Legal & Environment Awareness using Folk Theatre

Rayees & his group create mass awareness on Environment, Waste Management, RTI & other legal issues.

Rayees, 29, belongs to the Kashmiri Bhand community and has been actively creating awareness on various social issues through his plays. In the past, Rayees mostly focused on issues such as dowry, women’s rights, health issues etc, but after we met, sometime in 2015, he became familiar with many pro-people legislations like RTI Act, Public Service Guarantee Act , Municipal Waste Management Rules (MSW Rules 2016) and other. Rayees decided to reach out to people through the medium of Bhand Theater, which is a typical Kashmiri folk theatre whose members belong to a community called Bhands. Rayees, who also belong to the Bhand community, is the traditional folk entertainer group found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In India and Nepal, most of the Muslim Bhand community members are no longer involved in their traditional occupation. However, in Kashmir, this small community has still preserved its traditions and its younger members are still folk entertainers.

Amalgamation of Modern Theatre & Band Paether

Over the last 5 to 6 years, Rayees and his group have given a novel touch to the age-old Band Paether, creating a cocktail mix with modern theatre. Rayees’ theatre group, the Tulkul Arts and Media Collective, has created awareness about the Right to Information Act, the J&K Public Services Guarantee Act, the National Food Security Act, the Solid Waste Rules, 2016, the Motor Vehicle Act, and many other rules and regulations.

I recall a seminar related to the Right to Information Act organised in 2018, in which Rayees and another theatre artist, Tanveer, had performed. This took place at a college in Srinagar. The then Chief Information Commissioner of the state Mr Khurshid Ganai was the chief guest at the event. He was so excited by the performance that he said, “What we could not do during this one-day seminar, Rayees and his colleague did within ten minutes.”

Rayees had told the audience how to file a right to information application, how to pay the application fees, file the first appeal if the information was denied, and then how to go for a second appeal too. The audience, mostly young students and teachers, also appreciated that live performance.

Awareness on Food Security Act

On 16 October 2020, which is marked as World Food Day, Rayees, his group, and activist volunteers of the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Movement assembled at the Press Enclave in Srinagar to protest against corruption and mismanagement in the Public Distribution System and the non-implementation of the National Food Security Act.

The Right to Food Act was extended to Jammu and Kashmir on 1 April 2016 (although Article 370 was still intact at the time), by the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government. This law provides a highly-subsidised ration of wheat flour at Rs. 2 per kg and rice at Rs. 3 per kg to about 75 lakh people in Jammu and Kashmir who have been listed as Priority Households.

Rayees has been instrumental in creating awareness about this law through the medium of theatre.

Awareness about Waste Management

Rayees and his team of young artists have created a lot of awareness on the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2016, and their implementation over the last few years. They are actively involved with the Information Education and Communication work done by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation as well. Besides, the group has been trying its best to sensitise people and the government on the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) programme, under which solid-liquid waste management activities are to be taken up in rural areas.

Wearing a traditional Kashmiri long gown known as pheran, with a garland of plastic trash (especially potato chip packets and PET bottles) Rayees has performed near the banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar on many occasions. This is his way of asking people not to litter in the lake and to keep it and the surrounding areas clean. He has been urging the government to implement the 2016 rules through his shows as well.

Bhand, a backward community

Rayees started working as an artist at the tender age of eleven. He learned Sufiyana music and plays the Kashmiri sitar as well. When he was around 17 years old and a student of the government higher secondary school at Wathoora, Rayees got a platform to showcase his talent.

While Rayees was a student at the Amar Singh College Srinagar as well, he performed in many street plays and Bhand Paether. Around this time, he joined the Actors Creative Theatre, Srinagar, where he got professional training on modern theatre. He has also done a post-graduate diploma in Folklore and Cultural Studies.

Rayees was approved as an artist by All India Radio Srinagar in 2015. Despite being a well-qualified young man, fit for a job in any prominent theatre group or cultural organisation run by the government, Rayees thinks his future in Kashmir is bleak.

“Bhands are registered as a backward class or Scheduled Caste in different states of India but unfortunately the Bhands of Kashmir do not have a surname ‘Bhand’. Thus we are deprived of reservations in education and government jobs. The Bhands are a rural community whose members traditionally did not own land. Nor are they employed in government service of any kind. Theatre art is dying and the Bhand community artists are working as farm labourers or construction workers to make ends meet. The government has not helped us at all. Even people like me, who are trying their best to keep Bhand theatre alive, get no support from authorities, especially the Department of Culture,” Rayees Wathori told this author

Bhand Theatre and Cultural Academy

Manzoor ul Haq is another renowned young Bhand actor. He is the youngest surnai and santoor player of Kashmir and is trying to keep Bhand Paether alive. He has similar feelings about the future of the community and its theatre. Manzoor alleges that not a single person from Bhand community has been appointed in the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages

Out of the 266 sanctioned posts in the institute, there is not even one post available for folk theatre trainers. “This is injustice towards us. Our community is educationally and economically backward, but we have to compete with people from highly-educated families. The result is that we live in abject poverty and our youngsters are not considering theatre as their profession,” said Manzoor while talking to this author


Theatre is a cultural phenomenon that demands that society examines itself in the mirror. We can study social problems and attempt to find solutions through art forms such as theatre. Coming together as a community to listen to opposing points of view is necessary for social progress. Folk theatre, above all, is the best medium to spread legal awareness, but it has just not been explored yet. Rayees and his organisation Tulkul Arts and Media Collective is trying its best to bridge this gap