribute to Waqar Khan

As Waqar says, "I felt that I needed to do my bit to bring people together again and restore peace and mutual trust. Aside from involvement in grassroots activities, such as meetings and cultural events, I felt that the media could be an influential way of reaching people and getting them to think of peace and amity. I thought of the idea of making a poster with four children of different religions, to bring out the essential oneness of all of us, however different we may be in terms of culture or religion." Along with Bhau Korde and Arif Khan, a local photographer, Waqarbhai created a photograph. As he could not find anyone willing to shave his head for the role of the Hindu priest, he got his own son to do the needful. This photograph was converted into stickers and large posters. This activity was entirely self-initiated and self-funded. The Dharavi Mohalla Committee took up the poster for wider dissemination. It was released by the Police Commissioner at a function attended by police officers at various levels and other citizens involved in Mohalla Committee work. The sticker was widely recognised and disseminated. It was put up in every police station in Mumbai and also written about in the press. Waqarbhai printed several editions of this sticker, using his own resources. So far, approximately 100,000 posters and stickers have been distributed all over India.

 

Subsequently, Waqar and Bhau decided to make a public service commercial for TV with the same message, as they felt that it was a medium with a wide reach. With the help and guidance of Bhau, Waqar scripted, produced and financed this spot, which was filmed in June 2001, with the participation of the citizens of Dharavi, including 300 children, other artistes and other professionals, such as cameraman, dress and makeup men, spot boys, director and so on. Three versions of the spot Ekta Sandesh were made. With the help of Mr. Ribeiro, Waqar and Bhau approached Prasar Bharati and it was accepted and shown on Doordarshan's National Network from late February 2002, for a period of approximately 3-4 months. This initiative received both press and television coverage.

The success of this spot encouraged them to produce an hour long video, which uses relevant excerpts from Bollywood films, along with interviews of eminent persons such as Mr. Ribeiro, Mr. Sawhney, music director Ravindra Jain and Mr. Ameen Sayani, in order to make a case for communal amity. This film has been widely screened and distributed. It has been shown in slum neighbourhoods on the occasion of festivals, by various mandals. Several thousand VCD copies of this have been distributed. Waqar and Bhau have also produced and distributed audio CDs and cassettes containing Mr. Ram Puniyani's talk, based on his writings for communal amity. Over 2000 audio cassettes have been distributed so far. Waqarbhai was honoured by the government of Maharashtra with the Mahatma Gandhi Award for Secularism last year.


After the November attacks in Mumbai, Waqarbhai was active in various peace initiatives. He produced posters, a short film, participated in several meetings and rallies and worked tirelessly for the cause of communal amity.

The Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has documented the inspiring work of Waqar Khan and Bhau Korde in the film Naata (The Bond), which was also telecast by NDTV 24x7, after the Mumbai attacks. What is remarkable is that both of them have been able to mobilise local support and resources in order to create materials that have been popular with slum audiences. Often, media materials produced for communal harmony end up preaching to the converted. They reach a select, elite group of 'secular-minded' individuals. Waqarbhai and Bhau Korde have been able to appropriate the language and idiom of the popular to make a convincing case for communal amity that reaches audiences, which are often neglected by the secular media. Their media work is integrated with a commitment to ensure peace through various other means, such as holding local meetings, taking stands on issues, expressing a voice of moderation and tolerance. In the ultimate analysis, it is sustained and committed grassroots initiatives such as these which hold the promise of change and hope in these troubled times.

 

 

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