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.”