Archive for the 'politics' Category



blog report – 21 days on the road (part 2)

(The concluding report of the preview screenings of Jashn-e-Azadi in the US.
To those who missed it, that was our whirlwind tour, 21 days, 9 cities, 12 screenings…)

Week II, began on Sep 27 with a screening in Philadelphia, hosted at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) by the South Asia Center, Cinema Studies and the Center for the Study of India. UPenn is a huge, huge university, and events are happening every day, sometimes several a day, and competing furiously with each other. The audience for Jashn-e-Azadi was therefore a relief, particularly because in that almost full room was a mix of graduate students (and faculty) as well as people from the wider Philadelphia community. Of course, the Q&A, moderated by Prof Ania Loomba, was as usual dominated by questions from the South Asians in the audience, and after 10 days of screenings, covered what had by now become familiar ground. But it was also an opportunity to once again lay out an insight that was always implicit in the way the film has been structured, but has taken firmer form in the months over which we have been screening the film: about the filters that protect Indians (and I suppose by implication, the rest of the world) from dealing with the reality of Kashmir.

First, Pakistan: how can you seek to understand, you are likely to be asked, much less sympathise with, a movement that has the support of a neighbouring (read: enemy) country, that gets guns, money and moral support from across the border. (Indians tend to forget their own part in the creation of Bangladesh, when Pakistan was at the receiving end of the troubles. That part is in fact remembered as glorious, India on the side of the freedom loving peoples, and against the oppressors!)
Second, Islamic Jihad: how can you have truck with a movement that is part of this terrible phenomenon of our times, this monstrous twin of the Taliban, and responsible, as Bush and Cheney tirelessly remind us, for all the ills of our planet.
Third, the expulsion of a minority: Where is the place to understand the desire for freedom of a people who themselves presided over (even engineered, it is suggested) such an event, this argument holding all Kashmiri muslims guilty for the displacement of the minority Kashmiri pandits from the Kashmir valley in the early 1990s.
The point is, all three filters are pegged on very real facts. And yet there is clearly something more happening in Kashmir, and that’s precisely the space that Jashn-e-Azadi is trying to excavate… trying to stare beyond the filters and reach a place that has been quietly hidden from view.

On Sep 28 there was a second screening in Philadelphia, as part of the Philadelphia Cinema & Media Seminar at Temple University. Not everyone in the small group in that room knew much (or anything) about Kashmir, so the Q&A was quite revelatory about how an audience that may not have any connections with the territory of the film can still engage with it. The screening had been organised by Prof Priya Joshi, film-scholar, and since her tiny baby (only a few months old!) accompanied her for the screening, she was able to watch just the first part of the DVD. So while the others watched the film, one sleepy baby, Priya Joshi and I sat outside the screening and enthusiastically discussed the form of the film and the possibilities of digital film-making: low-budget films that can come off smelling of scale, and production values that were impossible only ten years ago.

As we slipped into October, Jashn-e-Azadi became part of an unusual documentary “double-bill”, at the University of Texas at Austin. In commemoration of Gandhi Jayanti (his birthday) on Oct 2, the South Asia Institute screened what it described as:

“two films by Sanjay Kak that address the varied legacies of Indian nationalism and Gandhian nonviolence. Words on Water focuses on 20 years of non-violent struggle by the displaced farmers and tribals in the Narmada Valley, and on the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement). Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom) examines the violence of the last two decades in the struggle for azadi–freedom–in Kashmir’s complex history with India”.

The South Asia Institutes’ tradition of having real connections with the community in Austin, meant that both films played over two days before a lively audience at the excellent Avaya Auditorium. On Oct 1 we screened Words on Water, in association with AID (Association for India’s Development, Austin ) who have a tradition of active engagement with many social issues in India, and in particular with the struggle against large dams in the Narmada valley. And on Oct 2 we screened Jashn-e-Azadi. For me personally, the two films have always been connected in an integral way, both are a way of shining a light on the workings of Indian democracy, on its increasingly dark and opaque and dysfunctional machinery. But to see the films put together thus was exciting, even for me – both struggles 20 years old; one Gandhian and non-violent, the other armed and militant; and both with very little visible success against the implacable Indian State. This very productive idea of putting the two films together had come from Prof Kamala Visweswaran, who also moderated the discussion. When seen together, the questions around Jashn-e-Azadi quite naturally touched upon the dwindling space for the democratic right to struggle against injustice and oppression, and the place of militant struggles in todays world.

The Jashn-e-Azadi screening tour of the US wound down with two additional screenings that materialised almost at the last moment: on Oct 4 we screened at the Columbia University Journalism School, where the Society of Professional Journalists (and the Columbia Journalism School Class of 2008) were the hosts. Two old friends from Delhi helped to put it together, Vinod Jose, radio journalist and former editor of the short-lived but quite remarkable Malayalam language magazine Free Press, and now a student at CJS; and Basharat Peer, journalist, and alumnus of CJS, who moderated the discussion. Although it was a small group of us gathered in that room, and we had to move to another space for the Q&A, what followed was still quite intense. Although we began with talking about the film, with the usual format of questions being put to me, and answers, after some time it transformed into a dialogue amongst the viewers present. A complex and nuanced conversation, about minorities, about their place in Kashmir, about collective guilt and the possibility of communal absolution. At the end, even if there were no answers, we knew we had walked through a very valuable conversation.

The last screening on Oct 5 was at the College of New Jersey. We had only a very few people, in an auditorium with the most excellent picture and sound, but quite well suited for the completely exhausted state in which I had reached Ewing, New Jersey. So the Q&A happened over lunch, with my host Prof Nagesh Rao, and we talked about Kashmir’s place amongst the other struggles of the world.

And with that, the end of 21 days, 9 cities, 12 screenings.

blog report – 21 days on the road (part 1)

Last week, Jashn-e-Azadi finished a hectic round of preview screenings in the US and Canada, so time to do a little reporting.
(For the record, that was a whirlwind tour: 21 days, 9 cities, 12 screenings…)

The Sep 18 start was on a day properly auspicious (sheets of rain in Minneapolis until half an hour before the screening) as Jashn-e-Azadi played at the Bell Museum, at the center of the sprawling campus of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Until recently, the Bell hosted an active film club, so it continues to have a proper projection ambience, big screen, excellent sound (even 35mm projectors!). Despite the rain we had a good turnout, more than 60 people, and the 7 pm start helped gather an interesting mix of students and faculty, as well as people from the wider South Asian ‘community’ in the area. That mix also helped to open out the Q&A session that followed, because the usual questions that Indian audiences will ask (about Pakistan’s support for the movement; about the consequences of self-determination in Kashmir) were mediated with more specific questions about the nature of what is happening in Kashmir’s present. (The Q&A ended well after 10 pm!) The films journey to Minneapolis was hosted by the College of Liberal Arts at UMN, and the discussion around it was carried over to the next afternoon, when a smaller group of graduate students and faculty met at the South Asian Seminar series, chaired by Ajay Skaria, eminent historian of South Asia, and we had a more detailed conversation around the film, the process that led to it, and its implications.

The impeccably modern facilities at the MacMillan Center at Yale University in New Haven was the venue for the Sep 20 screening of the film, for a group of about 35 students and faculty with an interest in South Asian history and politics. (And a smaller group who had joined us from the nearby Connecticut College as well) The Q&A was moderated by Mridu Rai, another excellent historian of South Asia (and particularly of Kashmir) , and we got off to a particularly lively start with an enthusiastic critic (who turned out to have driven 4 hours to share his views) launching into a diatribe against Jashn-e-Azadi, from a position that is both familiar and predictable to us, and by now probably even familiar to readers of this blog. (Summary: the film is partial, inaccurate, sympathetic to the wrong people, etc.) Since this was an educational institution, the critics had helpfully brought along xeroxed notes, which were generously distributed, containing pointers to the films flaws, as well as a ‘review’ of the film. I draw attention to this handy little package because the same text kept showing up all over North America. So even film criticism has become a networked business in these times… But as usually happens, the audience had an independent–and I dare say, different–reading of the film, and a more complex discussion followed, which flowed into a dinner reception, the event hosted by the South Asian Studies Council.

A pre-dawn flight from Hartford, in a tiny 12 seater plane, across the border and into Canada, had the advantage of an unforgettable view of sun-rise from the air. (Ink-black, blood-red, through to blue) Later that afternoon of Sep 21, the film was screened by the Center for the Study of Asias and the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto. Once again, well before the screening began, representatives of the same group of critics arrived, half-a-dozen very vociferous and somewhat aggressive gentlemen, with impeccably put together ‘press-kits’ with the same xeroxed pointers, and a bonus in the shape of a DVD of a film that they insisted be shown immediately before/after/during Jashn-e-Azadi. Since this was clearly not possible, they were very politely refused by the chair for the afternoon, Ashwini Tambe, who handled the unusual requests with infinite patience and tact, and transformed what they intended to be an acrimonious rough-house into a very civilized and productive session. Written questions were passed onto her, and eventually we managed to cover a lot of ground in the Q&A. And to be fair to the gentlemen who came with the intention of disliking the film, at least two of them were quietly appreciative of what the film was trying to do, and said so, however difficult it might seem to accept in the present. (Their other colleagues were happy to admit that they had no interest in what the film was saying, so seeing it–or not seeing it–made no difference to their existing critique of it.)

On Sep 22 an additional preview screening of the film was organised at Toronto’s Royal Cinema, under the banner of the South Asian Left & Democratic Alliance, for an audience of film-makers and film enthusiasts, activists from the Toronto political scene, and some students. Sanjay Toronto AliThe Royal, which is one of the venues for the Toronto Film festival, is now mostly used as a re-recording theatre for film, so has the most astonishing sound system and projection. (Seeing the film projected on that huge screen was a sensation that I was totally unprepared for: working as we do on modest desk-top systems, calibrating image and sound on pro-sumer systems, you always fear that the digital video output will not bear the scrutiny of the “big cinema” experience. That day at the Royal was vindication that the Sony PD170 + Final Cut Pro combination, with lashings of patient care from camera-persons, editors and sound designers, can give you a film that certainly looks and sounds as good as the best…) The Toronto film-maker, Ali Kazimi, who both Canada and India claim to be one of their own, had generously put together the screening, and moderated what turned into a really thoughtful Q&A, which ended only when it was time for us to vacate the Royal. (For a regular screening of Michael Moore’s Sicko!) I carry away the memory of a Senegalese Canadian activists’ comment: “I see the film as deeply hopeful”, he said during the Q&A, a response that one always hoped someone would have. To struggle, and resist, is to have hope…

On Sep 23 Jashn-e-Azadi moved to Bostons’ MIT, screening at the stunningly conceived Frank Gehry building in the heart of the campus. Hosted by old friends AID (Association for India’s Development) and Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, the Sunday afternoon screening attracted a diverse audience: the generalised ‘South Asian’ coming across as Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri, American. But the active curiosity–and the general sense of unease–created by the arguments of the film led to an excellent Q&A which lasted for more than an hour. The best reaction of all was that several people wanted copies of the film, so that they could pass the film on to others, and organise more screenings. The familiar one page Critical Guide to Jashn-e-Azadi surfaced here too, distributed by two gentlemen whose question in the Q&A (about ‘factual errors’ in the films titles) stems from a misreading that has happened from the first screenings of the film in March 2007.

The screenings of the first week ended on Sep 25 when the New School for Social Research, in New York hosted a screening in downtown Manhattan. Once again, the diverse nature of New York provided an eclectic audience, and the Q&A that followed reflected these multiple perspectives. For me, there was the added pleasure that the discussion was moderated by Faisal Devji, a young historian whose recent work (distilled in his very thoughtful book, Landscapes of the Jihad) has much stimulated my thinking on these areas. Not unexpectedly, people tend to view films, particularly those which have an open-ended form (and don’t necessarily drag you to the finishing line of conclusions!) like a Rorschach test: they see in them what they want to imagine… There was a comment, for example, that the film only focuses on a “harsh Sunni Islam”, and ignores Kashmirs tradition of “more gentle Shia, Sufi practices”. Not only is this a flawed reading of the images in the film (the Sufi shrines appear frequently in the film; and how does one differentiate between Shia and Sunni aspects of the movement in Kashmir?) it is also a fundamentally incorrect reading of Islam in Kashmir. My admittedly non-specialist correction to this notion–that the Sufi should not necessarily be seen as non-Islamic or even anti-Islamic–was helped immeasurably by the presence of Faisal Devji.

The next day, Sep 26, Jashn-e-Azadi screened at Vassar College in Upstate New York, an old and highly regarded liberal arts college, where a totally unexpected audience of almost a hundred under-graduates walked in for a late evening screening of the film. Unexpected, because our screenings on north American campuses usually tended to draw in a small and focused bunch of graduate students (usually with an interest in South Asia) and of course the South Asians on campus: here we had a totally diverse set of undergraduate students, from backgrounds as varied as Anthropology, Literature, Political Science, and so on, with no real substantial investment in Kashmir, or the issues it raises… And much to my surprise, most of them stayed till the end of our rather long film, and many stayed on for the discussion. The event had been arranged by Amitava Kumar, writer and novelist, and Professor of English at Vassar, and he moderated the excellent Q&A that followed.

[ part 2 follows ]

[ blogrumination: beyond acrimony ]

For some weeks now some of the acrimony manufactured around Jashn-e-Azadi by a small group of people has found a new perch – the Sarai reader-list. For the patient, there’s reams of stuff in the reader-list archive for August and September, but the two Sanjay Kak would strongly recommend you read are Shuddhabrata Senguptas’ post as well as an excellent provocation by Tarun Bhartiya, Editor of the film, and blog-mistri of this blog.

Tarun’s piece is pasted in its entirety here. Enjoy!

Needs and styles of Panditocracy

For all those amused/fascinated/disgusted or plainly mystified by the responses Jashn-e-Azadi’s (non) screening journey has gathered, here is the accumulated commentary of more than two years. As editor of the film, I comment in order to take a bit (hopefully quite a bit) of blame about the lopsided stance of the film vis-à-vis the Pandits and the Indian Nation, and as the Shillong based moderator and blogmistri of http://www.jashneazadifilm.com to also share in some of the opprobrium about freedom of expression.

Speak, you also,
speak as the last,
have your say.
Speak –
But keep your yes and no unsplit
And give your say this meaning:
give it shade.
Give it shade enough,
give it as much
as you know has been dealt out between
midday and midday and midnight.

Look around:
look how it all leaps alive –
where death is ! Alive !
He speaks truly who speaks the shade. (Paul Celan)

Even if I assume that the outraged constellation of media savvy undergraduate bluster, pop Sufism embarrassed at the Islamic roots of Sufism, elegantly written defenses of intolerance, and the conspiratorial comedies of the blog world, do not represent the range of politics and opinions which the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) world has to offer (how can it?), at least these maneuverings allow us a privileged peep into the workings of Panditocracy, an opinion making machine which grinds into motion (or is it always working?) to defend the ramparts of divinely ordained Bharatvarsha.

This defence plan, of which patriotic snitching is the latest weapon used, has consisted of protesting shock troopers, willful misreading of the film, conspiratorial search for a ‘puppet master’, repeated unsubstantiated allegations in the hope that by their very repetition would make them true, vile and threatening comments on the blog (comments which we have quite early on and openly said we would moderate)… And non-reviews of the film stalking any discussion forum, website, or blog which mentions Jashn-e-Azadi, as if an event management company has been working to a script.

In this tiring necessity, talking to Sanjay recently, we laughed and said that only thing left for the Panditocrats was to accuse us of making threats – and there it was: a post on the Reader’s list hypothesizing about the matter. (Maybe they should accuse us now of scripting their responses too. )

But this script which Panditocracy churns out, every once in a while (sadly Jashn-e-Azadi is not its first target) has a history. A history which needs to be spoken about, dissected and innards examined, to understand its working and its intentions.

A leaf, treeless
For Bertolt Brecht,
What times are these
when a conversation
is almost a crime
because it includes
so much made explicit ? (Paul Celan)

I was curious, December 2004, Sanjay came to Shillong for a film festival and over some nice Swish coffee, outlined his ongoing Kashmir project and asked me to be a part of it. My small town curiosity about the big issue was also about the professional desire to be part of a process not limited by 28 minutes of scripted gentility. I saw his Narmada Film at the festival, a depressing letter to the tradition of the non-violent progressive nation and felt that finally I have seen a documentary which is not about solutions, outrage, horror show, but an engagement, thinking through, a conversation which began when the film ended. (Even if my work on Jashn-e-Azadi does to some people just a bit of what ‘Words on Water’ did to me, I can go back to watching Shillong rain).

But what of Kashmir did I know? I knew the shorthand – JKLF, LeT, JeM, Hizb, IeD, Pakistan, Flawed elections, progressive visions of National Conference perverted by its inheritors, Islamic Fundamentalism, and the Tragedy of Pandits. I acknowledge that this short hand knowledge was filtered-tempered by my khadi diaper upbringing. This filter has meant that as much as I try, only by parricide will I be a part of the right wing nationalist consensus about India. But if I wasn’t a part of the ‘right’ brigade, I was still somewhere in the secular progressive mode of envisioning India – a vision that for all its criticality remains inscribed within the accidental cartography of India. Kashmir to Kanyakumari, a people’s republic. Defend not just the nation, but the people bound by the nation.

Although all this secular progressive inheritance was already getting slightly rusty in the winds of North East (that other endemic battleground of the Indian nation), where I grew up and now lived. Also, blame it on the post 9/11 shape of the world, where struggles and their rhetoric, and their bombs were (and are) grabbing the Manichean dialectic of my tradition into the uncharted political mess.

If you ignore the (vanaspati) Pandit Nehru, my political encounters with Kashmir began with the Pandits. As an undergraduate in the Delhi University, in the early nineties of Raths and Reservations, as part of campaigns against majoritarian Hindu visions, these two issues which were sure to come up to embarrass us into silence – Shah Bano and our willful neglect of the victims of Islamic terror – namely the Kashmiri Pandits who had been driven out of the Kashmir Valley. (Why were we only working with the victims of riots in Seelampur, while there were Kashmiri Pandits refugees right here in Delhi?)

The organisation to which I belonged had many senior democratic rights and civil liberties activists, who had kept watch over happenings in Kashmir, but they too were silenced into embarrassment. Remember in the late eighties – there were many trips which many progressives (Gandhians, JPites, Radical humanists, even Maoist sympathisers) made to Kashmir to look at the early days of the Indian states’ encounters with the movement there. They had all come back with stories of repression, and the sentiment of people chanting ‘Azadi’. Many of the unresolved questions of Kashmir had started making appearance in the mass media. The Indian project was again up for questioning. But then the first wave of migration of Pandits from the valley happened, and my tradition was stunned into an embarrassed silence. Lest our campaigns to question howling Hindutva be suspected of one sidedness, we were forced to omit any mention of Kashmir. We started making obligatory noises about the plight of the Pandits. Trips to refugee camps were made and a balancing act ensued – we made the mandatory connection between Majoritarian Islamic politics with Majoritarian Hindu politics.

But these trips were curiously ambiguous, a trudge through the debris of hope that only exiles could build out of. But there was more, there was a more insistent air of exultant grief – now you see the truth as we want you to see. For me, the odious memories of Muslim persecution which I had to listen to became too much. But I being the well meaning liberal I was training to be, filed them as a tragedy whose opinions I did not like, but so what, still a tragedy, and I shut up. And thus a decade of Kashmir was lost to me; it became my bad conscience to which I would return in purer times. Pandit migration became the gate from where to enter Kashmir, with well-chosen Panditocrats as gatekeepers. The diversity of Kashmir’s’ politics, its history, and its voices turned one colour – green. Propaganda on PTV.

In these three years of working on Jashn-e-Azadi, recovering those years of disappearances, encounters, curfews, crackdown, reptilian Indian secret apparatuses, internecine battles – my head screams. Where were those stories? Why didn’t I seek them? A valley of savages with beards, the popular upsurge. All had vanished into anonymous violent headlines. A consensus appeared in which we all partook, from The Hindu to the Organiser, Kashmiris as irrational mullahs with bombs, their Sat phones trained towards their Emirs. How could we even imagine politics in such an irrational revanchist atmosphere? If what they can do with their well-integrated minority was any indication, then god-forbid, what theocratic dread we were going to have! In our fears for the ‘innocent’ Kashmiris, we chose to be liberal interventionists, with Indian Security apparatus doing the dirty but necessary work on behalf of civilization and democracy. A whole people and their history was switched off. What remained were victims, being paraded in their pain. If you asked a question, it stared you with grief-wet eyes, striking you with guilt. And you moved on from politics to tragedy, questioning to heartfelt sadness, concrete to debilitating abstractions.

Between the idea and the word
there is more than we can understand.
There are ideas for which no words can be found
The thought lost in the eyes of a unicorn
appears again in a dog’s laugh. (Vladimir Holan)

Obviously it would be a tad bit too obvious to point out that the other film “And the world remained silent” wholesale borrows its title from Eli Weisel’s classic telling of the Holocaust experience. And it may also be too obvious to reach out for some historic correspondences in this well thought out semantic borrowing, because it is to the pantheon of holocaust and genocide to which the Panditocrats want their experiences to belong. But in the contested terrain of the meaning and histories of the Holocaust, lie some cautionary lessons for us. In a simple counter posing of the silence of the world and the genocidal destruction of European Jewry, the Zionist telling of its history plays on the guilt of the silent world to unquestioningly accept the special place for the Jews as victims, and thus accords them a special treatment and protection.

Because there remains a fascist fringe (or Ahmedinijad) with their anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying fantasies, to question any element of this equation then opens you out as an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier. The Zionist machine ensures that uncomfortable questions about the behaviour of Israel, for instance, are kept out of bounds in popular consciousness. Anti-Semitism becomes Anti-Israel.

But the world of Holocaust History is not only the world of Zionist grievers and Fascist conspiratorialists. There have been – and are – other voices, the most prominent of them being Raul Hilberg (who died recently), a figure of hate for both the Zionist and Holocaust deniers. In his seminal and monumental work ‘Destruction of European Jewry’ about both the number and composition of the dead in Nazi Concentration camps, and the ideology that led to the world of concentration camps, he shows that numbers in themselves tell you nothing, unless and until you unpack them in their historical concreteness. Otherwise they just remain a shocking image, an ideology whose function may very well be to stop any historical enquiry. In his work he shows that if it was Holocaust for the Jews, it was also for the Gypsies, the Homosexuals, the Communists. In his view, Zionist attempts to appropriate special victim hood was not just mistaken, but also ideological, which by making the tragedy a-historical, allowed them to shield their politics from any enquiry.

It is not only the title of the film “And the world remained silent” they have borrowed, but their attacks on our film also closely borrows the language and politics of Zionism. If you are a Jew who questions Zionism, s/he is a Self Hating Jew. So if you are Sanjay Kak, a Kashmiri Pandit, who refuses to toe the community consensus, he is suffering from Self-Hatred. If you question the Panditocratic consensus – you are anti-national, anti-people. (The Anti-Hindu charge is reserved for their favoured company, the Swapan Dasguptas and Sandhya Jains, not Sarai Reader’s List.)

As an example, in all the twisted public posturing as a non-sectarian, liberal, mystic, Mr Nietzsche (Twice) Born, with Ghalib as his wali, Rumi as his ‘quotable quotes’ and Kashmiri Muslims as his friends, when it comes to private arenas of beliefs truly held, what comes out, unsurprisingly, is not Anti-Islamic Fundamentalist belief, but Anti-Muslim bile. He borrows his terminology from the Hindu Right. (Please trawl through this list for a private mail revealed by mistake, and his comments approvingly quoted at the Maharaja Agrasen College screening of ATWRS in the blog of the film). His Nietzschian nihilism is not all that Nietzschian in it’s all embracing nihilism of ‘all that is sacred’, but instead a sad adolescent copy of the Nazi caricatured Nietzsche, who foretold the ‘Superman’ being reborn.

Even in their willful misreading of the film, which they wish to memorialize through their web stalking (even on their blackberries), this historic script is being materialized. By accusing the film of minimising the numbers of dead, and not according special status to the Pandit dead, or minimizing their tragedy, they hope that Jashn-e-Azadi would be pushed into a life on the fringes of jehadi propaganda, whose CDs could then be regularly seized by Indian Police to show their active involvement in the fight against terrorism. To return to Raul Hilberg, and his monumental work (which even Zionist Historians refer to), in popular telling he was tarred with the same number-brush, accused of robbing the dead of their special status. If you accuse someone of trifling with Human tragedy, what you are trying to do is to warn off that ‘open minded’ soul to close his or her mind.

To reach for my editing pride – let me go over some numbers that concern KPs in the film. They appear just before the intermission (if somebody really wants to know, I can recall for you the reasons for this placement), and I quote the script :

[[BEGIN QUOTATION FROM THE FILM]]

  • A village of absence: Haal village

Txt Caption 3A:
In the volatile 1990 uprising, Kashmir’s Pandit minority became vulnerable to a sharp religious polarization.
Almost 200 Hindus were brutally killed by extremists.

Subtitles:

Is Piarey Hatash at home?
Could I speak with him?

Bade Papa there’s a phone for you?
Greetings!

I’d spoken with you, about your poem …
“Brothers our address -

“So brothers our address is lost
Where do we look for our own, that place is lost

What we gazed upon with love all our years
That shelter is locked, our home is lost …

Txt Caption 3B:

The Government let it be known it was unable to guarantee their safety, and encouraged them to leave.Over the next year, nearly 160,000 Pandits fled the valley.

txt: Haal
South Kashmir
Summer 2004

[[END FILM QUOTE]]

For instance one commonsensical question, how come 200,000 or 500,000 (fill in any big number), are forced out of a place, and the Indian state, which Panditocrats defend with such zeal, does nothing or remains silent. And there is no skepticism directed towards this divine protector of life and liberty. Even if the cause of this ‘forced’ migration was that every Kashmiri Muslim (doubtful, but what the hell let me be ARKP for a moment) was baying for KP blood, wasn’t it the responsibility of Indian state apparatus – which can station 700,000 soldiers, camp around every village of the valley, crackdown at a drop of an utensil – to do something. Okay, even if it had inadequate forces in 1990-91 and wanted for sometime to allow people to move to safe places, why didn’t it encourage them to move back when it had adequate security? Or will the return only happen when all the Muslims have been repatriated to Pakistan (or where ever they are to be thrown out or made to vanish), and then the Pandits can enjoy their purified ancestral land (read Panun Kashmir).

This is a legitimate question to ask (Jashn-e-Azadi doesn’t do that, but someone will), as legitimate as asking of the movement in valley as to why was their minority made to feel unsafe? But ask unvetted questions, and see Panditocrats piling onto you. For you see KP’s in exile makes more sense for the Indian state, than them being in the valley. Poignancy of Exile and Migration is more potent than the historical messiness of politics. Poignancy, if I may point out to the Panditocrats, is not just the migration of Pandits, but a Pandit politics based on the triumphant return to the cleansed land of the Twice born. And that, friends, has the possibility of making the exile a permanent condition.

But these are troubling thoughts… let me get back to the troubles at hand, of refusing to see Kashmir only from the eyes of Panditocrats. I am proud of theses troubles, for no longer will the only conversation about Kashmir be about ‘jehad’ and its ‘innocent’ victims. Jashn-e-Azadi has attempted, in its own inadequate filmic way, to ask questions, join conversations, bear witness. No wonder the Panditocracy is outraged. An outrage that is stopping me from going back and enjoying my special Shillong rain.

[ blogflash 14 : heavy handed criticism! ]

This morning there was a call from the Hauz Khas Police Station, from Station House Officer Kukreti, asking if there was a screening of the film planned for later in the day at a college in their jurisdiction. (There was one planned, as part of the ongoing film-club run within this undergraduate institution by the media students. And this was the second call: last evening Sub Inspector Rajiv Kumar from the same Police Station had called.)

Once again, like in Mumbai, the anxieties of the police were fuelled by a specific “tip-off”: they had received a two-page written complaint informing them that the film was being screened without a censor certificate, and invoked a past history of provocation– starting from a ‘noisy’ screening at the Habitat Center Film Club, and all the way up to the ‘dvd seizure’ by the Mumbai Police only three weeks ago. The complaint (by one Sunil Tikoo) was comprehensive, and included images of the Mumbai ‘seizure’ (probably downloaded from this very blog!) and helpfully accompanied by my cell phone number.

So instead of previewing the film with the students, I have an afternoon off to write this. And contemplate how you can disrupt screenings, then make those disruptions the grounds to create further disruptions. Must make sense to someone!

What I also still fail to understand is the sheer energy with which a group of people have been tracking the film around, filing written complaints about it, following the complaints up with the police, scanning the net for news of more “illegal” screenings… I mean what are they afraid of? If this film doesn’t meet the standards that people have set for documentary films, surely viewers will just dismiss it and move on? The largest screening we’ve done recently was at the Osian Cine-fan festival last month in New Delhi: from the evidence of the screening and the Q&A, people were moved – and disturbed – by the film. And the evidence from previews in 10 cities doesn’t seem to suggest that viewers – or indeed the press – have been driven into paroxysms of rage, or discontent, nothing.

So what’s up? Why try to come in the way of the film and it’s audience? Surely if the arguments that the film is making are incomplete, flawed, one-sided, whatever, surely people will be able to figure that out? Or is the argument about Kashmir in the Indian mind so fragile, so constructed, and so hollow, that even one film that refuses to buy into that brittle construct is seen as a mortal threat?

Many of us have spent years talking about State censorship and how we must fight it – here the state, in the form of the Mumbai and Delhi Police, seems to be doing no more than fulfilling the censorial impulses of a section of people. (Which is why I sometimes wonder: is this still the State apparatus, but working through the benign cover of a section of people? Not easy to figure out.)

I know the argument has been made that the film represents only ‘one-side’ of the argument. But if this alone were to be grounds for stopping films, I can think of a few that would qualify strongly. We’ve seen other ‘one-sided’ masala films on Kashmir failing to pull in even a weeks crowd into a cinema theatre (can’t remember the title, but could it be Barf?). There are other equally one-dimensional non-fiction compilations that have to be shoved down people’s throats – and still have no takers. So why not let Mother Nature take her course – let the strong arguments survive, and the fluff fly away. But let the audiences decide. Not the Police. And not the invocation of the Censor Board.

We welcome responses. (Abuse will have to trickle away elsewhere!)

[ blogrumination: intifada! ]

At a screening of Jashn-e-Azadi in Hyderabad I was asked if there was a reason why the word ‘intifada’ was used in the context of Kashmir. I tried to explain that the news of the first Palestinian Intifada (and in particular, the television images) came to Kashmir at a very crucial time: in the aftermath of the infamous rigged election of 1987 . The character of the street battles that followed surely took inspiration from what was happening in Palestine…

Someone then asked me what the precise meaning of intifada was. The unsure nature of my response has egged on another viewer of that day to send us this – thanks, Bhashwati:

As a verb intifada means “to be shaken, to wake up”. As a noun it means “shudder, awakening, uprising”, with the implication of “a shaking off” — referring to the process of shaking off sleep or shaking off the dust from one’s feet.
In the context of 37 years of Israeli military occupation (as of 2004), Intifada represents a ‘shaking off’ of the chains of occupation.
The word was first coined in 1987, to describe the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli military rule.

Last week there was a connected comment on this blog from yet another viewer of that days TEFLU screening – thanks, Shafeeq:

This was something I had to ask after the screening at TEAFLU, Hyderabad:
In your docu, the resistance seem to have the language of Islam, also there is this reference to ‘Intifada”. Now, even though an influence of cable TV, intifada carries other connotations too, of an Islamic struggle against the infidel imperialists.
So, what exactly is the role of Islam, is it a garb in which resistance carries itself forward? or is it a programme in itself?
Is Kashmir existing in a metaphysical space (of course, a resistance fighter was pointing to metaphysical battle) for the Kashmiris, in oneness with Palestine and Chechnya, or are they aware of the concrete geopolitics which then can’t avoid Pakistan from referencing? Can’t that be one of the reason why while West [of Kashmir] is so familiar to Kashmiris, South [of Kashmir] is so distant?

I think this is an important question, which I’m unable to answer. We’re posting it here in the hope that sometime in the near future (days, weeks, months, even years), some people will reflect upon this, and share their ideas with all of us.

[ blogflash 13: hyderabad jitters !]

This week saw 3 screenings of Jashn-e-Azadi in Hyderabad, where an important (although not un-connected) coincidence cast it’s shadow over the plans. The attack by fundamentalists on writer Taslima Nasreen at the Hyderbad Press Club only a few days before had made the city “jittery”, and it was decided that the film society screening (organised by Pure Docs at the regular venue, Prasad Preview Theatre, Banjara Hills) would be strictly restricted to it’s members, and kept low key.

So once more we have it, as in a few weeks ago, when the impending court judgements of actor Sunjay Dutt, and the accused in the 2003 Mumbai train blasts, had made the Mumbai Police “jittery” enough to stop our screenings. This time, the attack on Taslima Nasreen had the same effect on Hyderabad. What did either event, or both, have to do with a film on Kashmir? We don’t know. But this is how censorship works, not necessarily by denying us Censor Certificates, or seizing DVDs, but by making us “jittery”, and casting a shadow on our imaginations. But jitters notwithstanding, the screenings went on. There is at least one excellent account of the film society screening that we would like to share, from a blog called spaniardintheworks.

As always, we followed up this preview with screenings for students, organised at the Sarojini Naidu School of Communications, University of Hyderabad, and at the Centre for Media and Communication, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad (what we all knew until recently as CIEFL). The Media students at the Sarojini Naidu School had an extended Q&A, and there was a very sharp and observent set of questions posed to the film: on form, technique, and even moral/ethical issues for documentary film-makers!

There is at least one response from these screenings that we’d like to pull up from the comments bar into this space. If only because it justifies our faith in the blogsphere as a space of genuine reflection, concern and intelligence:

From Smita

Just reading these responses to the film especially from people who claim never to have seen the film leaves me with the thought of how badly such a perspective as the film aimed at was required. At least for us Indians. My father, an army officer posted in kashmir in the early nineties was always stumped when I asked why the Kashmiris wanted freedom. I was even more mystified when later in gatherings of officers and families, at both official and non official occasions, conspiracies were exchanged and built upon like a game of chinese whisper. Never, even by mistake was it mentioned in any way – discussion, debate, argument anything, that Kashmir was not as natural a part of India as we have been made to believe.Obviously, we learnt it on our own later but we still got stumped at one major point time and again. Always everything, every discussion, every talk of kashmir, its current armed and bloody struggle would take a turn and go around to the violence towards the pandit community and never immerge from it to look beyond- or actually back at when and why it started. Self determination is still a fancy phrase if you ask my father- to cover an Islamic movement against a Hindu state. May be for some that would have been a rallying point, but was this all there was to it? Or could there be other factors? Is it a crime to dig deeper and understand? Or at least attempt to?

Violence. Extreme acts of aggression committed against a minority community. Terrible acts such as they were and I am sure are still frequent enough to be responsible for the exodus of much of the kashmiri pandit community from Kashmir, we have to realize, and I say it in the gentlest of ways, that to understand the beginnings of a conflict, to understand and acknowledge the roots of dissent is not the same as bestowing heroism on the perpetrators of such acts.

To see the passion and the fervor of a people trying to disengage from India and to witness their struggle, to see in their folk lore, music, poetry a sense of loss, a history of servitude and oppression, a sense of humiliation borne by the community through centuries does not support, or in any way justify violence against the kashmiri pandits.

Is it so difficult to see?
Does this mean that we may never move beyond judging the Kashmir conflict from any other perspective than that of the pandit community’s exodus? Will it bring us any closer to any understanding of the issue at hand or should we just close the chapter at the happy note of tit for tat for the piling corpses of the muslim kashmiris responsible for the ‘national crisis’?

What has been done to the pandit community was terrible. And nobody is in denial of that. The only thing which a lot of us Indians ARE in denial of, is what the ‘other side’ wants. And why they want it. But the fact remains that whether we approve of it or not, they DO want it, there politicians we decided to throw into jails wanted it, their parents wanted it, their children are dying for want of it, can we close our ears and eyes and just scream bloody murder at them and hope to erase them from the face of India and snatch peace from them?

Everytime an attempt is made to understand the struggle should we all raise our voices and crush it in the name of nationalism or hinduism or patriotism (which are all increasing interchangeable today anyway) or even vengeance?

Cant we for once just listen? Is it too much to ask for? And if we see or hear something that does not sound fair to us, cant we analyse and put it in words that express something other than a loud shrill series of abusive viscious accusations of glorifying terrorism? Is that the only choice? Either you are with the terrorists or with us?

And If I were to go looking for a struggle armed or otherwise and only choose to understand those which suite my sensibility, my principles, my ethics, I may not really be with any choice whatsoever. No movement, no resistance will be without its share of ‘black spots’, but then to deny it its existence, its meaning, its history and to rally around to crush every attempt at a fresh discussion is just an expression of a mentality dipped in hatred, intolerance and prejudice.

[ blog flash 12&half-mumbai continued ]

pandit says ban

a nice blog entry on the episode. anyone who can produce the copy of the email complaint referred in the blog, gets a free poster from blogmistri

and a discussion at passionforcinema 

sarai reader list conversation (1 & 2) on the interruption

mumbai police 1

mumbai police’s crack critic team

mumbai police 2

mumbai police’s crack critic team 2

[ blog connection 6: samyantar ]

We’ve just got together a translation of a very significant review of the film in the Hindi laghu patrika (little magazine) Samyantar (May 2007). Swarg mein Aag aur Aansoo, translated as In Paradise: Fire and Tears is written by Manglesh Dabral, who is probably amongst the best known contemporary poets writing in the Hindi language, and he won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2000 for his collection Hum Jo Dekhte Hain. Samyantar, edited by the doughty Pankaj Bisht, has a small circulation (around 5,000 we believe), but it’s influence in the Hindi reading public (especially in north India) is way beyond that.

After you’ve read the review, you may want to read some of the poetry of the ‘everyday’ that Manglesh Dabral is so admired for, or explore the very important world of the laghu patrika in a very good piece called Her Editor’s Voice – Hindi Periodicals by Mahmood Farooqui.

[ blog connection 5 - Kashmir Affairs ]

Those who’ve already read Jeremy Seabrook’s perceptive piece on the film in The Statesman may also enjoy reading his conversation with Sanjay Kak from the online journal Kashmir Affairs, linked here for quick reference on our Interviews page.
The Apr-Jun 2007 issue of the journal also carries a reflective piece by Roland Playle on the film: Why We Are All Martyrs.

[ blog flash 9 : Nashik ]

“D for Documentary” is a relatively recent effort to regularly screen documentaries in Nashik city, initiated by our old and indefatigable friends, Abhivyakti Media for Development. Taking advantage of the Pune screening the previous day, a break-neck bus ride (accompanied by the relentless idiocy of the soundtrack of the Hindi film Bhagam-Bhag on the mandatory video screen) led Jashn-e-Azadi to a preview hosted by Abhivyakti on June 13th, 2007, at the very compact and well-made Municipal Hall named after the great musician Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar in central Nashik. Advance notice of the screening had been carried in some of the local Marathi papers, and a film about the idea of Azadi in Kashmir, should surely have attracted some critical attention in a city with a strong Shiv Sena presence…

One gratifying general observation: most people who are not regular documentary viewers, and who turn up for a screening of Jashn-e-Azadi, are taken aback by the idea of a documentary that runs to 2 hours and 19 minutes. But like has been the case elsewhere in our previews, the Nashik audience too stayed, and to the end, and many stayed for the Q&A as well. At least two people in the audience who identified themselves as RSS people, asked the usual questions about the “genocide of Kashmiri Pandits” and the “Islamic terrorism” in the valley. To their credit, the answers they received seemed to genuinely surprise them. (The fact that there are at least 4000 Kashmiri pandits still living and working with reasonable dignity in Kashmir; the fact that whatever the labels they may carry, the armed militants do draw emotional and sentimental – if not material – support in the Kashmir valley, even today.) Even if viewing the film may not have transformed their views on Kashmir completely, or even substantially, our friends from the RSS did seem a little puzzled…

Most gratifying was the tremendous response to the poetry in the film, and one gentleman who was very keen to know how quickly we could come up with a Hindi version of the film, admitted that translating the Kashmiri poems of Zarif Ahmed ‘Zarif’ and Pyare ‘Hatash’ would be an intimidating task.


Jashn-e-Azadi is available through various online outlets like amazon

You can now buy a DVD of the film, or Download it and watch
More than two years in the making, Jashn-e-azadi [How We Celebrate Freedom], is a feature length documentary by film-maker Sanjay Kak which explores the implications of the struggle for Azadi, for freedom, in the Kashmir valley.

Click here to watch the Trailer

As India celebrates the 60th anniversary of it's Independence, this provocative and quietly disturbing new film raises questions about freedom in Kashmir, and about the degrees of freedom in India.

And here is a short Interview with the film-maker.

This Jashn-e-Azadi blog is an open forum for conversations about the film, about Kashmir, and about Azadi itself.

For more information about screenings, sales and broadcast write to
jashneazadifilmATgmail.com

links

For dispatches from the present

Voices of protest can be found here or call you from here

Stone in my hand

In the season of solutions, the late Eqbal Ahmad's wise words have to be remembered

Kashmir blog has the best one line blog take on Kashmir - they call it paradise, I call it home.

Zarafshan is a Kashmiri blogger whose blog (and blogrolls) are "just ways of dispersing news, views and feelings!"

For a considered discussion on the vexed issue of Pandits in Kashmir see Kasheer. And for more on this Ephemeral Existence

And a discovery called Paradise Lost

RSS Kashmir via Greater Kashmir

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previews

Festival screenings

Thiruvananthapuram
May 26, 2008 / International Video Festival of Kerala
Munich
Apr 28, 2008 / Dok.Fest
Amsterdam
Feb 10, 2008 / Himalaya Film Festival
Amsterdam
Nov 28, 2007 / International Documentary Festival
Kathmandu
Oct 12, 2007 / Film South Asia
Delhi
July 22, 2007 / Osian’s Cinefan film festival

Previous Previews

London
7 Dec 2007 / School of Oriental & African Studies & Sacred Media Cow
Leeds
6 Dec 2007 / Workshop Theatre, School of English, University of Leeds
Egham, Surrey
3 Dec 2007 / Royal Holloway, University of London
New Delhi
26 Nov 2007 / Russian Centre of Science & Culture & Magic Lantern Foundation

New Jersey
Oct 5, 2007 / College of New Jersey
New York City
Oct 4, 2007 / Columbia School of Journalism
Austin
Oct 2, 2007 / University of Texas
Philadelphia
Sep 28, 2007 / Temple University
Philadelphia
Sep 27, 2007 / University of Pennsylvania
New York State
Sep 26, 2007 / Vassar College
New York City
Sep 25, 2007 / New School for Social Research
Boston
Sep 23, 2007 @ MIT
Toronto
Sep 22, 2007 / SALDA
Toronto
Sep 21, 2007 / University of Toronto
New Haven
Sep 20, 2007 / Yale University
Minneapolis
Sep 18, 2007 / University of Minnesota

Hyderabad
Aug 10, 2007 / Pure Docs, Prasad Preview, Banjara Hills

interrupted previews!! [[ MUMBAI ...
July 27, 2007 (Fri)
Vikalp: Films for Freedom @ Bhupesh Gupta Bhawan, 85 Sayani Road, Prabhadevi
July 30, 2007 (Mon)
Vikalp: Films for Freedom @ Prithvi House, Juhu...]]

Bangalore
July 14, 2007 / Institute of Agrl. Technologies, Queens Road
Bangalore
July 13, 2007 / Centre for Film & Drama, Millers Road
Nashik
June 13, 2007, Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar Hall
Pune
June 12, 2007, National Film Archive of India Auditorium
Guwahati
May 29, 2007, Blue Moon Hotel
Shillong
May 26, 2007, Assam Club, Laban
Patna
May 12, 2007, Hindi Bhavan Hall
Srinagar
March 31, 2007, Tagore Hall
New Delhi
March 23, 2007, Sarai-CSDS
New Delhi
March 13, 2007, India Habitat Center

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