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.
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 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.
Is Piarey Hatash at home?
Could I speak with him?
Bade Papa there’s a phone for you?
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.
[[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.