Archive for the 'politics' Category



blogflash: gorakhpur film festival

This last week has been an exciting journey into an important new territory. It began appropriately, with a screening of Jashn-e-Azadi at the closing day of the 3rd Gorakhpur Film Festival, organised by the Expressions film society of Gorakhpur, in the heart of what is known as the “hindi heartland”.

Gorakhpur is the home of the legendary publishing institution, the Gita Press, of the writer Munshi Premchand, the poet Firaq Gorakhpuri, and of course the eponymous Gorakhnath temple. (In recent years it has also emerged as the site of a particularly virulent format of right-wing Hindu chauvinism, and the importance of the Gorakhpur Film Festival has to be located particularly within this last quite considerable challenge.)

In the 60th year of Indian Independence, the festival significantly chose to stay away from the officially generated celebratory hoopla, and commemorated the event under the sobre slogan of visthapan aur vibhajan ke saath saal (sixty years of division and displacements). It opened with a screening of M S Sathyu’s classic representation of the trauma of Partition, Garam Hawa, and closed on Feb 26th with the first festival screening of our recently completed “Urdu/Hindustani” version of Jashn-e-Azadi.

The Gorakhpur Film Festival showed an interestingly curated range of films, from contemporary documentaries (Ajay Bharadwaj; Biju Toppo; Surabhi Sharma; Vinod Raja) to classics old (Ritwik Ghatak) and new (Saeed Mirza), and a whole Sunday devoted to films for children. There was also theatre, and poetry…

The very well-attended screening of Jashn-e-Azadi was followed by an intense Q&A. This was hugely helped by the fact that the GFF had brought together an excellent group of progressive writers, critics and teachers associated with the Jan Sanskriti Manch (Forum for People’s Culture); and they came from Allahabad, Basti, Bhilai, New Delhi, Patna… Once again the openness and the complex thinking that people brought to their viewing of the film was a vindication of the value of sharing an apparently complex argument. (Never complicate what is simple. Or simplify what is complex…)

In the days immediately before and after the Gorakhpur screening I have had very similiar experiences with discussing the film with groups of young college students at the Jamia Milia Islamia (Awam) and at Delhi University Arts Faculty (Premchand Vichar Manch). Already more and more groups of people have expressed an interest in using the film in India, to raise questions around the hard issues of Nationalism, and Nationality.

Could it be that the film is finally finding it’s mark…?

blogflash: “Alternative Radio” interview

Alternative Radio, the independent weekly series hosted by David Barsamian, its award winning founder and director, will this week carry an interview with Sanjay Kak – Kashmir: The Struggle for Freedom. Taking as it’s starting point the film Jashn-e-Azadi, this is a free-ranging conversation about Kashmir, present and past, and follows Barsamian’s own travel in Kashmir in December 2007.

Alternative Radio is a unique experiment in radio journalism, a weekly one-hour public affairs program offered free to all public radio stations in the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and on short-wave on Radio for Peace International. It consequently reaches over 125 radio stations and millions of listeners. If you are anywhere in these parts of the world, then do go to the Alternative Radio site to check out the exact schedule.

David Barsamian, is a legend in independent radio, having done literally hundreds of interviews across the world in a career that spans 30 years. The many books that have emerged from this distinguished career include Targeting Iran, and What We Say Goes with Noam Chomsky; Speaking of Empire & Resistance with Tariq Ali; and Original Zinn with Howard Zinn. His earlier books include The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile with Arundhati Roy; Imperial Ambitions with Noam Chomsky; Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire and The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting.

Jashn-e-Azadi in The Human Rights Collection

Here is a link to a recent article on www.filmmonthly.com
For ease of access, we’ve placed it below as well:

IndiePix and The Human Rights Collection

by Jef Burnham

IndiePix, if you haven’t heard of it, is an internet-based, video distribution company that specializes in independent film from past to present, featuring filmmakers like the neo-realist Robert Bresson (Pickpocket, Au Hasard Balthasar) alongside first-time filmmakers– their only prerequisite is quality. I spoke with Bob Alexander, President of the now three-year-old company, and he told me, “Our view is that, very simply, there are very many terrific films that very many people would like to watch. The problem is making that connection.”

IndiePix has made getting your film to a distributor foolproof for independent filmmakers. If you visit the IndiePix website, you’ll see a section for submissions labeled, “Filmmakers;” but they don’t distribute just anything. “I would say that we probably accept 20-25% of the films we get,” Alexander estimated. “What we look for in a film is that it has some festival history and that it has won some sorts of awards… If the film has some kind of credentials and is submitted to us, we’re going to get back to the filmmaker and put it on our site.” One film that was submitted to the site, having been selected by IndiePix for distribution, is a film called Skid Row by Linda Nelson, which follows a rapper living on Skid Row in Los Angeles for one week.

By recruiting independent filmmakers and gathering distribution rights from companies such as the prestigious The Criterion Collection, IndiePix has compiled a catalogue just shy of 3,100 titles. One duty of the manager of the IndiePix catalogue, Shreekant Pol, is to identify the natural groupings of films from within their catalogue to market as collections. Pol recently organized 9 films into the IndiePix Human Rights Collection, which covers topics from nations oppressed by military occupation to civil rights. “Human rights is a theme that independent films have explored in many different ways very effectively over the years. In fact, with great result,” Alexander said. “For example, The Trials of Darryl Hunt [one film in the collection] by Annie Sundberg and Ricky Stern is credited in part with having re-opened that man’s trial, leading to his release on a wrongful conviction.”

The 9 films that comprised in the collection are:

1. The Devil Came On Horseback (2007)
2. The Trials of Darryl Hunt (2006)
3. Words on Water (2002)
4. Jashn-e-Azadi – How We Celebrate Freedom (2007)
5. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
6. Sentenced Home (2006)
7. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
8. The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez (2007)
9. Iraq in Fragments (2006)

I had the opportunity to view two films from the collection. Jashn-e-Azadi – How We Celebrate Freedom (2007) is an unsettlingly subdued documentary about the daily struggle of the citizens in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The Kashmiri people adhere to their traditions even as their friends, family, and livelihoods are cruelly and unjustly taken from them by the occupying forces, which the Indian government admits outnumbers the Kashmiri militants by a staggering 7,000 to 1. The film is at its most effective when juxtaposing scenes of the Kashmiri people enjoying their coveted land of paradise with archival footage of Indian troops maliciously assaulting the homes of innocent civilians, leaving entire villages in ashes. The most telling scene in the film is when the totals of the first-ever “Survey of ‘Conflict-Related’ Deaths” are tallied. Although the occupying Indian forces admits to 5,000 casualties of their own, and claims that there are a mere 1,000 armed militants in Kashmir, the survey reveals that the occupation has claimed the lives of 60,000 Kashmiri with another 10,000 missing and presumed dead.

The Battle of Algiers is as Bob Alexander aptly described it, “an absolute classic,” and available on The Criterion Collection DVD with two bonus discs of documentaries. This extraordinary 1966 production from director Gillo Pontecorvo surprisingly features not a single frame of archival footage, though much of the film appears to be documentary as vast groups of protesting Algerians are parted by the tanks of the occupying French forces. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the film lies in the fact that Pontecorvo depicts the heinous acts committed by the French Army as well as the rebel National Liberation Front (FLN), who recruit children to participate in the random execution of French Officers. Pontecorvo leaves us jittering nervously as we anticipate the devastation caused by FLN explosive devices left in public places and what it will mean for the Algerian people. The terrorist attacks aggravate the situation, spawning French officer Colonel Mathieu, head of Operation Champagne. Operation Champagne was a Machiavellian mission of the French authorities to torture and destroy their way through to the top of the FLN’s Executive Branch, even if it meant leveling the entire Kasbah of Algiers. The Battle of Algiers is as powerful today as it was when it was banned in France in 1965.

When all-encompassing corporations like Amazon dominate the sales market, we need the smaller, specialized companies like IndiePix to give a forum to the as yet undiscovered talents; and for IndiePix, it’s not just a matter of finding a hole in the market and filling it. With the unveiling of the Human Rights Collection and the showcasing of so many unknown filmmakers, IndiePix has tried to show that it’s not just profit, but people they care about. This was obvious when Bob Alexander spoke of the company’s relationship with Sanjay Kak, director of Jashn-e-Azadi. “He is relying on us to provide distribution for that film to the expatriate [Kashmiri] communities in England and throughout Europe. I think it’s going to be an important project.”

For more information on IndiePix and the films in their Human Rights Collection, visit www.indiepixfilms.com .

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.

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!)


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

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

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

a

stats

  • 121,043 visitors

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: