Greater Kashmir, Srinagar / June 16, 2007
A plain portrayal of pain Kashmiris have been through, Rouf Mustafa comments on Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi.
Sanjay Kak returned to the war theatre (Kashmir) after a gap of fifteen years. The last he was here was in 1989 when forces of Bharat Mata and warriors of Mouj Kasheer (mother Kashmir) were preparing themselves for an epic battle. At that time, Kashmiri Pandit community, to which Kak also belongs, were perceived as Tehreek Dushman (enemies of the Movement) by the warriors of movement and considered as Achilles Heel by the forces of Bharat Mata. The belligerents at that time were in no mood to let their minds being distracted by a minority. The first step they took was to create insecurity in the minds of this minority, forcing them into exile, uprooting them from their own soil, their culture and their history. They were the first causalities of this epochal war and the causalities have risen exponentially in this protracted war spanning nearly two decades (100,000 Kashmiris dead).
Notwithstanding the plethora of propaganda unleashed by the actors of Bharat Mata, it must have been a pure intuition. It would have seemed unpalatable, out of sync, how 15 years of active resistance can change a tolerant, peace loving Kashmiris into a bigoted, communal vermin. Kashmiris, he would have thought, have been fighting foreign rule for nearly six centuries and nowhere in this long span did they lose their basic character of love and tolerance. These questions would have constantly baffled Kak while living in mainland India. He would have felt torn between diffident voices of his soul and mind until he decided to embark on a mission to find truth himself.
Sanjay Kak’s endeavour to ascertain the truth about Kashmir culminated in truth revealing itself to him in the form of a landmark film Jashn-e-Azadi. He did not assemble a large troupe of actors and support staff to get to the truth, nor did he employ scholars of polemics to dissect the truth. Those are needed to mask the truth, to create fiction out of the facts. His inquisitive mind, his camera has done a job, an honest job, to narrate a poignant tale of oppressed Kashmiri nation. His characters are the common Kashmiris who have witnessed the cataclysmic events of Kashmir’s freedom movement. His single camera frame speaks a thousand words for which a professional actor will need thousand retakes. His narrative is revelatory and his pictures self-explanatory. His characters are not garrulous but reticent, yet they reveal everything. There non-verbal vibes are beautifully communicated by professional camera work.
An old man trying to locate his sons grave among thousands of others in the martyrs graveyard on the joyous occasion of Eid (Muslim festival), his composure calm but his eyes revealing the pain of losing his loved one. On locating his son’s grave, his reaction is not cathartic but subdued yet to come to terms with his son’s martyrdom. Kak informs the audience that Shaheed, Shahadat (martyr, martyrdom) which Kashmiris utter extensively and their priests attach great significance to hereinafter, in Arabic also means witness, to bear witness, making the whole Kashmiris nation martyrs.
He catapults the viewer with short sequences of supposedly different events. These unrelated shots may seem absurd to the non-Kashmiri viewer but a Kashmiri viewer will discern a pattern in these. Kashmiris know how in Kashmir situation can change so quickly and drastically that it becomes difficult to comprehend the situation that existed say ten minutes before. So the shots of a prayer congregation, sounds of bullets being fired, hustle and bustle of busy markets, completely deserted streets, and women wailing at the death of their loved ones and so on are not out of place but an average day here.
The shots of busy Lal Chowk are followed by the shots of the same market with shops closed. Its eerie silence is broken by the bugle of the security forces unfurling the tricolor on India’s Independence Day. Indian security forces are seen patrolling the deserted streets, a contingent of smartly dressed jawans raising their guns for Guard of honour, a security personnel distributing small paper tri-colors to enthusiastic children who end up snatching and littering them on road. This sequence is followed by the customary speech of the high ranking officer addressing media persons and jawans. This whole sequence is then reproduced in single shots with the perspective minimized to convey how media uses them to give false impressions to its viewers.
The film moves from urban centers to villages who have suffered the most after the onset of armed resistance. Kak tags along a group of volunteers from a civil society group who are conducting a survey about the actual numbers of deaths and the causes leading to death during the period of armed resistance. Here Kak unearths the real meaning of the terms ‘died in crossfire’, ‘killed in encounter’, ‘killed by unidentified gunmen’, ‘mistaken identity’. Relatives of persons who have been killed earlier are reticent: How did he die? Some people came and killed him. Who were the persons? Don’t know, came in the darkness of night. Did you receive compensation? Yes. The relatives of the persons whose dear ones have been killed recently are more forthcoming, killed by Ikhwanis (renegades), killed by army. What about the compensation? I will eat pig’s meat but will not accept compensation from Army. They have snatched my child from my bosom, wails a mother.
Then the statistics, clear and meaningful. Nearly 70,000 Kashmiris killed mostly civilians; 700,000 Army and security force personnel fighting 1000 odd militants. One soldier for 15 unarmed Kashmiris, proving beyond doubt that Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world and Indian forces are forces of occupation.
The narrator (Kak himself), the cameraman and the Editor share an excellent chemistry, forming a meticulous combination, gripping the viewer for 120 minutes and provoking his conscience for days after watching the film. The narrator pauses and the camera takes over exhibiting the power of pictures. Kashmiris in droves visiting their shrines, praying for an end to their sorrows, invoking their religion to stay sane in this suffocating valley of death. Security forces adorning their bunker walls with pictures of gods, exhibiting the names and images of their deities in front of their vehicles, painting their armored personal carriers with the names of their mythological heroes thereby giving an irrefutable proof that this war is a war of distinct cultures of which religion is the cornerstone.
Interviews are brief but assert a point. Kashmiris can be subjugated militarily but the Kashmiri nation cannot be enslaved. They will continue to resist occupation through their Bhand Pathers (folk theatres), their freedom loving poets, and their incorrigible spirit: intellectually, subtly, and spiritually. The critics of the film will say that it lacks what journalists call ‘balance’. They will say that Indian viewpoint was neglected but then they have to criticize the Indian portrayal of Kashmiri resistance too. They all need to balance their criticism. Kak himself said after the film’s screening in Srinagar: “I have made this film, my job is done. Judge it yourself, like it, hate it, rubbish it, it is the viewers film now.”
Jashn-e-Azadi surely is a people’s film because the characters of the film are 120 million Kashmiris, Indian Government with 700,000 Army and security forces representing one billion Indians.