Archive for the 'human rights' Category

A screening report from Nottingham

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.”

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

MTV’s Change: Kashmir

For some weeks now, the website of the US based youth channel MTV Iggy, has been hosting an interesting set of conversations on Kashmir, with the tagline “let’s raise awareness to bring peace to paradise”.

The site hosts some basic information resources on Kashmir, as well as a pretty broad range of people speaking about the conflict. Apart from the well-known—like Arundhati Roy, Fareed Zakaria and William Dalrymple—they have also featured some very articulate young men and women both from Srinagar and Jammu.The diversity of positions represented on the clips is useful, and sometimes also disturbing. (Watch, for example, the Indian journalist Tarun Tejpal for a viewpoint that is uncomfortably close to the status-quo rigidities of the Indian State).

Those who follow the strange meanderings of Jashn-e-Azadi will be happy to see several clips from the film show up on the MTV Iggy space as well: you could click on the clip “What frenzy is this?” and then look around the other videos. I would particularly recommend a peek at the Kashmiri American band “Zerobridge”…

There is an interview with Sanjay Kak there too, predictably speaking in favour of taking “contrary positions” and a few other things besides. Enjoy!

Jashn-e-Azadi in The Human Rights Collection

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

IndiePix and The Human Rights Collection

by Jef Burnham

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

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

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

The 9 films that comprised in the collection are:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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