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.


1 Response to “blog report – 21 days on the road (part 2)”

  1. 1 Anonymous July 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    What I (and most of India) can simply not understand is why are there some people amongst us who talk about an independent Kashmir? Kashmir is in fact more integral to India than even Tamil Nadu (Tamil did not originate from Sanskrit, Kashmiri did). Just because a handful of people (pro-Pak Muslims) in Srinagar are wasting their (and our time) does not mean people of the other parts of the State (Jammu and Ladakh) have anything remotely to do with secession from India. They would lay down dead rather than join Islamic Pakistan. What we as Indians can however to is give ‘azaadi’ in the true sense to Muslims in Srinagar by giving them the option to either stay with India or issue them Pakistani (or whatever) passports and deport them to Pakistan. If they choose to stay in India and continue their seditive activities, we can book them under Sedition (IPC – life imprisonment) and ensure that the Indian tax-payer’s money is not wasted over militarizing the Kashmir part of J&K. I would say that we as Indians have been very very patient with these Muslim Kashmiri traitors, and our army always shows great restraint. Imagine if this was Israel or China, they would have bombed out all the mosques and madrasas which are reallly hot-beds of terror to rubbles.

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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


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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Festival screenings

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

Previous Previews

7 Dec 2007 / School of Oriental & African Studies & Sacred Media Cow
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
Oct 2, 2007 / University of Texas
Sep 28, 2007 / Temple University
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
Sep 23, 2007 @ MIT
Sep 22, 2007 / SALDA
Sep 21, 2007 / University of Toronto
New Haven
Sep 20, 2007 / Yale University
Sep 18, 2007 / University of Minnesota

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...]]

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



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