Archive for the 'Comments & Rants' Category

A stone in her hand

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


Looking at Kashmir, in Tehelka

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.

A Collaborator in Kashmir

Amitava Kumar, writer and academic, has a new story out in PEN America, described as “a journal for writers and readers”. A Collaborator in Kashmir is a troubling account of a journey that Amitava makes to Sopore in north Kashmir to meet with Tabassum Guru, wife of Afzal Guru, the man sentenced to death for his part in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. It makes a welcome addition to the unmasking of the terrible apparatus of oppression that has been spawned in the last two decades of military occupation in Kashmir.

I quote a passage from the piece here, because it connects Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul with our own Srinagar:

Reading those words I thought again of Srinagar. I had flown in from “a rich Western city,” and everything there looked drab to me, draped in a dirty military green. Every house that was new looked gaudy and vulgar or curiously incomplete. Many structures were shuttered, or burnt black, or simply falling down due to disrepair. Pamuk writes that those who live in Istanbul shun color because they are grieving for a city whose past aura has been tarnished by more than a hundred and fifty years of decline. I believe Pamuk was also describing plain poverty.

Jashn-e-Azadi had shown me another Srinagar. The film’s richness lay in the space it created, in the viewers mind, despite the violence, for thought and for color. The filmmaker had discovered again and again in the drabness of the melancholy the gleam of memory: the memory of blood on the ground, of the beauty of the hills and red poppies, of the keening voices of mothers, and painted voices of village performers. Also the memory of the dead, of falling snow, of new graves everywhere, and the shining faces crying for freedom.

Others have spoken to me of a sense of connection between Pamuk’s evocations of Istanbul and Kashmir, but Amitava Kumar evokes that synapse with grace and unusual intelligence.

on making Jashn-e-Azadi: an essay in pratilipi

The online bilingual literary magazine Pratilipi, has quietly built an exceptional reputation  for its quality, the regularity of its bimonthly appearance, and the fact that it is genuinely bilingual, carrying excellent translations of all articles, in English and Hindi.

Readers of this blog may enjoy reading a series of essays on the Indian documentary, commissioned by Guest Editor Sridala Swami, with reflective pieces by filmmakers Paromita Vohra, Surabhi Sharma, and Kavita Joshi. In the December 2008 issue I have written an account of the making of Jashn-e-Azadi. Enjoy!

blogflash: screening report in the “Rising Kashmir”

A young student at Delhi University has written a report of a recent screening of the film at Ramjas College. It was published in the Rising Kashmir a new English language daily from Srinagar, Kashmir.

For the net lazy, we’re pasting it below too.

Jashn-e-Azadi: A screening

Jashn-e-Azadi is a film made by noted film-maker Sanjay Kak. The film has triggered off a heated debate at all its screening-spots, whether in India or abroad, so far. Suvaid Yaseen captures the description of screening at Ramjas College, New Delhi

After planning and re-planning for quite a few months. Finally, the film screening was finalized. Somebody called the Principal in the morning. He asked for the film screening to be stopped as it would hurt some people’s ‘dharmic bhavnaayein’ (religious sentiments). The request, not so humble, was refused.
So, it started at the proposed time with around twenty-five people in the seminar room of Ramjas College. The number was good enough considering it was March as exams in DU are too close and students prefer to complete their assignments than watch a documentary film on some ‘Jashn’ of some ‘Azadi’ somewhere. No prizes for guesses now. The film to be shown, of course, was Jashn-e-Azadi. A film, impossible to ignore, even though people have had varied opinions from one extreme to the other extreme.
Two hours and ten minutes. Entirely new perspective for most in the audience. Shocking, disturbing like never before. Face to face with a reality unseen, unheard, unexpected till the play-button set the disc rolling. No surprises that many were clearly uncomfortable with what they were exposed to. Used to ‘we are the good guys and they are the bad guys cliché’. The film reached its end

Question time:
“Thanks for the bold perspective, the film puts forward.” a lady remarked.
Then the inevitable and oft-repeated question.
“Isn’t the film biased towards the Indian army?”
“Not at all…” was the firm answer from Sanjay Kak, the director of the film.
From being accused of being a Muslim (secretly), to a shame for Kashmiri pundits and the like, he has seen it all. He has been answering questions of all kinds ever since he started making the film. Quite experienced now, I guess. “I am not showing you the army killing, torturing and raping. I have just shown their mere presence and the after effects of violence which people face.” Well reasoned. If just showing of the army on screen seems biased, what would it be like amidst them? The question remained open for those who care to think, even if little and for just a while.

Then what followed was shocking, disturbing and irritating for those who know the ‘other side’ of the story. Kashmiris. A tragedy, anywhere, everywhere. A Kashmiri guy, who has studied outside the Valley from sixth class, at least, and now doing his business in Delhi only, spoke. The view was that Kashmiris are completely responsible for their miseries. The militants were all supported from outside. All were interested in moneymaking. (Later it turned out that somebody had taken money from his father at gunpoint so he had been nursing a grudge against the militant movement. Granted to an extent. But aren’t there black sheep everywhere around us? Is it a reason enough to malign the whole movement? No. Not at all. It’s myopic.)

So, again Sanjay presented the arguments. “The average life of a militant in J&K, who has taken up arms against the Indian state, is not more than one or one and a half years. Picking up the gun in the Valley is like signing one’s death warrant. The army presence is massive and overwhelming. To be a militant in Iraq is easier than in Kashmir. For less than a thousand (as claimed by the Indian govt.) at present there are at least seven lakh armed forces. Even then if you think that moneymaking is the sole objective of all fighters, you need to correct your understanding. Why do you think those people come out in such large numbers on the funerals of martyrs? Women wailing and beating their chests. People shouting slogans.”
“Couldn’t it be due to the fear factor?” asked a newly appointed teacher.
“Very possible that people come out due to the threat of militants. But how can you make them feign emotions? How can you make women cry by force? Passion cannot be generated artificially. People can’t be coerced into it. It’s so only when those killed are martyrs of just cause for the population.”

Questions, counter questions, answers. All continued for a while. Some very important issues were raised and discussed. The control of army over the people’s lives in the villages of Kashmir. The majority of Kashmiri people reside therein and it’s the villages of Kashmir where you can see the raw emotions against the occupation. Humiliation, torture, gazes. The interference in the village affairs is too much to bear. Peoples’ movement both to and from the villages is closely watched.

Hulk sits on the chest of the poor guy halting his breath, choking, suffocating him. Former India, latter Kashmir. That was the analogy given in response to a question on the future and alternatives provided by the call of Independent Kashmir. Azadi. You make normal life an unaffordable luxury for an entire nation unleashing a reign of state terror, torture and murder. And then you question the pros and cons of the movement and expect it to be hundred percent progressive, modern, non-violent and feminist. Plus you are the sole judge to give a decision after deciding what those terms mean and the compatibility of contesting replies to those definitions. Asking too much. Ain’t it?

Discussion over, the Speaker-Director and the audience both were thanked for coming. People who watched the film left. Thinking, pondering. Most disturbed, uncomfortable. Truth does disturb. More so, when it is unpleasant and related to you somehow.

For those who haven’t yet seen the film, some genuine advice. Must-Watch-it. It’s great.

[ comment: sanjay kak ]

In less than five months Jashn-e-Azadi has criss-crossed the country in a series of previews for small, focused groups: film-makers, media-activists, the press, academics, and most importantly, students. This blog has tried to share the excitement of the screenings, and always drawn attention to the quite serious reactions to it, from audiences, in the press, and here on the net.

So after more than a dozen previews (and one excellent public screening at a film festival in New Delhi) the incidents of last week, when the Mumbai Police clumsily stepped in to stop two of our screenings, came as something of a shock. I know it should not have been. From the very first screening (in fact even before the very first preview) a small group of people had made it their mission to follow the film around and appear to stop it from circulating. (Appear to, because they too know that they cannot actually stop the film, but they do know that there is mileage to be got from appearing to stop it).

Initially this took the form of vituperative flaming on the net, a space that has unfortunately become the happy hunting ground of every sort of extreme bully. These net-warriors (net-bullies, really) are living out a sort of fantasy life on the web, able to say what they want about the film, abuse, propagate falsehoods, lie, whatever. And all the time imagine that what they are doing is some form of activism. Unfortunately this can only work when no one has seen the film. With every preview (and press report) on the film, more and more people are making up their own minds about Jashn-e-Azadi.

As a film-maker, I don’t claim that everyone who has seen the film loves it, or agrees with it completely, or clutches it’s arguments to their bosom and stops thinking beyond it. Because that would be a failure for the film. My Editor, Tarun Bhartiya, and I have often spoken about this during the long process of editing. We didn’t want to end up with a film that people liked: it was much more important for us to share our sense of disturbance. Indeed we would only begin to register our success when people were troubled by it, argued with it, but were at least pushed to break the horrible silence in Indian public life on Kashmir.

In Mumbai, a few journalists asked me why Kashmiri Pandits were “against” the film, since that was what they had been given to believe. This I refuse to accept: of the many Kashmiri Pandits who have seen the film, many have been disturbed by the film, not at the film; they have been troubled by it’s arguments, not by it’s makers. Simply because a small bunch of people, the net-bullies, have decided to make political capital out of opposing the film, grandstanding for the sake of their own narrow interests, does not mean we should accede to them the entire swathe of what we can call “Kashmiri Pandit” opinion. I have spoken to enough Pandits who think otherwise after watching the film.

One small example of this dissembling: from our first preview in Delhi in March, there have been these fantasies that we had invited Yasin Malik to be the Chief Guest at the preview; that since he figures in the verite footage of the film, he was somehow the “hero” of the film. (I wonder why they didn’t instead think of one of the young Army Officers in the film as the “hero” of  the film; or why the Pyschiatrist in the film doesn’t qualify; or indeed the civil society people who are conducting a survey of the dead?) That the film was in some mysterious way “linked” to Yasin Malik. Most ingeniously that the JKLF’s recent campaign in rural Kashmir was called Safar-e-Azadi; this film was called Jashn-e-Azadi. Ergo, they must have a common “source”! And since they feel Yasin Malik is a “terrorist and a mass murderer” this film was clearly sympathetic to “terrorism”. Quite neat isn’t it, the way it ties up for our net-detectives?

Yasin Malik came to the screening of Jashn-e-Azadi like 300 other people in Delhi: he heard of the screening, he called to check, he arrived on time at the hall, he collected an entry pass, and he sat and watched the film. He did not, like our net-warriors, arrive late, arrive with placards condemning the film, (even before they had seen the film) and since the hall was full and the security were not keen on letting protesters into the hall, turn this into yet another example of how Kashmiri Pandits were being discriminated against. (Sometimes I feel like redirecting the energies of this bunch to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has also met with Mr Malik. “Terrorist and a mass murderer”, whatever!)

The new fantasy is that since the film is not the what they want it to be, it is sympathetic to “terrorists”. Simple isn’t it? Can’t argue with something, give it a label that will attract the attention of the ever-zealous security apparatus, then keep repeating it till some of it appears to stick. No argument to offer about the brutal dispossession of the rural poor in Chattisgarh? Call the civil-rights people “naxalites”. No argument to offer about the politics of what is happening in Kashmir? Call the film-makers “anti-national”.

All this would be inconsequential, and indeed laughable, if the Mumbai Police had not pitched in to help carry out their mandate. At our first preview at the Bhupesh Gupta Bhawan, Mumbai, we had 40 people gathered on the 2nd floor of a private building. Downstairs was the Dy Commissioner of Police, the Incharge, Dadar Police Station, two sub-inspectors and two constables in uniform, five plain-clothes intelligence men, and one woman constable: 12 members of the Mumbai Police. At our second preview at Prithvi House, Juhu, the local Police Station had sent in a written letter telling the management to desist from showing the film. Or else be prepared to face the consequences. Heavy artillery for a confrontation that simply didn’t happen.

When this blog was set up March 2007, in the last weeks of finishing Jashn-e-Azadi, we needed a short and pithy way to describe it. More out of instinct than reason, I described it as a new film that “raises questions about freedom in Kashmir, and about the degrees of freedom in India.” The events of last week make that casually written sentence seem almost prophetic.

[ blog trivia 1- search terms]

Just curious what those searching for the highlighted terms make of the site ?
What happens to you if you are looking for ‘hot anus’ and you arrive at our keyword ‘interrogation‘. Or a search for ‘hindi poems on azadi’ offers you ‘slogans of kashmiri freedom‘? Do you curse the web or allow yourself to be surprised?
A recent sample:

2007-07-02: film & flashes institute pune / e dainik bhaskar
2007-06-30: inder salim / collage on kashmir / vidhi upadhyay / amit bhan sound of silence / lightstalker flash slideshow / kashmir songs about freedom
2007-06-29: patricia mukhim / hindi filmi poet / Indian Independence Day 60th Anniversary / kashmir uzma / hot anus
2007-06-28: hindi poems on azadi / indian army do u have it in you / habba kadal / kashmir what does it mean / the untold tragedy
2007-06-27: jashn / lepeska / kashmir uzma

The Hyperworlds of Hypertexts are curious places to dwell in…

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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