Tehelka weekly / Saturday April 7, 2007
‘You can’t take silence for victory’
Sanjay Kak spent three years making Jashn-e-Azadi, a documentary. He tells Shivam Vij India may not yet be ready for withdrawing troops from the Valley
What was your motivation in making a film on Kashmir?
When I went to Srinagar in 2003 it was after a gap of 14 years. I was shocked by what had happened to Kashmir. To walk from our home to the nearby market in Lal Chowk one had to make it past half-a-dozen bunkers, with soldiers with fingers on the triggers of ak-47s, with transparent magazines with bullets shining through. This was not the Kashmir I knew at all! Then as I began to move about the city, and then to the countryside, the level of militarisation was so awesome, the fear and sullen anger amongst the people so palpable — I was convinced there was something very complex here that needed to be engaged with.
Would it be fair to say that your film Jashn-e-Azadi is about the secessionist movement?
It’s a film that tries to understand the desire for azadi without trying to assign to it the rigid certainties that most Indians seem to demand of it. Whether that desire amounts to secession from India, as an independent State, or a merger with Pakistan, I don’t know. I don’t think there is a definitive answer to that in Kashmir either. But azadi is certainly about self-determination. And it is the ignorance of azadi that I find missing in the public discourse about Kashmir in India.
Were you shocked to see the disconnect between the people and the State?
Our ignorance of Kashmiri feelings about India is the outcome of 60 years of a hermetic, controlled knowledge system which forces us to think of Kashmir in only one way: that it’s a part of India. But in Kashmir you will see that there is a long history to this distance. Many Kashmiris have not naturally seen themselves as Indian. My own grandfather was a Kashmiri Pandit, but I can remember up until the 70s, when he was going to Delhi he would say he was going to India. He had grown up in an independent Kashmir, and even after 1947 a certain distance had remained.
The film acknowledges the use of video from “anonymous Kashmiri cameramen”. How credible are the archival videos?
That archival video is testimony of an incredible time. So is the video gathered for network television today. The filtering actually takes place in newsrooms in Delhi. It has been my experience that the often-deadly images that come from Kashmir can make it to the afternoon news, but are slowly reduced, until they become meaningless 30-second news-bites in primetime news. This works backwards to the crew on the ground who realise there is no point risking your life shooting something you know the network doesn’t value. So self-censorship builds in. On the other hand these “anonymous Kashmiri cameramen” of the 1990s wanted to communicate a sense of what was happening there. You can use video to tell lies, but you can also search within it for truth. You can decide whether you want to be exhilarated by the sight of 7,000 people protesting or be terrified by it…
The film has not really dealt with the issue of Kashmiri Pandits.
It has often bothered me that all discussion on Kashmir in Indian public discourse invariably turns into a discussion on Kashmiri Pandits. In the last 20 years, there was first a sentiment for azadi, then an insurrection, and then the Pandits had to leave. So why can’t we, just once, go back and understand what’s behind there, and then make our way forward?
Most Kashmiri Pandits obviously saw themselves as a part of India, but how do you resolve a situation where they are a tiny minority in a place which is fighting for self-determination? It was thus not altogether unexpected that they felt isolated, even targeted, and had to leave. In this film I wanted to first bridge the understanding of what the sentiment for azadi in Kashmir is.
What has happened to Kashmiri Pandits is terrible, particularly to the rural and poorer class among them. It is an enormous failure on the part of Kashmiri society that they have not been able to resolve. But why is nobody asking me why I haven’t dealt with other important issues in Kashmir: custodial deaths, the politicisation of the Army or the continuing presence of Kashmiri Sikhs there? Does it have to do with the unacknowledged but tacit assumption that India is a Hindu country?
Surely all Kashmiri Muslims didn’t want self-determination even in the early 90s?
I can only go by what I hear and read. I think it is fair to say that in the 90s, the overwhelming sentiment in Kashmir was pro-azadi. You may take as evidence what Jagmohan writes in his memoirs, that when he arrived as Governor in Srinagar in 1990, the only people he could trust were the security guards at Raj Bhavan!
What were the reasons for such an overwhelming sentiment of azadi to appear 40 years into Indian independence?
In my own understanding of Kashmir, I think that the hundred years prior to 1947 are a very crucial piece of history. That century of Dogra rule was highly brutal and oppressive for the vast, vast majority of Kashmiris, especially it’s predominantly Muslim peasantry. So in 1947 when the Maharaja left, there was a huge surge in expectations of what was expected to follow. There followed the highly successful land reforms in 1952 that unshackled the productive capacities of the peasant and led to a self-assertiveness in the face of perceived injustice. Of course, Pakistan played an important role in encouraging these tendencies, particularly after India played mid-wife to the birth of Bangladesh.
Do you think the Kashmiri Muslims have felt let down by not just India but also Indians?
Absolutely. The Indian liberal-left-progressive can and does take a position on the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, or of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Even mainstream media like ndtv and Indian Express can. But to honestly deal with Kashmir asks for a lot more from us. If people are making a sustained argument for some form of disengagement with the Indian republic for 60 years, should we not at least understand what they are saying? Or should we say — oh, there’ve been human rights violations and if we control them, all will be well. I think Kashmir forces us to ask very fundamental questions of how India is constituted and how much of it is held together by coercion.
Until 1993, Indian civil liberties groups had a substantial engagement with Kashmir. But by the mid-nineties, when the apparently secular jklf faded out, they were probably not comfortable when the avowedly Islamic Hizbul Mujahideen took over the driving seat. But Kashmiri sentiment didn’t change, did it?
In 2007, what do you think the Kashmiri Muslim wants?
The overwhelming demand is that of troop withdrawal, of a disengagement of the military apparatus. From ordinary Kashmiri Muslims in the countryside to even those sitting in the Srinagar secretariat, they will all say they want withdrawal of troops.
Has the Indian State been a victor in Kashmir?
Are you talking about the reduction in the number of militants? A former militant veteran told me that at a certain point there was a tactical retreat by the militant leadership. He said “We didn’t want an azadi that nobody was left to enjoy the fruits of. We could not afford to continue losing our best young men who were being killed like flies”. But you can’t take silence and domination for victory. The Indian security forces dominate every aspect of life in Kashmir. But can they take the lid off even briefly?
An Army officer once told us the situation in Kashmir was totally under control today, unlike, say the mid-nineties. When was the Army withdrawing, we asked? He was shocked: Withdraw? There would be chaos, he said. I suppose he means that the Army is not only controlling the militants but also sitting on top of a civil population. As you lift that lid, there might be a few surprises in store for India. I’m not saying militants will run amuck in the Valley but you never know what form politics will take. You see how the security forces clear out of the way whenever there is the funeral of a militant commander, when thousands come out to protest and shout slogans of azadi. The film begins with one such in 1992 and ends with one in 2005. In those few hours when the lid is lifted, the expression of rage is in very much the same terms. Over 14 years we hear the same slogans, the same anger and rage and passion. We can’t assume that since the people are exhausted and if you remove the chains they will, like docile lambs, walk into the Indian Union.
Apr 07 , 2007