Archive for the 'controversy' Category

Thrissur, New York, and a few besides

For Jashn-e-Azadi, this week begins with a screening on Feb 24th at Thrissur in Kerala, where it will show at the Vibgyor International Film Festival.

This will be followed by a screening at on Feb 27th at New York University, part of the South Asia Documentary Screening Series curated by NYU Libraries.

This has been a busy month: the last screening, organised by the student group AISA at the Delhi School of Economics, Dept of Sociology turned into an event far outside of itself. From the day it was announced, the screening was under scrutiny by the usual stalwarts of the Right Wing. (And the Deccan Herald began to describe the film as “Symbiosis banned”, whatever that means.) Although the usual suspects showed up to ‘protest’ the event, the picture accompanying the report in The Hindu makes clear that the ABVP (and the unfortunately named Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena) are not yet a major force on the Delhi University campus. (Estimates for that day varied from 15 to 20 youths)

But the reports in the Indian Express and particularly in The Times of India, draw attention to something remarkable that happened that afternoon on campus. Simply put, the Dept of Sociology stood its ground, and insisted upon its right to show such material as was thought appropriate for the students. Dr Nandini Sundar, Head of the department, read out to the students the letter written to the Proctor, which said that

“the film screening in question is a routine matter in our department, and it has never been the practice to take permission for such screenings which pertain to our academic program.”

In the face of this clear and unambiguous position, both the University authorities, and the Delhi Police were forced to support that stance. The Times of India quotes the Dy Commissioner Police (North), I B Rani’s quite significant response:

“Since it was a private screening, there was no need for students to seek permission from us. The film was shown inside the classroom. We had, however, decided to station our officers at the spot after getting intelligence inputs that certain groups might protest in the area.Though some protested outside the venue, we did not need to arrest or detain anyone”.

Later  AISA issued a statement which can be read here on kafila.org

(Not many noticed that the same day as the Dept of Sociology screening, a smaller, more quiet screening was held by the Informal Discussion Group at St Stephen’s College. An excellent discussion followed… Different strokes work for different folks)

Perhaps there is a lesson in this for those at the Symbiosis College in Pune (and the Pune Police) whose reaction was to crawl when they were simply asked to bend. Our previous post has some of the links to that story, but in case you missed those you could start with the excellent coverage in The Hindu. If you want to draw cheer from the sad goings on in Pune, there is an excellent post by a student of Symbiosis, Akshat Jitendranath. We like to think that Akshat had been provoked by a commentary a few days earlier on the same site by the redoubtable Shuddhabrata Sengupta.

Kafila.org also carries an excellent account of a more samizdat screening held last week at Presidency College, Kolkata, posted by one its organisers, Waled Adnan. Apart from an ‘alert’ that appeared in the Indian Express, the coverage in the Kolkata editions of The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, and the Indian Express do give a sense of the possibilities of student action! All power to students!

Finally, for perspective you could also read Shanta Gokhale’s excellent commentary in Mumbai Mirror, Mayank Shekhar blogging in The Hindustan Times, and Shivam Vij on First Post.

As you can see, a busy week for a 5 year old film!

The past, and it’s counter

In this last week Jashn-e-Azadi has been in the news again, sparked off by the cancellation of a screening scheduled at the Symbiosis university in Pune. In the attendant fuss that always accompanies such incidents, one story keeps cropping up. On twitter, on television, and on the net. This refers to the cancellation of a screening of the film ‘And the world remained silent’, at an undergraduate college in Delhi in August 2007, and the role of Jashn-e-Azadi (and its makers, I suppose) in edging out this film.

That there was no truth in this allegation was made clear only a few days later by Sanjay Muttoo, visiting faculty at the same college, but this clarification from the teachers who had scheduled the screenings has obviously had little effect. (Truth, as we have heard said sometimes, is no defence!)

This week a respectable Mumbai newspaper, the DNA, once again repeated the same old story of how a screening of ‘And the world remained silent’ was pushed out by Jashn-e-Azadi. This falsehood was accompanied by a twitter rush that tried to reinforce that story. Obviously, there would be some people who may think there is some truth in the allegation. Sanjay Muttoo, who still teaches at the college, wrote a letter of clarification to the DNA, but it seems not to have found place there. He has now mailed us a copy, and we share it with those who have followed the exciting life of Jashn-e-Azadi!

Invoking the memory of a past event often necessitates the invoking of a counter-memory.  I refer to the sequence of events Aditya Raj Kaul narrates to contend that a screening of Ashok Pandit’s film “And the World Remained Silent” in Delhi’s Kamla Nehru College was conspiratorially cancelled at the behest of “some powers”. He goes on to say that this was done to facilitate the screening of Sanjay Kak’s film Jashn e Azadi instead but “the Delhi police asked Kak not to break the law and the screening was cancelled.”

Implicit in this argument are some erroneous assumptions which I would like to contest invoking a `counter-memory’. Referring to Ashok Pandit’s film, Kaul says, “On the eve of the screening, the organisers called it off”. In stating this he would like us to believe that the college authorities had actually scheduled a screening of ‘And the World Remained Silent’ on August 24 and later reneged on this commitment. In fact, this allegation was also made by  Rashneek Kher in a post on the Sarai Reader-List way back in August 2007. As visiting faculty in the department of journalism in Kamla Nehru College then and the person who had invited Sanjay Kak to screen his film  ‘Jashn e Azaadi’, I  cross-checked the facts with Anubha Yadav, the then Teacher in Charge responsible for taking decisions regarding screenings. She acknowledged that a request for screening Ashok Pandit’s film had been made but was quite emphatic in denying that the college had agreed to screen his film on August 24. So, the question of `some powers’ making sure that the screening of Ashok Pandit’s film was cancelled to accommodate Sanjay Kak’s film just did not arise.

Aditya Raj Kaul goes on to say that “as expected, the Delhi police asked Kak not to break the law and the screening was cancelled.” I am curious to know how the Delhi Police got to know in the first place that Mr Kak’s film was to be screened in Kamla Nehru College. It wasn’t a great secret but I wonder if the Delhi Police as a matter of routine policing monitors each and every  film screening that each college organizes. Having agreed to screen the film, would the college authorities in some moment of insanity have themselves informed the police and invoked a direction from them not to do so? Or was it that activists from ‘Roots in Kashmir’ complained to the police and got the screening of Sanjay Kak’s film cancelled ? This question begs an answer, an answer that might contain clues to why the police asked Kak to cancel the screening.

Kaul says that Jashn e Azadi’ has “been denied a public screening certificate from the censor board.” I am quite intrigued by this statement of his. As far as I know and I have checked this up with Sanjay Kak, he has not once applied for a censor certificate. So, where does the question of his film being “denied a public screening certificate from the censor board” arise? Is Kaul just ill informed or has he been too lazy to verify his facts……or is he choosing to deliberately peddle a lie? I will be happy to be corrected if Kaul can substantiate this claim of his. Till that happens, I will continue to wonder if this is a tactical  move in the larger gameplan of trying to attack the film using the bogey of ‘illegality’  whenever it is scheduled for a screening to try and make it invisible in the public domain?

Sanjay Muttoo, New Delhi Feb 2, 2012

[ 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!)

[ 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 flash 12&half-mumbai continued ]

pandit says ban

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

and a discussion at passionforcinema 

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

mumbai police 1

mumbai police’s crack critic team

mumbai police 2

mumbai police’s crack critic team 2

[blog flash 12 – mumbai interruption]

Yesterday evening, blogmistri had been lazily formulating a post about the great response Jashn-e-Azadi had in its first festival/public screening at Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian & Arab Cinema (New Delhi, July 22) – and waiting for the news of the first Mumbai preview from Sanjay. But around 8.30pm, he heard that the preview of the film organised by Vikalp, the film-makers group, at Bhupesh Gupta Bhawan had been interrupted and the screening DVD of the film seized by Mumbai Police.

We will keep you posted on this interruption in the life of the film, but till then you could check out this news report in Mumbai Mirror. There is a first person account on a blog called paddlesweep. And the films for freedom/vikalp site for an incisive remark by Ranjit Hoskote of The PEN All-India Centre. (And for a very different view see this first comment on our post!)


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

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

Click here to watch the Trailer

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

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

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

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

links

For dispatches from the present

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

Stone in my hand

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

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

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

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

And a discovery called Paradise Lost

RSS Kashmir via Greater Kashmir

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previews

Festival screenings

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

Previous Previews

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

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

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

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

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

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