The South Asia Council at Cornell University will be screening Jashn-e-Azadi on April 10th, 2013 following which Sanjay Kak will be on a skype link to discuss the film with the audience.
For more on the event you can look at their page as well as on facebook
Archive for the 'Comments & Rants' Category
For Jashn-e-Azadi, this week begins with a screening on Feb 24th at Thrissur in Kerala, where it will show at the Vibgyor International Film Festival.
This will be followed by a screening at on Feb 27th at New York University, part of the South Asia Documentary Screening Series curated by NYU Libraries.
This has been a busy month: the last screening, organised by the student group AISA at the Delhi School of Economics, Dept of Sociology turned into an event far outside of itself. From the day it was announced, the screening was under scrutiny by the usual stalwarts of the Right Wing. (And the Deccan Herald began to describe the film as “Symbiosis banned”, whatever that means.) Although the usual suspects showed up to ‘protest’ the event, the picture accompanying the report in The Hindu makes clear that the ABVP (and the unfortunately named Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena) are not yet a major force on the Delhi University campus. (Estimates for that day varied from 15 to 20 youths)
But the reports in the Indian Express and particularly in The Times of India, draw attention to something remarkable that happened that afternoon on campus. Simply put, the Dept of Sociology stood its ground, and insisted upon its right to show such material as was thought appropriate for the students. Dr Nandini Sundar, Head of the department, read out to the students the letter written to the Proctor, which said that
“the film screening in question is a routine matter in our department, and it has never been the practice to take permission for such screenings which pertain to our academic program.”
In the face of this clear and unambiguous position, both the University authorities, and the Delhi Police were forced to support that stance. The Times of India quotes the Dy Commissioner Police (North), I B Rani’s quite significant response:
“Since it was a private screening, there was no need for students to seek permission from us. The film was shown inside the classroom. We had, however, decided to station our officers at the spot after getting intelligence inputs that certain groups might protest in the area.Though some protested outside the venue, we did not need to arrest or detain anyone”.
Later AISA issued a statement which can be read here on kafila.org
(Not many noticed that the same day as the Dept of Sociology screening, a smaller, more quiet screening was held by the Informal Discussion Group at St Stephen’s College. An excellent discussion followed… Different strokes work for different folks)
Perhaps there is a lesson in this for those at the Symbiosis College in Pune (and the Pune Police) whose reaction was to crawl when they were simply asked to bend. Our previous post has some of the links to that story, but in case you missed those you could start with the excellent coverage in The Hindu. If you want to draw cheer from the sad goings on in Pune, there is an excellent post by a student of Symbiosis, Akshat Jitendranath. We like to think that Akshat had been provoked by a commentary a few days earlier on the same site by the redoubtable Shuddhabrata Sengupta.
Kafila.org also carries an excellent account of a more samizdat screening held last week at Presidency College, Kolkata, posted by one its organisers, Waled Adnan. Apart from an ‘alert’ that appeared in the Indian Express, the coverage in the Kolkata editions of The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, and the Indian Express do give a sense of the possibilities of student action! All power to students!
As you can see, a busy week for a 5 year old film!
In this last week Jashn-e-Azadi has been in the news again, sparked off by the cancellation of a screening scheduled at the Symbiosis university in Pune. In the attendant fuss that always accompanies such incidents, one story keeps cropping up. On twitter, on television, and on the net. This refers to the cancellation of a screening of the film ‘And the world remained silent’, at an undergraduate college in Delhi in August 2007, and the role of Jashn-e-Azadi (and its makers, I suppose) in edging out this film.
That there was no truth in this allegation was made clear only a few days later by Sanjay Muttoo, visiting faculty at the same college, but this clarification from the teachers who had scheduled the screenings has obviously had little effect. (Truth, as we have heard said sometimes, is no defence!)
This week a respectable Mumbai newspaper, the DNA, once again repeated the same old story of how a screening of ‘And the world remained silent’ was pushed out by Jashn-e-Azadi. This falsehood was accompanied by a twitter rush that tried to reinforce that story. Obviously, there would be some people who may think there is some truth in the allegation. Sanjay Muttoo, who still teaches at the college, wrote a letter of clarification to the DNA, but it seems not to have found place there. He has now mailed us a copy, and we share it with those who have followed the exciting life of Jashn-e-Azadi!
Invoking the memory of a past event often necessitates the invoking of a counter-memory. I refer to the sequence of events Aditya Raj Kaul narrates to contend that a screening of Ashok Pandit’s film “And the World Remained Silent” in Delhi’s Kamla Nehru College was conspiratorially cancelled at the behest of “some powers”. He goes on to say that this was done to facilitate the screening of Sanjay Kak’s film Jashn e Azadi instead but “the Delhi police asked Kak not to break the law and the screening was cancelled.”
Implicit in this argument are some erroneous assumptions which I would like to contest invoking a `counter-memory’. Referring to Ashok Pandit’s film, Kaul says, “On the eve of the screening, the organisers called it off”. In stating this he would like us to believe that the college authorities had actually scheduled a screening of ‘And the World Remained Silent’ on August 24 and later reneged on this commitment. In fact, this allegation was also made by Rashneek Kher in a post on the Sarai Reader-List way back in August 2007. As visiting faculty in the department of journalism in Kamla Nehru College then and the person who had invited Sanjay Kak to screen his film ‘Jashn e Azaadi’, I cross-checked the facts with Anubha Yadav, the then Teacher in Charge responsible for taking decisions regarding screenings. She acknowledged that a request for screening Ashok Pandit’s film had been made but was quite emphatic in denying that the college had agreed to screen his film on August 24. So, the question of `some powers’ making sure that the screening of Ashok Pandit’s film was cancelled to accommodate Sanjay Kak’s film just did not arise.
Aditya Raj Kaul goes on to say that “as expected, the Delhi police asked Kak not to break the law and the screening was cancelled.” I am curious to know how the Delhi Police got to know in the first place that Mr Kak’s film was to be screened in Kamla Nehru College. It wasn’t a great secret but I wonder if the Delhi Police as a matter of routine policing monitors each and every film screening that each college organizes. Having agreed to screen the film, would the college authorities in some moment of insanity have themselves informed the police and invoked a direction from them not to do so? Or was it that activists from ‘Roots in Kashmir’ complained to the police and got the screening of Sanjay Kak’s film cancelled ? This question begs an answer, an answer that might contain clues to why the police asked Kak to cancel the screening.
Kaul says that Jashn e Azadi’ has “been denied a public screening certificate from the censor board.” I am quite intrigued by this statement of his. As far as I know and I have checked this up with Sanjay Kak, he has not once applied for a censor certificate. So, where does the question of his film being “denied a public screening certificate from the censor board” arise? Is Kaul just ill informed or has he been too lazy to verify his facts……or is he choosing to deliberately peddle a lie? I will be happy to be corrected if Kaul can substantiate this claim of his. Till that happens, I will continue to wonder if this is a tactical move in the larger gameplan of trying to attack the film using the bogey of ‘illegality’ whenever it is scheduled for a screening to try and make it invisible in the public domain?
Sanjay Muttoo, New Delhi Feb 2, 2012
Last week screenings of Jashn-e-Azadi took place in Beijing and Shanghai. This was part of the West Heavens initiative, developed, as its website tells us, ‘to foster closer understanding of India through contemporary art and scholarship, and develop cross-cultural dialogue based on visual culture and notions of Asian modernity’.
It’s probably appropriate that a contentious film on Kashmir should be part of a section called “You Don’t Belong”! (To be fair, the full title of the event goes on to say: Pasts and Futures of Indian Cinema & India-China Dialogue on Film and Social Thought.) Curated by the film-scholar Ashish Rajadhyaksha, the film event saw more than 30 films screened across 4 cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guanzhou, Kunming – and at multiple venues in each city. Most remarkably, all the films had Chinese subtitles allowing the audiences a remarkable level of access.
In Beijing Jashn-e-Azadi was shown at the Beijing Film Academy, which hosted the section on The Documentary: Testimony, Home, City. The BFA, like everything that we encountered in this brief week in China, is huge, has massive infrastructure, and although modelled rather closely on the film school in Moscow (more properly known by the acronym VGIK), seems very much to be riding the boom that China is currently experiencing. First world facilities, and more than 3000 students. What was surprising for the documentary screenings was the turnout: students, faculty, and members of a film club that the BFA hosts, all showed up from the first day, and the vast auditorium (it was the “medium” one we were told) was always comfortingly full. The Jashn-e-Azadi screening was followed by what was billed as “Filmmakers’ Round Table 1: Documentary Images and the Language of Rights”, hosted by Zhang Xianmin, who is a professor at the BFA, teaching Screenwriting and documentary, and highly respected for his work in promoting the independent Chinese film. The other panelist was the very successful documentary film-maker Zhao Liang. (For more on him, you could read about his much applauded five and a half hour film Petition, or turn to this interesting profile in the New York Times).
In Shanghai Jashn-e-Azadi was screened at the Shanghai Film and TV Literature Library, a remarkable public institution where people are already queing up at 10am to enter, read periodicals and books, watch films… In a city made almost grotesque by its spectacular success with capitalism, its these last vestiges of a former socialist experiment that made one a little less despondent. The audience here was mixed too, some students, but a lot of what we would call ‘ordinary’ people. The post-screening discussion was hosted by the theatre director Zhang Xian, one of the earliest independent Chinese playwrights in the Post-Mao Era. (In the discussion he identified himself as an anarchist…)
While the audience at both back venues had negligible background on Kashmir, they responded with a remarkable openness, alert not just to the particular historical event they were witnessing, but also to the aesthetic form through which the film was trying to address it. One of the most remarkable conversations I have had about Jashn-e-Azadi was with a journalist from the Chinese language newspaper Oriental Morning Post in Shanghai. The paper has done almost a full page feature on the film, and although I would definitely NOT suggest Google Translate as a way of approaching the text, the incredibly nuanced questions put by Shen Yi made me feel that this piece of writing would really open out the film to a Chinese reader.
A somewhat delayed report, of a March 2011 screening at Nottingham University, sent in by Safoora Teli. Although I was not present, it’s a screening that I’ll always remember, because I woke up at 1.30am here in Delhi, timed to the end of the screening in Nottingham, and dragged myself in front of my laptop, to do what turned out to be an hour-long discussion on skype!
For the second time in the history of the University of Nottingham, Kashmir came to town. It arrived in the form of a film screening and was the second event in the ‘K’ Word initiative. The first had been a confrontational panel discussion in November 2010 where representatives of Kashmir, India and the British parliament were able to explore the conflict in Kashmir as manifest in the events of summer 2010. Nicknamed the ‘year of teenage killings’, 2010 saw 112 youths die in clashes with state security forces during civil protests. Whilst the story of Kashmir begins much earlier, the lives of these youths and the tangible unrest, stems from the late 1980s where murky politics and a rigged election led to an armed uprising in the valley. This was in turn, matched by heavy militarisation by India. Not relegated to the last century, Kashmir is still the most densely militarised zone in the world today with the ratio of military personnel to civilians last calculated at 1:7. Whilst such figures are always disputed, it is agreed that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and thousands disappeared, leaving behind a discordant society of the haunted, bewildered and traumatised. This is particularly apparent in the phenomenon of the ‘half-widow’. These women whose husbands and often sons have disappeared without a trace or an identifiable body are still calling for answers, recognition and investigation. The stigma around Kashmir is furthered by the generic advice in tourist guides to stay away from the troubled region and that particularly persistent would-be travellers should consult their embassy.
Whilst they may happily advise you on your travels, meaningful discussion on Kashmir has been actively bypassed by governments for years, with political envoys warned not to mention ‘the ‘K’ word’. India’s hyperbolic sensitivity means that comments on Kashmir are easily seen as interference with the ‘domestic problem’ of Kashmir. In the spirit of salvaging diplomatic relations therefore, most states keep silent. The UN too strayed into the firing line as in September 2010 Ban Ki-moon was forced to backtrack on a statement urging all sides to exercise restraint in Kashmir. This was- his office reassured India- an internal administrative error. In the spirit of countering the anti-logic of politicians and their institutions, the students involved in the ‘K’ Word decided to not only mention this ‘word’ but explain its contemporary relevance and expose the devastation on human life that sidelining Kashmir has caused.
We aesthetically pleased students always intended to use the medium of film to convey the story of Kashmir. Recognising its potential to express the message of the ‘K’ Word and draw the viewer closer to the reality of the people of Kashmir, I instinctively recalled the film Jashn-e-Azadi. Having had had the pleasure of being put in contact with the documentary’s film-maker Sanjay Kak in December 2010, I got a copy of the film, an endorsement for the event as well as agreement to a live-skype Q & A session at an awkward hour of the morning in India. So, on March 17th, I welcomed a melting pot of students and professionals hailing from regions worldwide including the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Kashmir and Palestine to Jashn-e-Azadi. The twenty-strong audience was smaller than anticipated especially in comparison to the one hundred and fifty of the previous ‘K’ Word event. However meagreness in quantity was compensated by remarkable quality as demonstrated by the extent and depth of questions posed to Sanjay.
Rather than recount the narrative of Jashn-e-Azadi in deserving detail, a just reflection of the evening is evident in the responses to the film. Although one restless attendee was unable to engage with the documentary, complaining that it was too long and consequently seen to depart during the interval, for the remaining attendees the experience was an evocative and moving one. How the viewers were affected and what they were provoked to ask Sanjay is telling and does not need interpretation.
A few shared their thoughts.
Y Mir, Masters student from Kashmir: “Thank you for the screening of this movie, it was just amazing. That many graves in Kashmir bear just a number showed the extent of the devastation. Showing the rush at mental clinics too was vital to demonstrate the high demand faced by the only mental clinic in Srinagar by Iqbal park. There are at times so many patients awaiting treatment that they overflow onto the main road. I have been shocked by these scenes in reality and felt appalled once more when seeing them in the film. However, with its slow pace, I can imagine that it would be difficult for someone not from Kashmir to understand the beautiful way in which it was made and the beauty of the amazing poems and phrases used to frame it. I was glad that Jashn-e-Azadi still speaks of hope, and keeps that kashmiriyat alive in the traditions and customs of the Kashmiri villages. Everything was beautiful. I think the film was successful in spreading awareness about the situation in Kashmir but then I’m someone who accepts the message of the movie. The thoughts of non-Kashmiris should be given more importance. Overall an amazing movie.”
“The world has stopped thinking about Kashmir. How many more should die to for it to be enough to for the world to break out of its ignorance of these unjustified deaths? Without even looking at the legal issues, it is vital to address what humanity and freedom means to Kashmiris”
L Holmolkova, Masters student and Human Rights Activist, Czech Republic: “The film went beyond a narrow definition of the long-lasting conflict and showed the problem from the point of view of people, victims and culture, which was excellent since I have a feeling that this is exactly the dimension that most of the world does not know today since there is not enough attention paid to Kashmir. Leaving the political issue aside and jumping straight to the ‘feeling’ of people living for decades under the threat of terrorist on one side and army on the other was really great. It is exactly as one of the people in the film said: “The story of Kashmir has not been told yet.” It has not been told from the point of view of people and the movie is an important step to let the world know.”
“I was particularly struck by the fact that regular people as well as activists had their houses burned down. The persistent impunity for things that- may I say- often go often beyond the crimes against humanity threshold is terrifying and requires attention. In contrast, the director introduces the film with scenes from the great tourist summer and tourist seasons in Kashmir. I initially could not understand why this was shown but I soon felt that this was demonstrative of how India promotes the area as a great tourist destination whilst neglecting the problems that people face there. I liked how the film mingled the past with the future, taking the picture of the whole situation beyond just the political dimension.
“The movie showed the lack of space for civil society and human rights activists to function in Kashmir. As Sanjay said, the limited base for local activists means that the possible role to be played by organizations from outside is also limited as is the level of trust for these organisations. Ultimately it would be nice to have a follow-up discussion because personally, the movie introduced something new to me in which I started to be very interested. I really hope to learn more about Kashmir. This film can certainly be used to attract more international attention, not to the political issue but to the victims of the persistent arguments over Kashmir.”
This week Jashn-e-Azadi was the closing film at the 2nd Nainital Film Festival, part of the ‘Pratirodh ka Cinema‘ (Cinema of Resistance) circuit of film festivals that have been so patiently (and brilliantly) put together by film-activists of Jan Sanskriti Manch. Fast growing into a legend on the alternative cinema circuit, the Gorakhpur Film Festival (already headed for its 6th edition) has spawned a series of clones all over Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Marked by a sharp curatorial sense, and a remarkable insistence on remaining unfunded (despite many offers of funding and sponshorship) the Cinema of Resistance festivals – and the many one-off screenings and workshops that they have encouraged – are a truly unique initiative in the democratisation of screening culture in India. (And perhaps in the world)
Jashn-e-Azadi has been shown–and allow us this little list–at the following ‘Pratirodh ka Cinema‘ events:
- 3rd Gorakhpur Film Festival , Feb 26, 2008
- 1st Bareilly Film Festival , Jun 8, 2008
- 1st Patna Film Festival, Dec 27, 2009
- 3rd Lucknow Film Festival, Oct 10, 2010
- 1st Jabalpur Saarthak Cinema Karyashala (Meaningful Cinema Workshop) jointly organized with Pahal parivaar, Sept 4, 2010
- 2nd Nainital Film Festival, Oct 31, 2010
(for those who can read devanagari, a brief report on the screening from the DewalthalPost)
Quietly upstaging all these remarkable screenings though, is one that we were not witness to. I’ve received a heart-warming report about it though, from Baijnathji, who mans the sales desk at all the ‘Pratirodh ka Cinema‘ events. Here is his account, in a quick translation:
27 April. Since 1995, every year 27 April refreshes the memories of a special day for my family, because that is the day our father died an untimely death. My father was simple by temperament, but in his personality there was a commitment to struggle. From the ordinary position as a laborer, he spent his life fighting against exploitation, injustice, and atrocities, and was always seen on the side of the oppressed.
After his death, a tradition has come about of organizing something in his memory on 27 April every year. Sometimes its a story reading, sometimes a discussion on the problems of farmers. But this year our doorway saw something quite different. We remembered him as we do every year, but in a different way. In the evening about 40-50 children, some young people and some old men and women were sitting there. On a table was a television. The children were thinking that a Bollywood film will start. The older people were hopeful that it would be the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. But when my brother set up the system, and ran it, what they began to see was Majid Majidi’s Iranian film “The Children of Heaven”. In just a little while the whispering amongst the crowd turned into silence. When it ended, there was a demand to run the same film again. But the fear of a power cut made it necessary for us to begin the second film.
Sanjay Kak’s “Jashn-e-Azadi” began. As the film went on, the silence began to break. Watching the scenes from the film people began to whisper amongst each other. After the film it was tea time. But the electricity turned it all dark. But despite this people sat on the matting outside at our doorstep till late at night talking about this film about Kashmir.
In this large village situated on the borders of Bihar, the little doorstep of our house saw a few educated young people, some children, lawyers and teachers engrossed in arguments and counter-arguments of the reality of Kashmir, and the women were even abusing the army. People were saying that such films should be shown all over the place.
son of late Virendra (“Vaikunth”) Mishra
Village Katiyan, Post Office Katkuiyan
Dist Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh
For those who can read Devanagari, here is the original report too: Enjoy!
२७ अप्रैल – प्रत्येक वर्ष १९९५ की २७ अप्रैल की यादें ताज़ा कर जाता है . यह दिन मेरे परिवार के लिए एक खास दिन होता है. क्योंकि इसी दिन हमारे पिताजी की असमय मृत्यु हो गयी थी . मेरे पिताजी का स्वभाव सरल एवं व्यक्तित्व संघर्षशील था . अपनी छोटी सी औकात में श्रमिक जीवन व्यतीत करते हुए, शोषण, अन्याय, व अत्याचार के खिलाफ हमेशा पीड़ितों के पक्ष में खड़े दिखाई देते थे .
उनके निधन के बाद प्रत्येक वर्ष २७ अप्रैल को उनकी याद में मेरे घर कुछ न कुछ आयोजन करने की परंपरा विकसित हो चुकी है . कभी कहानी पाठ, कभी कृषक समस्याओं पर विचार विमर्श हुआ करता था . लेकिन इस वर्ष मेरे दरवाज़े पर कुछ अलग ही दृश्य दिखाई दिया . प्रत्येक वर्ष की भांति इस वर्ष भी उन्हें याद किया गया लेकिन तरीका बदला हुआ था . शाम को कुछ ४०-५० बच्चे, कुछ युवक व कुछ वृद्ध पुरुष और महिलाएं बैठे हुए थे . सामने एक मेज़ पर टेलीविजन रखा हुआ था . बच्चे यह सोच रहे थे कि कोई बॉलीवुड कि फिल्म चलेगी . वहीँ उम्रदराज़ लोग रामायण या महाभारत देखने कि आस लगाये हुए थे . लेकिन मेरे भाई ने टेलीविजन का सिस्टम ठीक करके उसे चलाया तो माजिद मजीदी की ईरानी फिल्म “द चिल्ड्रेन ऑफ़ हेवन” का नज़ारा दिखाई देने लगा . कुछ ही समय बाद आपस की फुसफुसाहट मौन रूप में बदल गई . फिल्म के समाप्त होने पर उसी फिल्म को दोबारा चलाने की मांग उठाने लगे . लेकिन बिजली काट जाने की आशंका को देखते हुए दूसरी फिल्म दिखाया जाना आवश्यक था .
संजय काक द्वारा निर्देशित डॉकुमेंटरी “जश्न-ए-आज़ादी” आरम्भ हुई . और फिल्म ज्यूँ- ज्यूँ आगे बढती गयी लोगों की ख़ामोशी भी टूटती गयी . फिल्म के दृश्यों को देखकर लोग आपस में एक दूसरे से काना फूसी करना आरंभ कर दिए . फिल्म के समाप्त होने के पश्चात चाय का दौर प्रारंभ हुआ . लेकिन बिजली नें अँधेरा कर दिया. बावजूद इसके लोग देर रात तक मेरे दरवाज़े पर चटाई पर बैठे-बैठे देर रात तक कश्मीर पर बनाई इस फिल्म के बारे में चर्चा करते रहे .
बिहार सीमा पर स्थित मेरे बड़े से गाँव के मेरे छोटे से दरवाज़े पर कुछ किसान, कुछ पढ़े-लिखे युवक, बच्चे, वकील और अध्यापक जमकर कश्मीरी हकीकत पर आपस में तर्क वितर्क करते रहे और महिलाएं तो सेना को गलियां भी दे रही थी . ऐसी फिल्म को लोग कह रहे थे कि जगह-जगह दिखाया जाना चाहिए.
पुत्र स्व: वीरेन्द्र (उर्फ़ वैकुण्ठ) मिश्र
ग्राम: कटियाँ , पोस्ट: काटकुइयां
जिला: कुशीनगर (उ.प्र)
We’re happy to post a ‘report’ on the screening of Jashn-e-azadi on August 6, 2010, at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, San Jose , CA. The event was sponsored by Culture & Conflict Forum and co-sponsored by San Jose Peace and Justice Center. The discussion was moderated by Yasmin Qureshi, whose account of her trip to Kashmir in August 2009, The fate of Kashmir, some of you may already have read on Counterpunch.
Yasmin has forwarded three email responses she received after the screening, and below that, the Q&A she conducted with the audience:
Jashn-e-Azadi was released in 2007 and it has taken me until now to finally watch it, thanks to a screening organized by the Culture and Conflict Forum at the San Jose Peace Center on Friday, August 3rd, 2010. It’s difficult to remember the details, the names and the incidents from the documentary, but the extraordinary impression one leaves with, an impression that continue to haunt long after the screening, is the pervasiveness of the Indian military and paramilitary presence in Kashmir and the universal opposition to it. It’s one thing to have heard that there are 700,000 troops deployed there, one soldier for every 15 Kashmiris; it’s quite another to see them everywhere, in the city square, the streets and alleys, the countryside. It’s also one thing to have heard about the opposition to this military presence, and quite another to witness, through this documentary, the manifestation of this universal opposition from women, men and children of all ages, with huge turn outs at protests, funerals and marches, and even a street play. And, in striking contrast, was the observance of Indian Independence Day by the military forces under conditions of curfew with deserted streets.
Whatever be one’s position on the question of Kashmir, one thing is for clear from watching this documentary, that this situation cannot continue. Not for long. That inevitably raises the question where to from here. That indeed must have been what prompted some of the lively discussion that followed the screening, even though the question itself is not raised in the documentary, let alone addressed in it. To have raised this question is perhaps the most important service that this documentary has done.
It is easy to frame the question in religious terms, Kashmiri Muslims versus Kashmiri Hindus, facile terms made to appear justified on account of the tragic displacement of Pandits from the Valleys and the roles played by Pakistan and the Afghan mujahedeen in promoting violence. But to do so would also be to ignore that to most Kashmiris, it is a struggle for freedom and national self-determination, a struggle in the making for over 500 years that gave rise to Kashmiriyat, the unity of Kashmiris of all religions, a struggle in which religion has not been the divisive factor that it is portrayed to be in India.
The first half of the film was like watching a thriller and left me spellbound! It moved so fast. There were 4 parallel tracks or stories – one of the old man searching for his son’s grave which was very touching, covering the militant resistance and what it did. Second the man surveying and documenting number of deaths. Third the arrogant attitude of Indians, as if they own and control Kashmir through the tourists and later through the pilgrims. Lastly the play which is very important as it explains the 100s of years of colonization and how Kashmiris were docile then but are now determined to fight for self determination. The history is important to understand why kashmiris want freedom.
The scene of the women walking in the mosque followed by prayers in the snow was very surreal. The first half was complete in itself and maybe the Q&A session should have been then instead of in the end. It would have given more time for discussion. The scenes were going back and forth which may have been confusing for someone who doesn’t know much about the history and sequence of events.
The film is not a comprehensive analysis of the Kashmir situation.. And it is not a straightforward narrative; (often, there wasn’t much narrative.. and in that regard it reminded me of Amar Kanwar’s Night of Prophecy). there are no easy answers, or clear sides that one can easily take. The film touched a nerve in me on many levels. In parts I wasn’t sure what the director was getting at. For example he hints at the plight of the pandits, and the religious dimension of the resistance; but doesn’t make any further comment on it. One thing came through loud and clear, though – it showed what an occupation by the Indian army looks like (and it does not look pretty).
The shots of Srinagar during Indian independence day were especially telling. If you have to put the entire city under lockdown in order to “celebrate” your independence, you aren’t having much “independence”, are you? And this is why it is probably an important movie to watch.
I think that the film – or the half of it that I saw- did not have much focus. Not because of any fault of the director but because of the need to show the film to a larger audience in India, the director perhaps was constrained to come out and show what he truly belivies to be the issue at stake. This lack of focus, in my view, is a direct measure of the sorry state of affairs vis a vis Kashmir in India. There is a dire need to keep the focus on Kashmir issue in and out of India by people like the director of this film who care for the people of Kashmir.
It showed very well the beautiful people and the beauty of the region but also the poverty and violence. But the film was very long and confusing — it kept switching back and forth between different incidents of violence, interviews with people.
Question and Answer session
(Questions were answered by Yasmin Qureshi, member of Culture and Conflict Forum. She had visited the Kashmir valley in August 2009.)
Q: What was the message of the film?
A: Well, the director Sanjay Kak leaves it to the audience really. His objective was to bring out the voices of the people of Kashmir since we rarely read about them in the media and open an avenue for discussion on the issues and aspirations of the Kashmiris. Back in 2007 the word azadi for Kashmir was shocking for Indians. As a Kashmiri Sanjay wanted to make a film about the people there and what they feel.
Q: It is true the media doesn’t cover the Kashmiri Muslims but it also doesn’t cover
the pundits either. How do you justify the killing and migration of 100,000 pandits?
A: I disagree the media doesn’t cover the pundits. In fact most articles published in India on Kashmir address this issue. What they don’t cover is what the army is doing there, the murders, missing people, rapes and what the people there want and why. Recently Shivam Vij had a detailed article on the pundits living in Delhi area in kafila.org.
Yes, what happened to the pundits is unjustifiable. And certainly Pakistan and the Afghan mujahedeen had a role to play as Kashmiris started crossing borders to get training in the 90s. The people I spoke to in the valley last year wanted them to come back. People there at this point are not in favor of a militant resistance.
Q: You mentioned the media and I am comparing to the media coverage of Palestine in Israel.
How is the Indian media coverage?
A: As I mentioned earlier, Kashmir is not covered well in the Indian media. Discussing aspirations of Kashmiris is taboo. For example, no one wanted to publish my article, Democracy Under the Barrel of a Gun in India. The media does write about the presence of army and that the Indian govt needs to deal with it but what they don’t cover is what the militarization has done to the society. Or the root causes such as the annexation, as Kashmiris say, The Brahminical rule of India’. Mass graves were found, many women have been raped. This is not covered very well not just by Indian media but also the international media. There isn’t a discussion on what and why Kashmiris want azadi and what it means.
Siddharth Varadhrajan wrote an article recently on the protests in Hindu. He mentioned the elections of 2008. What he didn’t mention is that Kashmiris participated in them more to vote for local governance issues and not anything to do with future of Kashmir or rule of Indian state. However, the media presented the 60% turnout as a vote of endorsement of the rule of Indian state and the Kashmiris felt betrayed. Partly why we see the kind of massive protests since 2008 is this.
Q: But what about the militant movement in Kashmir? If it got independent they would take
A: The argument that Indian army shouldn’t leave or Kashmiris shouldn’t be independent because the militants will take over to me is similar to the argument that US shouldn’t leave Iraq or Afghanistan. Isn’t that what was said even during the Vietnam war?
At this point it is really a people’s movement – students, youth, women, ciivilans. The people saw what the militant movement did to them and how the Indian army dealt with it. Almost every family was impacted by it, killed, tortured or in custody. Also they see the power of the protests. I had asked the same when I went to the valley last year. What people said was the militant groups are not that prominent now and they don’t need a militant resistance anymore. I spoke a friend just two days ago to ask the same question since I knew someone would ask. He narrated an incidence. Two militants came to join a protest in a village but the people pushed them out!
Q: Why is the Indian govt’s attitude so belligerent? Is it because of the vote bank they may lose?
A: There are many reasons. Yes, the vote bank is certainly an important one. Kashmir is the only state with a majority Muslim population and they want freedom from India! So they want another partition?
Kashmir is considered ‘Bharat ka atoot ang’ and to discuss anything about autonomy or
independence leads to the question about further disintegration of India in the east for example or how it would impact other insurgencies such as in central tribal areas. Also the fact that it borders with Pakistan. The argument is ‘if we reduce troops Pakistan will invade’. But then have troops on the border. What is the justification for troops or police in a crowded city like Srinagar? If the argument is to protect pundits, most of them are no longer in the valley. So who is it protecting?
There isn’t a great willingness on either sides to deal with this issue even though it is the most important from a geo-political angle. Also, Kashmir is rich in natural resources, source of water and India wouldn’t want to give those up.
[ Someone from the audience expanded on the ‘only muslim majority state’ by giving the history of the Dogra rule and how Maharaja Hari Singh annexed Kashmir(and that it was conditional) without taking the opinion of the Muslim majority and how that was the opposite of what happened in other princely states like Junagarh or Hyderabad where the majority was Hindu and the ruler was Muslim and the vote went the will of the majority population.]
For all those who are following events in Kashmir, a comment written by me on a relatively new phenomenon:
But now an unfamiliar new photograph of the Kashmiri woman has begun to take its place on newspaper front pages. She’s dressed in ordinary salwar-kameez, pastel pink, baby blue, purple and yellow. Her head is casually covered with a dupatta and she seems unconcerned about being recognized. She is often middle aged, and could even be middle-class. And she is carrying a stone. A weapon directed at the security forces…
To read the full piece, do take a look at the Times of India of Aug 8, 2010
While the English language newspapers and television channels have had some coverage of the recent events in Kashmir (of course, with all their biases intact) the valley continues to be strangely absent from the other language media. An interesting exception is a comment by the veteran Hindi journalist and writer Priyadarshan, which appeared in a recent issue of the tehelka hindi magazine. The piece is called Yahan sey Kashmir ko dekhiye – Look at Kashmir thus.
Since it refer’s to Jashn-e-Azadi, here’s an unauthorised translation of the opening paragraphs of Priyadarhan’s piece:
Watching the protests in Kashmir on television, making ones way through the arguments on whether they were sponsored or spontaneous, I remembered Sanjay Kak’s documentary film on Kashmir, Jashn-e-Azadi. There is plenty in that film – funerals that turn into processions for Azadi, and Independence day functions celebrated by the government institutions. In the middle there are the security forces too, distributing radios amongst ordinary people, trying to establish a relationship with them.
What struck me most in the film was how a procession or a funeral on the road in Kashmir suddenly electrifies the whole atmosphere. You then see people on the roads screaming out slogans, women weeping and beating their breasts, and young men with clenched teeth and raised fists, as if eager to escape from the very limits of the screen.
When there is a government program on the other hand, the air is heavy, the roads deserted, the chairs look empty and sad, and fearful people are seen clapping – as if the event had been forced upon the people.
Seen thus, if the stone-pelting and protests in Kashmir are sponsored and organized, then peace is even more sponsored…
I found this last line particularly perceptive, and a useful way to understand the long months of ‘peace’ in Kashmir, which confuse many Indians about what is really going on in that place.
Tags: Amitava Kumar, PEN America
Amitava Kumar, writer and academic, has a new story out in PEN America, described as “a journal for writers and readers”. A Collaborator in Kashmir is a troubling account of a journey that Amitava makes to Sopore in north Kashmir to meet with Tabassum Guru, wife of Afzal Guru, the man sentenced to death for his part in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. It makes a welcome addition to the unmasking of the terrible apparatus of oppression that has been spawned in the last two decades of military occupation in Kashmir.
I quote a passage from the piece here, because it connects Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul with our own Srinagar:
Reading those words I thought again of Srinagar. I had flown in from “a rich Western city,” and everything there looked drab to me, draped in a dirty military green. Every house that was new looked gaudy and vulgar or curiously incomplete. Many structures were shuttered, or burnt black, or simply falling down due to disrepair. Pamuk writes that those who live in Istanbul shun color because they are grieving for a city whose past aura has been tarnished by more than a hundred and fifty years of decline. I believe Pamuk was also describing plain poverty.
Jashn-e-Azadi had shown me another Srinagar. The film’s richness lay in the space it created, in the viewers mind, despite the violence, for thought and for color. The filmmaker had discovered again and again in the drabness of the melancholy the gleam of memory: the memory of blood on the ground, of the beauty of the hills and red poppies, of the keening voices of mothers, and painted voices of village performers. Also the memory of the dead, of falling snow, of new graves everywhere, and the shining faces crying for freedom.
Others have spoken to me of a sense of connection between Pamuk’s evocations of Istanbul and Kashmir, but Amitava Kumar evokes that synapse with grace and unusual intelligence.