Amit Bhan | The Pioneer | Sunday March 18 2007
We have seen the images before. The normally busy Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar, wearing a deserted look as the national flag is hoisted there by security forces on Independence Day.
And it is with this image that filmmaker Sanjay Kak has opened his feature length documentary Jashn-e-azadi (How we celebrate freedom). The film was screened at the India Habitat Centre recently.
From this “celebration” of Independence, Kak moves across the Valley to find out what azadi means to the common man and how Indian democracy functions. And the viewer is taken through the Martyr’s Graveyard, introduced to the families of those killed in the militancy-related incidents, to the OPD ward of the Government Psychiatric Hospital, destroyed houses and the protest rallies.
“The film is a series of images that depict the present situation in Kashmir. I want to make people understand what is happening out there and offer them a way to engage with it, listen to it. I am showing what is happening there for the rest of India,” says Kak.
The images reinforce the colossal tragedy suffered by the locals. But the tragedy has a cause and the film attributes it to the Indian presence there, which is reinforced through images of gun-trotting security personnel, movement of convoys of security forces and their search operations and encounters. And such is the juxtaposition of images that one is compelled to draw inference that security forces are the ‘occupying forces.’ Precisely what the militants have been propagating and what they have been demanding azadi from.
In the film, Kak has also spoken to some separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and even shown a public meet of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik. Says Kak, “Though I am not interested in what their political views are, I was interested in what they say about Kashmiris. Their speeches seemed to me what people in the Valley are articulating.”
Though one cannot deny that Kashmiris have suffered due to almost two decades of terrorism, Kak’s projection of this has made it look like the tragedy of just one community. Kashmiri Pandits, who formed a significant minority in the Valley and five lakh of whom were forced to flee their homes, get a mention as voice-over and are ‘brushed aside as collateral damage.’ Their mention is wrapped up in just over a minute in the 138-minute-long film. Though accepting that their loss was huge, Kak justifies their absence in the film. “The Kashmiri Pandits never happened to be in the Valley during that time and they never were a part of this azadi,” says he.
The film also tries to put ‘occupation of Kashmir’ in a historical context. But Kak fails in it miserably. The historical reference lacks in detail so much that the context Kak tried to put the present conflict in, is missing.
The efforts carried out by the security forces to reach out to the distraught populace, the administration’s attempts to bring normalcy – for example by reviving tourism – have been depicted in a way that only evoke sarcasm. An attempt that is going to find favour only with separatists.
Kak may claim it is a documentary but by deliberately choosing to present only one side (his side as he says) of the situation, he has let the film go down as mere propaganda tool of the separatists.
And they protested…
The presence of Yasin Malik at the screening evoked a strong protest from activists of Roots in Kashmir, an organisation of Kashmiri Pandit youths.
The activists, who were prevented from entering the auditorium during the first half of the film, demanded that Malik be barred from the venue as he was responsible for killing of Kashmiri Pandits.
The almost negligible mention of the plight of Kashmiri Pandit in the film also drew flak from the activists who directed their ire at the filmmaker after the end of the film.