Archive for the 'pandit' Category

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

blogflash: report on the San Jose screening

We’re happy to post a ‘report’ on the screening of Jashn-e-azadi on August 6, 2010, at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, San Jose , CA. The event was sponsored by Culture & Conflict Forum and co-sponsored by San Jose Peace and Justice Center. The discussion was moderated by Yasmin Qureshi, whose account of her trip to Kashmir in August 2009, The fate of Kashmir, some of you may already have read on Counterpunch.

Yasmin has forwarded three email responses she received after the screening, and below that, the Q&A she conducted with the audience:

I.

Jashn-e-Azadi was released in 2007 and it has taken me until now to finally watch it, thanks to a screening organized by the Culture and Conflict Forum at the San Jose Peace Center on Friday, August 3rd, 2010. It’s difficult to remember the details, the names and the incidents from the documentary, but the extraordinary impression one leaves with, an impression that continue to haunt long after the screening, is the pervasiveness of the Indian military and paramilitary presence in Kashmir and the universal opposition to it. It’s one thing to have heard that there are 700,000 troops deployed there, one soldier for every 15 Kashmiris; it’s quite another to see them everywhere, in the city square, the streets and alleys, the countryside. It’s also one thing to have heard about the opposition to this military presence, and quite another to witness, through this documentary, the manifestation of this universal opposition from women, men and children of all ages, with huge turn outs at protests, funerals and marches, and even a street play. And, in striking contrast, was the observance of Indian Independence Day by the military forces under conditions of curfew with deserted streets.
Whatever be one’s position on the question of Kashmir, one thing is for clear from watching this documentary, that this situation cannot continue. Not for long. That inevitably raises the question where to from here. That indeed must have been what prompted some of the lively discussion that followed the screening, even though the question itself is not raised in the documentary, let alone addressed in it. To have raised this question is perhaps the most important service that this documentary has done.
It is easy to frame the question in religious terms, Kashmiri Muslims versus Kashmiri Hindus, facile terms made to appear justified on account of the tragic displacement of Pandits from the Valleys and the roles played by Pakistan and the Afghan mujahedeen in promoting violence. But to do so would also be to ignore that to most Kashmiris, it is a struggle for freedom and national self-determination, a struggle in the making for over 500 years that gave rise to Kashmiriyat, the unity of Kashmiris of all religions, a struggle in which religion has not been the divisive factor that it is portrayed to be in India.

II.

The first half of the film was like watching a thriller and left me spellbound! It moved so fast. There were 4 parallel tracks or stories – one of the old man searching for his son’s grave which was very touching, covering the militant resistance and what it did. Second the man surveying and documenting number of deaths. Third the arrogant attitude of Indians, as if they own and control Kashmir through the tourists and later through the pilgrims. Lastly the play which is very important as it explains the 100s of years of colonization and how Kashmiris were docile then but are now determined to fight for self determination. The history is important to understand why kashmiris want freedom.
The scene of the women walking in the mosque followed by prayers in the snow was very surreal. The first half was complete in itself and maybe the Q&A session should have been then instead of in the end. It would have given more time for discussion. The scenes were going back and forth which may have been confusing for someone who doesn’t know much about the history and sequence of events.

III.

The film is not a comprehensive analysis of the Kashmir situation.. And it is not a straightforward narrative; (often, there wasn’t much narrative.. and in that regard it reminded me of Amar Kanwar’s Night of Prophecy). there are no easy answers, or clear sides that one can easily take. The film touched a nerve in me on many levels. In parts I wasn’t sure what the director was getting at. For example he hints at the plight of the pandits, and the religious dimension of the resistance; but doesn’t make any further comment on it. One thing came through loud and clear, though – it showed what an occupation by the Indian army looks like (and it does not look pretty).
The shots of Srinagar during Indian independence day were especially telling. If you have to put the entire city under lockdown in order to “celebrate” your independence, you aren’t having much “independence”, are you? And this is why it is probably an important movie to watch.

IV.

I think that the film – or the half of it that I saw- did not have much focus. Not because of any fault of the director but because of the need to show the film to a larger audience in India, the director perhaps was constrained to come out and show what he truly belivies to be the issue at stake. This lack of focus, in my view, is a direct measure of the sorry state of affairs vis a vis Kashmir in India. There is a dire need to keep the focus on Kashmir issue in and out of India by people like the director of this film who care for the people of Kashmir.

V.

It showed very well the beautiful people and the beauty of the region but also the poverty and violence. But the film was very long and confusing — it kept switching back and forth between different incidents of violence, interviews with people.

Question and Answer session
(Questions were answered by Yasmin Qureshi, member of Culture and Conflict Forum. She had visited the Kashmir valley in August 2009.)

Q: What was the message of the film?

A: Well, the director Sanjay Kak leaves it to the audience really. His objective was to bring out the voices of the people of Kashmir since we rarely read about them in the media and open an avenue for discussion on the issues and aspirations of the Kashmiris. Back in 2007 the word azadi for Kashmir was shocking for Indians. As a Kashmiri Sanjay wanted to make a film about the people there and what they feel.

Q: It is true the media doesn’t cover the Kashmiri Muslims but it also doesn’t cover
the pundits either. How do you justify the killing and migration of 100,000 pandits?

A: I disagree the media doesn’t cover the pundits. In fact most articles published in India on Kashmir address this issue. What they don’t cover is what the army is doing there, the murders, missing people, rapes and what the people there want and why. Recently Shivam Vij had a detailed article on the pundits living in Delhi area in kafila.org.
Yes, what happened to the pundits is unjustifiable. And certainly Pakistan and the Afghan mujahedeen had a role to play as Kashmiris started crossing borders to get training in the 90s. The people I spoke to in the valley last year wanted them to come back. People there at this point are not in favor of a militant resistance.

Q: You mentioned the media and I am comparing to the media coverage of Palestine in Israel.
How is the Indian media coverage?

A: As I mentioned earlier, Kashmir is not covered well in the Indian media. Discussing aspirations of Kashmiris is taboo. For example, no one wanted to publish my article, Democracy Under the Barrel of a Gun in India. The media does write about the presence of army and that the Indian govt needs to deal with it but what they don’t cover is what the militarization has done to the society. Or the root causes such as the annexation, as Kashmiris say, The Brahminical rule of India’. Mass graves were found, many women have been raped. This is not covered very well not just by Indian media but also the international media. There isn’t a discussion on what and why Kashmiris want azadi and what it means.
Siddharth Varadhrajan wrote an article recently on the protests in Hindu. He mentioned the elections of 2008. What he didn’t mention is that Kashmiris participated in them more to vote for local governance issues and not anything to do with future of Kashmir or rule of Indian state. However, the media presented the 60% turnout as a vote of endorsement of the rule of Indian state and the Kashmiris felt betrayed. Partly why we see the kind of massive protests since 2008 is this.

Q: But what about the militant movement in Kashmir? If it got independent they would take
over.

A: The argument that Indian army shouldn’t leave or Kashmiris shouldn’t be independent because the militants will take over to me is similar to the argument that US shouldn’t leave Iraq or Afghanistan. Isn’t that what was said even during the Vietnam war?
At this point it is really a people’s movement – students, youth, women, ciivilans. The people saw what the militant movement did to them and how the Indian army dealt with it. Almost every family was impacted by it, killed, tortured or in custody. Also they see the power of the protests. I had asked the same when I went to the valley last year. What people said was the militant groups are not that prominent now and they don’t need a militant resistance anymore. I spoke a friend just two days ago to ask the same question since I knew someone would ask. He narrated an incidence. Two militants came to join a protest in a village but the people pushed them out!

Q: Why is the Indian govt’s attitude so belligerent? Is it because of the vote bank they may lose?

A: There are many reasons. Yes, the vote bank is certainly an important one. Kashmir is the only state with a majority Muslim population and they want freedom from India! So they want another partition?
Kashmir is considered ‘Bharat ka atoot ang’ and to discuss anything about autonomy or
independence leads to the question about further disintegration of India in the east for example or how it would impact other insurgencies such as in central tribal areas. Also the fact that it borders with Pakistan. The argument is ‘if we reduce troops Pakistan will invade’. But then have troops on the border. What is the justification for troops or police in a crowded city like Srinagar? If the argument is to protect pundits, most of them are no longer in the valley. So who is it protecting?
There isn’t a great willingness on either sides to deal with this issue even though it is the most important from a geo-political angle. Also, Kashmir is rich in natural resources, source of water and India wouldn’t want to give those up.

[ Someone from the audience expanded on the ‘only muslim majority state’ by giving the history of the Dogra rule and how Maharaja Hari Singh annexed Kashmir(and that it was conditional) without taking the opinion of the Muslim majority and how that was the opposite of what happened in other princely states like Junagarh or Hyderabad where the majority was Hindu and the ruler was Muslim and the vote went the will of the majority population.]

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!

Jashn-e-Azadi, Zakhm-e-Azadi

Jashn-e-Azadi, Zakhm-e-Azadi (Celebrating freedom, Wounded by freedom) is the title of a review of the film by Priyadarshan, the poet, writer and journalist. It was first carried by the Hindi newspaper Aaj Samaj, New Delhi 15 March 2008, and for those who can read Hindi, it’s also available on Priyadarshans’ lively blog bharosa.blogspot.com

We are making available here an (unauthorised!) translation of the review:

Jashn-e-Azadi, Zakhm-e-Azadi (Celebrating freedom, Wounded by freedom)

Looking at the young faces present in that little room in the Arts faculty of Delhi University, I was more anxious than pleased. Brought up on the glamour of Bombay cinema, of films like Chak de India and Taare zameen par, would these boys and girls be kept interested by Sanjay Kaks’ two and a quarter hour long documentary? A documentary that does not have a clear story line, no actors, and a complicated conclusion which fuses History and Geography in ways that seem always ready to slip out of one’s hands and mind?

But Jashn-e-Azadi began, and all my doubts were dispelled. On that mottled white wall, as images and sounds emerged, the wall itself disappeared, the room vanished, and despite the ambient light in that room, so did the faces of those who had gathered to see the film. What emerged slowly was the truth about the valley called Kashmir, where freedom is an illusionary word.

This is that tattered Kashmir, where amidst falling snow a father looks for his sons’ grave – once a commander with HM, the Hizbul Mujahideen, now dead. The father has come on Eid day so that he can read a benediction in his sons’ memory. In this Kashmir people count their dead as if they are remembering things lost. In this Kashmir a young girl is terrified by her own recounting of an event. In this Kashmir, family members look for a lost child, a photograph in their hands. In this Kashmir young girls carry the marks of terror in their hearts, and even in their dreams they see their dying fathers… In the midst of this, a sadhu mendicant who has come for the pilgrimage of the Amarnath Yatra warns anyone who even lifts an eye towards Kashmir, that he will gouge their eyes out.

No, this is not a film that plays with your emotions. Sanjay Kak has probably intentionally kept away from that easy path. All these images you have to search for – to try and figure out that what it is in this apparently calm film that leaves you so troubled. For it does not give us the luxury of being emotional just for an instant, and then be allowed to forget about it. In this search, when you look beyond a deserted Lal Chowk, where soldiers raise the Indian tricolor and sing the national anthem, or when you see a huge crowd raise slogans of azadi, freedom, its then that you see these faces. That’s when you can see that behind the silence–or clamour–of Kashmir is sadness, we see that tragedy where there are burnt homes, the marks of what looks like dried out blood, and futile attempts to wash out the fresh blood.

Sanjay Kak does not show us too much or tell us too much. Incidents and characters are allowed to speak. On a beautiful lake in Kashmir floats the voice of a poet–binding lost times and places with its lament and its pain. And around this pain there is also the boorish tourist gaze, for whom Kashmir is just some snow upon which they may slide, or a beautiful garden: the excited screams of these tourists inform us that this Kashmir is better than Switzerland. Other than the tourists, there are the Soldiers– running schools for orphans at one place, distributing portable radios at another, and promising that more nice things will follow, and for everyone…

At every step of the film this maze of contradictions seems to hold us back, and often we feel that this film should now get over. But the film is not done even after it is over. While it is clearly a political film, its lessons are still not those of an easy politics. All that one can see is that with 700,000 soldiers, Independence day still has to be celebrated in silence, and events with school children too need to happen behind impregnable security barriers. On the other hand, when the Army kills someone in a so-called “encounter”, the funeral procession for the dead boy turns into a rally for the azadi of Kashmir. It’s quite clear that anger against India’s hegemonic politics and militarised policies has survived all the oppression.

The film raises several important questions about history and the present. Sanjay Kak sees the struggle of the Kashmiris as linked to 500 years of servitude. This leads to a kind of unmediated simplification in which its not easy to understand the dilemmas that have arisen after 1947, as Kashmir has swung between India and Pakistan, both in its society and its politics. Secondly this film does not attempt to articulate the kashmiriyat that is spoken of so frequently. If it did, it would perhaps make it even clearer that identities do not have just one definition, they have many layers, and kashmiriyat too is constructed out of just such layers.

In any event, Sanjay Kak does not seem to be in a hurry to raise the questions or provide the answers. Nor is he trying to weave some sort of story out of all this. Instead, between the scrambled dates and places, he shows us a Kashmir where in twenty years 70,000 people have lost their lives, he takes us to those graveyards where people are recognized not by their names or faces, but by numbers. In the entire film, no Kashmiri Pandits are visible, and this is also represented by Sanjay as a sort of emptiness, towards which peoples’ attention must be drawn. Like a blank space in a painting, which still adds meaning to that picture. Perhaps it’s due to this distant neutrality that the film doesn’t have a specific beginning or end. It seems to go on– and even after it is over.

By the time the film ended in that room in Delhi University, the numbers of those gathered seem to have grown suddenly, and Sanjay was faced with a pile of questions. Questions that tried to understand the extremely complex reality of Kashmir, questions related to the politics and neutrality of the film. Amidst these questions it was clear that Jashn-e-Azadi was successful in its aims–it touches you from a distance, and without your knowing it, goes deep inside of you. That is its major achievement.

Screenings in the UK

Riding on the air-miles of the Amsterdam appearance of Jashn-e-Azadi, the film travelled to the UK, where we did four screenings in quick succession:

The first was on Dec 3, 2007 at the Royal Holloway College, University of London, at the instance of the Department of Media Arts, and Dr Lina Khatib, who has written quite prolifically about cinema in the Middle-East, in particular that of Lebanon. A small group of students and faculty attended the screening, as part of the HARC Fellows’ Seminar Series, and there was a long and detailed discussion that followed, moderated by Dr Yasmin Khan, who is herself the author of a new book about the Partition of the Indian sub-continent.

On Dec 6, 2007 there was a screening at the University of Leeds, in their wonderful Workshop Theatre. The School of English offers a very dynamic course on the Kashmir conflict, taught by Dr Ananya Kabir, so we had an excellent turnout of students and faculty, as well as a sizeable presence of people from the wider community around Leeds, and the nearby towns of Bradford and Birmingham. (This was a relief, since there was a rumour that something called the Kashmiri Indo-European Forum had written into the University authorities asking for the screening to be called off because–and hold it right there, folks–it glorifies terrorists! This sort of irresponsible campaign of calumny is quite familiar to all of us, and ends up contributing nothing to the discourse on Kashmir, and only ends up in a waste of energy.)
For some reason, unfamiliar “tech” gremlins crept into the second half of the screening, and the DVD consequently skipped the last 10 minutes of the film. Several DVDs were offered to the machine, but it was firm in its rejection. But this seemed to not distract the audience too much, and a long Q&A followed. While many of the questions followed a by now predictable pattern, for me what was a completely fresh perspective, were the questions brought in by people in the audience who come from that part of Kashmir that is variously described as Azad Kashmir/Pakistan Controlled Kashmir/Pakistan Occupied Kashmir… One of things that I realised, with some surprise I must admit, is that there are more than 600,000 people in Britain whose origins lie in that part of Kashmir, traditionally described as Mirpur, hence, ‘Mirpuris’.

Dec 7, 2007 there was a screening in London organised by SACREDMEDIACOW, which describes itself as ‘an independent postgraduate collective on Indian media research and production’ at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. We had an excellent turnout, and that healthy indicator of audience interest–only a handful of the almost-full Khalili Auditorium left before the 2 hour 19 minute screening time! The discussion after the screening was moderated by Sumantra Bose, Professor of International & Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, whose books on Kashmir are probably the two most balanced accounts of the contemporary Kashmir situation I have read. In the course of the last 9 months, over perhaps 40 Q&As, this particular session will remain a high-light: there was something about the audience’s response to the film itself (apart from the Kashmir issue, that is) that was extremely focused, even intense. The best Q&A sessions are those where you find yourself responding with things you’ve never said–or even thought of–before. This was one such.

Dec 8, 2007 saw the UK screenings rounded off by a last-minute improvised screening set up with some friends in the Mirpuri community in Birmingham. About 50 people, almost all of them middle-aged Kashmiris, watched a film about a Kashmir that none of them had ever been to: one of the invisible legacies of that brutal partition of 1947, when most of them were not even born. And yet most in the audience seemed to describe themselves as “nationalists”, by which they referred to their identity as Kashmiris, not as Pakistanis, or even people from “Azad” Kashmir. We talked about the current situation in the valley, the militarisation, the impact of changes in the politics of Pakistan, but there was also a very keen interest in knowing more about the complex issue of the Kashmiri Pandit minority… Over dinner, I must admit, the conversation was much more of an eye-opener for me than Jashn-e-Azadi is for many of the Mirpuri friends: there was at least one insight that deserves a separate post, and I will do that shortly. Watch this space!

Post-script: On Dec 9, 2007 I did a live interview on the Bradford based Aapna Channel (beamed in Europe on Sky Digital 817), a Pahari language (or more accurately Pahari/Potohari/Hindku speaking) channel aimed at precisely the 600,000+ people from the Mirpur district of “Azad” Kashmir. As a concession to my lack of skills in any of these dialects, my interlocutor (the very affable–and yet very political–Shams Rahman), spoke to me in Urdu/Hindustani, and over 90 minutes we really had a good conversation about the film, and Kashmir. We took several calls too, and once again there was a long conversation about the tragic departure of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the early 1990s…

[ 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!)


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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