Jashn-e-Azadi is again travelling to Thrissur, Kerala, as part of Kashmir – Before Our Eyes package which will screen on August 29, 30, and 31 at the Kerala Sahitya Academy, Changampuzha Hall. The travelling event has been curated by Ajay Raina and Pankaj Rishi Kumar for FD Zone, Mumbai, and organised by Films Division Thrissur Zone, Naz Media, and Thrissur Chalchitrakendram.
Archive for the 'azadi' Category
But there is a screening scheduled for August 25th (Sunday) morning as part of the FD Zone screenings of the Kashmir – Before Our Eyes package hosted at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai with documentaries, features, short films, readings and discussions on Kashmir.
The full programme is listed at https://www.facebook.com/events/1403728749848464/?ref=3
The schedule says the screening will be followed by a Panel Discussion moderated by Nirupama Subramaniam, Journalist with The Hindu. More details will probably become available closer to the date. We’ll keep you updated.
A somewhat delayed report, of a March 2011 screening at Nottingham University, sent in by Safoora Teli. Although I was not present, it’s a screening that I’ll always remember, because I woke up at 1.30am here in Delhi, timed to the end of the screening in Nottingham, and dragged myself in front of my laptop, to do what turned out to be an hour-long discussion on skype!
For the second time in the history of the University of Nottingham, Kashmir came to town. It arrived in the form of a film screening and was the second event in the ‘K’ Word initiative. The first had been a confrontational panel discussion in November 2010 where representatives of Kashmir, India and the British parliament were able to explore the conflict in Kashmir as manifest in the events of summer 2010. Nicknamed the ‘year of teenage killings’, 2010 saw 112 youths die in clashes with state security forces during civil protests. Whilst the story of Kashmir begins much earlier, the lives of these youths and the tangible unrest, stems from the late 1980s where murky politics and a rigged election led to an armed uprising in the valley. This was in turn, matched by heavy militarisation by India. Not relegated to the last century, Kashmir is still the most densely militarised zone in the world today with the ratio of military personnel to civilians last calculated at 1:7. Whilst such figures are always disputed, it is agreed that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and thousands disappeared, leaving behind a discordant society of the haunted, bewildered and traumatised. This is particularly apparent in the phenomenon of the ‘half-widow’. These women whose husbands and often sons have disappeared without a trace or an identifiable body are still calling for answers, recognition and investigation. The stigma around Kashmir is furthered by the generic advice in tourist guides to stay away from the troubled region and that particularly persistent would-be travellers should consult their embassy.
Whilst they may happily advise you on your travels, meaningful discussion on Kashmir has been actively bypassed by governments for years, with political envoys warned not to mention ‘the ‘K’ word’. India’s hyperbolic sensitivity means that comments on Kashmir are easily seen as interference with the ‘domestic problem’ of Kashmir. In the spirit of salvaging diplomatic relations therefore, most states keep silent. The UN too strayed into the firing line as in September 2010 Ban Ki-moon was forced to backtrack on a statement urging all sides to exercise restraint in Kashmir. This was- his office reassured India- an internal administrative error. In the spirit of countering the anti-logic of politicians and their institutions, the students involved in the ‘K’ Word decided to not only mention this ‘word’ but explain its contemporary relevance and expose the devastation on human life that sidelining Kashmir has caused.
We aesthetically pleased students always intended to use the medium of film to convey the story of Kashmir. Recognising its potential to express the message of the ‘K’ Word and draw the viewer closer to the reality of the people of Kashmir, I instinctively recalled the film Jashn-e-Azadi. Having had had the pleasure of being put in contact with the documentary’s film-maker Sanjay Kak in December 2010, I got a copy of the film, an endorsement for the event as well as agreement to a live-skype Q & A session at an awkward hour of the morning in India. So, on March 17th, I welcomed a melting pot of students and professionals hailing from regions worldwide including the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Kashmir and Palestine to Jashn-e-Azadi. The twenty-strong audience was smaller than anticipated especially in comparison to the one hundred and fifty of the previous ‘K’ Word event. However meagreness in quantity was compensated by remarkable quality as demonstrated by the extent and depth of questions posed to Sanjay.
Rather than recount the narrative of Jashn-e-Azadi in deserving detail, a just reflection of the evening is evident in the responses to the film. Although one restless attendee was unable to engage with the documentary, complaining that it was too long and consequently seen to depart during the interval, for the remaining attendees the experience was an evocative and moving one. How the viewers were affected and what they were provoked to ask Sanjay is telling and does not need interpretation.
A few shared their thoughts.
Y Mir, Masters student from Kashmir: “Thank you for the screening of this movie, it was just amazing. That many graves in Kashmir bear just a number showed the extent of the devastation. Showing the rush at mental clinics too was vital to demonstrate the high demand faced by the only mental clinic in Srinagar by Iqbal park. There are at times so many patients awaiting treatment that they overflow onto the main road. I have been shocked by these scenes in reality and felt appalled once more when seeing them in the film. However, with its slow pace, I can imagine that it would be difficult for someone not from Kashmir to understand the beautiful way in which it was made and the beauty of the amazing poems and phrases used to frame it. I was glad that Jashn-e-Azadi still speaks of hope, and keeps that kashmiriyat alive in the traditions and customs of the Kashmiri villages. Everything was beautiful. I think the film was successful in spreading awareness about the situation in Kashmir but then I’m someone who accepts the message of the movie. The thoughts of non-Kashmiris should be given more importance. Overall an amazing movie.”
“The world has stopped thinking about Kashmir. How many more should die to for it to be enough to for the world to break out of its ignorance of these unjustified deaths? Without even looking at the legal issues, it is vital to address what humanity and freedom means to Kashmiris”
L Holmolkova, Masters student and Human Rights Activist, Czech Republic: “The film went beyond a narrow definition of the long-lasting conflict and showed the problem from the point of view of people, victims and culture, which was excellent since I have a feeling that this is exactly the dimension that most of the world does not know today since there is not enough attention paid to Kashmir. Leaving the political issue aside and jumping straight to the ‘feeling’ of people living for decades under the threat of terrorist on one side and army on the other was really great. It is exactly as one of the people in the film said: “The story of Kashmir has not been told yet.” It has not been told from the point of view of people and the movie is an important step to let the world know.”
“I was particularly struck by the fact that regular people as well as activists had their houses burned down. The persistent impunity for things that- may I say- often go often beyond the crimes against humanity threshold is terrifying and requires attention. In contrast, the director introduces the film with scenes from the great tourist summer and tourist seasons in Kashmir. I initially could not understand why this was shown but I soon felt that this was demonstrative of how India promotes the area as a great tourist destination whilst neglecting the problems that people face there. I liked how the film mingled the past with the future, taking the picture of the whole situation beyond just the political dimension.
“The movie showed the lack of space for civil society and human rights activists to function in Kashmir. As Sanjay said, the limited base for local activists means that the possible role to be played by organizations from outside is also limited as is the level of trust for these organisations. Ultimately it would be nice to have a follow-up discussion because personally, the movie introduced something new to me in which I started to be very interested. I really hope to learn more about Kashmir. This film can certainly be used to attract more international attention, not to the political issue but to the victims of the persistent arguments over Kashmir.”
We’re happy to post a ‘report’ on the screening of Jashn-e-azadi on August 6, 2010, at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, San Jose , CA. The event was sponsored by Culture & Conflict Forum and co-sponsored by San Jose Peace and Justice Center. The discussion was moderated by Yasmin Qureshi, whose account of her trip to Kashmir in August 2009, The fate of Kashmir, some of you may already have read on Counterpunch.
Yasmin has forwarded three email responses she received after the screening, and below that, the Q&A she conducted with the audience:
Jashn-e-Azadi was released in 2007 and it has taken me until now to finally watch it, thanks to a screening organized by the Culture and Conflict Forum at the San Jose Peace Center on Friday, August 3rd, 2010. It’s difficult to remember the details, the names and the incidents from the documentary, but the extraordinary impression one leaves with, an impression that continue to haunt long after the screening, is the pervasiveness of the Indian military and paramilitary presence in Kashmir and the universal opposition to it. It’s one thing to have heard that there are 700,000 troops deployed there, one soldier for every 15 Kashmiris; it’s quite another to see them everywhere, in the city square, the streets and alleys, the countryside. It’s also one thing to have heard about the opposition to this military presence, and quite another to witness, through this documentary, the manifestation of this universal opposition from women, men and children of all ages, with huge turn outs at protests, funerals and marches, and even a street play. And, in striking contrast, was the observance of Indian Independence Day by the military forces under conditions of curfew with deserted streets.
Whatever be one’s position on the question of Kashmir, one thing is for clear from watching this documentary, that this situation cannot continue. Not for long. That inevitably raises the question where to from here. That indeed must have been what prompted some of the lively discussion that followed the screening, even though the question itself is not raised in the documentary, let alone addressed in it. To have raised this question is perhaps the most important service that this documentary has done.
It is easy to frame the question in religious terms, Kashmiri Muslims versus Kashmiri Hindus, facile terms made to appear justified on account of the tragic displacement of Pandits from the Valleys and the roles played by Pakistan and the Afghan mujahedeen in promoting violence. But to do so would also be to ignore that to most Kashmiris, it is a struggle for freedom and national self-determination, a struggle in the making for over 500 years that gave rise to Kashmiriyat, the unity of Kashmiris of all religions, a struggle in which religion has not been the divisive factor that it is portrayed to be in India.
The first half of the film was like watching a thriller and left me spellbound! It moved so fast. There were 4 parallel tracks or stories – one of the old man searching for his son’s grave which was very touching, covering the militant resistance and what it did. Second the man surveying and documenting number of deaths. Third the arrogant attitude of Indians, as if they own and control Kashmir through the tourists and later through the pilgrims. Lastly the play which is very important as it explains the 100s of years of colonization and how Kashmiris were docile then but are now determined to fight for self determination. The history is important to understand why kashmiris want freedom.
The scene of the women walking in the mosque followed by prayers in the snow was very surreal. The first half was complete in itself and maybe the Q&A session should have been then instead of in the end. It would have given more time for discussion. The scenes were going back and forth which may have been confusing for someone who doesn’t know much about the history and sequence of events.
The film is not a comprehensive analysis of the Kashmir situation.. And it is not a straightforward narrative; (often, there wasn’t much narrative.. and in that regard it reminded me of Amar Kanwar’s Night of Prophecy). there are no easy answers, or clear sides that one can easily take. The film touched a nerve in me on many levels. In parts I wasn’t sure what the director was getting at. For example he hints at the plight of the pandits, and the religious dimension of the resistance; but doesn’t make any further comment on it. One thing came through loud and clear, though – it showed what an occupation by the Indian army looks like (and it does not look pretty).
The shots of Srinagar during Indian independence day were especially telling. If you have to put the entire city under lockdown in order to “celebrate” your independence, you aren’t having much “independence”, are you? And this is why it is probably an important movie to watch.
I think that the film – or the half of it that I saw- did not have much focus. Not because of any fault of the director but because of the need to show the film to a larger audience in India, the director perhaps was constrained to come out and show what he truly belivies to be the issue at stake. This lack of focus, in my view, is a direct measure of the sorry state of affairs vis a vis Kashmir in India. There is a dire need to keep the focus on Kashmir issue in and out of India by people like the director of this film who care for the people of Kashmir.
It showed very well the beautiful people and the beauty of the region but also the poverty and violence. But the film was very long and confusing — it kept switching back and forth between different incidents of violence, interviews with people.
Question and Answer session
(Questions were answered by Yasmin Qureshi, member of Culture and Conflict Forum. She had visited the Kashmir valley in August 2009.)
Q: What was the message of the film?
A: Well, the director Sanjay Kak leaves it to the audience really. His objective was to bring out the voices of the people of Kashmir since we rarely read about them in the media and open an avenue for discussion on the issues and aspirations of the Kashmiris. Back in 2007 the word azadi for Kashmir was shocking for Indians. As a Kashmiri Sanjay wanted to make a film about the people there and what they feel.
Q: It is true the media doesn’t cover the Kashmiri Muslims but it also doesn’t cover
the pundits either. How do you justify the killing and migration of 100,000 pandits?
A: I disagree the media doesn’t cover the pundits. In fact most articles published in India on Kashmir address this issue. What they don’t cover is what the army is doing there, the murders, missing people, rapes and what the people there want and why. Recently Shivam Vij had a detailed article on the pundits living in Delhi area in kafila.org.
Yes, what happened to the pundits is unjustifiable. And certainly Pakistan and the Afghan mujahedeen had a role to play as Kashmiris started crossing borders to get training in the 90s. The people I spoke to in the valley last year wanted them to come back. People there at this point are not in favor of a militant resistance.
Q: You mentioned the media and I am comparing to the media coverage of Palestine in Israel.
How is the Indian media coverage?
A: As I mentioned earlier, Kashmir is not covered well in the Indian media. Discussing aspirations of Kashmiris is taboo. For example, no one wanted to publish my article, Democracy Under the Barrel of a Gun in India. The media does write about the presence of army and that the Indian govt needs to deal with it but what they don’t cover is what the militarization has done to the society. Or the root causes such as the annexation, as Kashmiris say, The Brahminical rule of India’. Mass graves were found, many women have been raped. This is not covered very well not just by Indian media but also the international media. There isn’t a discussion on what and why Kashmiris want azadi and what it means.
Siddharth Varadhrajan wrote an article recently on the protests in Hindu. He mentioned the elections of 2008. What he didn’t mention is that Kashmiris participated in them more to vote for local governance issues and not anything to do with future of Kashmir or rule of Indian state. However, the media presented the 60% turnout as a vote of endorsement of the rule of Indian state and the Kashmiris felt betrayed. Partly why we see the kind of massive protests since 2008 is this.
Q: But what about the militant movement in Kashmir? If it got independent they would take
A: The argument that Indian army shouldn’t leave or Kashmiris shouldn’t be independent because the militants will take over to me is similar to the argument that US shouldn’t leave Iraq or Afghanistan. Isn’t that what was said even during the Vietnam war?
At this point it is really a people’s movement – students, youth, women, ciivilans. The people saw what the militant movement did to them and how the Indian army dealt with it. Almost every family was impacted by it, killed, tortured or in custody. Also they see the power of the protests. I had asked the same when I went to the valley last year. What people said was the militant groups are not that prominent now and they don’t need a militant resistance anymore. I spoke a friend just two days ago to ask the same question since I knew someone would ask. He narrated an incidence. Two militants came to join a protest in a village but the people pushed them out!
Q: Why is the Indian govt’s attitude so belligerent? Is it because of the vote bank they may lose?
A: There are many reasons. Yes, the vote bank is certainly an important one. Kashmir is the only state with a majority Muslim population and they want freedom from India! So they want another partition?
Kashmir is considered ‘Bharat ka atoot ang’ and to discuss anything about autonomy or
independence leads to the question about further disintegration of India in the east for example or how it would impact other insurgencies such as in central tribal areas. Also the fact that it borders with Pakistan. The argument is ‘if we reduce troops Pakistan will invade’. But then have troops on the border. What is the justification for troops or police in a crowded city like Srinagar? If the argument is to protect pundits, most of them are no longer in the valley. So who is it protecting?
There isn’t a great willingness on either sides to deal with this issue even though it is the most important from a geo-political angle. Also, Kashmir is rich in natural resources, source of water and India wouldn’t want to give those up.
[ Someone from the audience expanded on the ‘only muslim majority state’ by giving the history of the Dogra rule and how Maharaja Hari Singh annexed Kashmir(and that it was conditional) without taking the opinion of the Muslim majority and how that was the opposite of what happened in other princely states like Junagarh or Hyderabad where the majority was Hindu and the ruler was Muslim and the vote went the will of the majority population.]
For all those who are following events in Kashmir, a comment written by me on a relatively new phenomenon:
But now an unfamiliar new photograph of the Kashmiri woman has begun to take its place on newspaper front pages. She’s dressed in ordinary salwar-kameez, pastel pink, baby blue, purple and yellow. Her head is casually covered with a dupatta and she seems unconcerned about being recognized. She is often middle aged, and could even be middle-class. And she is carrying a stone. A weapon directed at the security forces…
To read the full piece, do take a look at the Times of India of Aug 8, 2010
The August 2010 issue of Himal Southasian magazine has a commentary contributed by me on the recent events in Kashmir:
When columns of the Indian Army drove through Srinagar on 7 July, rifles pointed out at the city, it was meant as a show of force; to tell its ‘mutinous’ population – and those watching elsewhere – just who was really in charge. Disconcertingly for the Indian government, it has had the opposite effect…
Do read the rest of Children of the Tehreek too.
On August 6, 2010, Jashn-e-Azadi will be screened at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center in California. The film will be followed by Q&A and discussion
Time : August 6 · 6:30pm – 9:00pm
Location: San Jose Peace and Justice Center; 48 South 7th Street, San Jose, CA
Sponsored by: Culture and Conflict Forum & San Jose Peace and Justice Center
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org 408-677-9137
While the English language newspapers and television channels have had some coverage of the recent events in Kashmir (of course, with all their biases intact) the valley continues to be strangely absent from the other language media. An interesting exception is a comment by the veteran Hindi journalist and writer Priyadarshan, which appeared in a recent issue of the tehelka hindi magazine. The piece is called Yahan sey Kashmir ko dekhiye – Look at Kashmir thus.
Since it refer’s to Jashn-e-Azadi, here’s an unauthorised translation of the opening paragraphs of Priyadarhan’s piece:
Watching the protests in Kashmir on television, making ones way through the arguments on whether they were sponsored or spontaneous, I remembered Sanjay Kak’s documentary film on Kashmir, Jashn-e-Azadi. There is plenty in that film – funerals that turn into processions for Azadi, and Independence day functions celebrated by the government institutions. In the middle there are the security forces too, distributing radios amongst ordinary people, trying to establish a relationship with them.
What struck me most in the film was how a procession or a funeral on the road in Kashmir suddenly electrifies the whole atmosphere. You then see people on the roads screaming out slogans, women weeping and beating their breasts, and young men with clenched teeth and raised fists, as if eager to escape from the very limits of the screen.
When there is a government program on the other hand, the air is heavy, the roads deserted, the chairs look empty and sad, and fearful people are seen clapping – as if the event had been forced upon the people.
Seen thus, if the stone-pelting and protests in Kashmir are sponsored and organized, then peace is even more sponsored…
I found this last line particularly perceptive, and a useful way to understand the long months of ‘peace’ in Kashmir, which confuse many Indians about what is really going on in that place.
Writing in The Practical Nomad blog, Edward Hasbrouck writes:
It angers me when Kashmir is depicted in the news as the cause or site of a conflict “between India and Pakistan”, as though it weren’t a place and a people with their own culture(s), their own traditions, their own past and present, and their own desires for the future. If there is one precondition for peace in Kashmir, it is that Kashmiris themselves must not be pawns in a geostrategic game, but must have a central role in making the decisions about their homeland.
Then going on to write about Jashn-e-Azadi, he says:
Kak’s film is an important contribution towards a wider understanding of that imperative.
But that’s not the only reason why I quote Edward’s post. It’s to draw attention to another part of his Practical Nomad blog where he writes on “Why do I care about Kashmir?”. Because his interests and activism on issues of peace and human rights, and his work as a travel consultant and travel writer, first intersected for him, he says, on a 1989 trip to Kashmir. As a valuable account of a critical moment in Kashmir’s recent history, I would warmly recommend it.