Almost missed posting these two valuable accounts of end of the year screenings of Jashn-e-Azadi. They are particularly important because of the different ways they suggest for ‘using’ documentary films to spark off a conversation.
London – SOAS/ASAR: November 9, 2010
We took about a month to organize the screening of Jashn-e-Azadi at SOAS, University of London. Sanjay could not be in London, and being a student group, we did not have enough money to fly him in, so skype was chosen (something that should be tried more often with massive funding cuts in the U.K. nowadays). The screening + discussion with Sanjay was to be held at the Khalili Lecture Theatre from 2 to 6pm on the 9th of November. We were all part of the group ASAR which is Academics and Students against Repression. It was launched last year by a group of like-minded students and teachers who were keeping a close eye on the events unfolding in India – particularly moments of conflict where the Indian state was culpable of being hands-in-glove with big corporations or of securing its ‘territorial integrity’ at enormous human costs – and were trying to work out what are the best possible interventions we could make from here in London. The group was made up of both more itinerant students but also academics who are more or less permanently based in London. We partnered with CISD (Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy) at SOAS for organizing the screening.
Seeing what had happened over the last four months in Kashmir was a cause of massive concern for all of us. What was extremely frustrating was the narrowing of the very debate which the several outlets in the Indian national media were conducting on their television channels and print publications, a debate caught between the extremes of the nationalist ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’ approach, on the one hand, and a very simple understanding of the demand for ‘azadi’ (‘freedom’) from Kashmiris, on the other. Sanjay’s film was refreshing because, it becomes clear as it unspools, it had different terms of debate altogether, and what we thought was the most important part of the work, its ability to listen to those whom this whole ‘conflict’ affects the most and is about – the ordinary people in Kashmir.
The fact that it was the Reading Week in the University of London the week of the screening, and that the London weather predictably played up its game with heavy pours, meant that the audience number was not what we expected. At its peak, there were about 40 people who came for the screening. The dvd offered some of its own difficulties and got stuck twice. But the SOAS tech staff was quite helpful and people got to see the whole film despite the hiccups. What was the strongest part of the event though was the discussion itself, uninterrupted by technical hassles and with Sanjay, being telecast probably from his private study, answering at length the questions that the audience asked. The discussion lasted a good solid hour and involved several entry points into ‘the Kashmir question’. There were questions about the craft of the film and its use of the ‘sentiment’ and poetry as something that propels the whole film and how that relates to hard ‘politics’ and to what effect. There were questions about the meaning of ‘azadi’ in Kashmir in the light of recent events, including the stone-protests, and the relation, if any, of this idea of ‘azadi’ to overtly religious feeling. Sanjay recounted the two meetings, in Delhi and in Srinagar, that discussed these many meanings and were a cause of the ‘sedition’ controversy that the national media churned out, implicating writers and thinkers. Questions were asked by both bachelors students and veteran civil rights activists based in London. One of the outcomes of the debate was that it became amply clear that Kashmiris and those with them, now more than ever, have to continue having strong internal debates about ‘azadi’ and have to constantly stage this complex argument of ‘azadi’, taking into consideration their own minorities, and their ‘fight’ is to be fought on the basis of what is there to offer as a post-independence vision as well as a means to redress the present and long-standing military excesses of the Indian state.
(reported by Akhil Katyal)
Bangalore – IISc: November 29, 2010
An impressive crowd of around 90 people gathered in a physics lecture hall on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science to attend a screenin of Jashn-e-Azadi. The audience, coming both from communities in and off the campus, sat attentively through the first disc of the movie, and opted through a democratic audience decision (via a show of hands) to watch the second disc of the movie rather than just discuss the first half of the movie. By the time the movie ended, it was around 9 pm – yet a thick group gathered in the center of the hall to discuss the issues of Kashmiri azadi and self determination. This discussion involved the usual individual asking questions which the 10 or so Kashmiris present answered, about the state of life in Kashmir, the omnipresence of armed forces, the routine yet serious harrassment that all Kashmiris undergo, and the views of people in and around the Kashmir valley. The narratives of the Kashmiris present in the room were very powerful and this moved most of the audience that had stayed for the discussion. The discussion was informal, it was emotional, and it was very productive. Around 35 people signed up to participate in a campaign to support Kashmiri self determination.
(reported by Kaveri Rajaraman)