Samyantar, New Delhi / May 2007
Swarg mein Aag aur Aansoo / In Paradise, flames and tears
Jashn-e-Azadi is documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak’s new film. Squeezed between Soldiers and the adversary Terrorists is the grief of the Kashmiris, their desire for freedom, the questions it raises; these are the pretexts which well-known poet and journalist Manglesh Dabral, in his inimitable poetic prose, uses to describe the goings on in Kashmir.
Almost two-and-a-half hours long, Sanjay Kak’s documentary film Jashn-e-Azadi has two poles: the snow and sun. On snow, skiing on the slopes of Gulmarg, on wooden sledges pulled by local Muslims, the flashy nouveau riche say ‘if there is heaven, it is here’, then add ‘but the damned terrorists have ruined it’. At the other end, there are the Shalimar and Nishat Gardens on the edge of the Dal Lake in Srinagar, where, dressed in the costumes of Kashmiris, newly married women strike a range of poses, their men preferring to be pictured in military (sometime militant!) costumes, striking up brave and even fearsome postures. A few of the photographers don’t fail to add: ‘don’t worry, lady, your photographs will reach you. We’re registered photographers – there’s no cheating involved here’.
Between these two poles, this heaven on earth has been overtaken by hell, where there is cheating, blasts, shelling, terror, murders, tears and graves. There are old people who are taken in the shadow of bayonets to identify sons killed in false encounters; women who reject offers of the Government’s help for the funeral rituals of their dead sons; a man dusting off the snow from gravestones, trying to identify his sons grave; and there is news of killings from hamlets and villages that is steadily typed in. Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Then, bang-bang, then fire and blood and tears. Then some Kashmiri leaders with their provocative speeches, processions, slogans: Freedom! We’ll fight for Freedom! Say it aloud – Freedom! With Fire – Freedom! … One elderly leader who has spent many years in Indian and Pakistani jails says that putting people in prison can never put them on the path to peace. If you put me in jail, I will become even more spiritual, even more angry. Because then I become even more alone: then all your police, army, administration, government will be ranged against me. And to fight against such a powerful system there will be just me, alone and unarmed, beseeching my Allah to give me strength.
These are the ordinary Kashmiris who are reflected in Sanjay Kak’s troubled camera, as is the Dal lake, which is ever-present in some way or the other, often frozen, its colour ashen, overtaken by ennui, almost lifeless.
Amidst these images there is India’s Army, Para-military Forces, Special Task Force; and Independence day and Republic day celebrations; the sounds of jana-gana-mana adhinayak, the cameras of TV news channels, and Army officers strutting before them like heroes, giving statements; who then in the evening listen to the spiritual message of a so-called Peace Guru, listening as if it was the mantra of peace in the Kashmir valley. The manner in which the people of Kashmir view the structures of oppression as a foreign invasion has another face too, the ‘philanthropic face’ which is a truly twisted one. Which first kills people in encounters, and then for the children of families so orphaned, builds schools (and knitting-sewing centres for the widows). In one scene an army officer is seen distributing 11 Philips transistors, as if he were giving a great gift to the common people of Kashmir. In a cold voice he adds that if your behaviour continues to be good, then more people will get such gifts.
In a bloody time and place, where true and false figures are mixed up in a terrible cocktail, for the military power to distribute transistors, or for a Peace Guru to preach, makes that reality even more terrible. In another scene, on Republic Day (I think) orphan children sing sare jehan se accha, hindustan hamara. But their eyes show no happiness, all that is seen is emptiness. Their fathers have been missing for who knows how long, or have been killed in encounters.
There is nothing that is beautiful in Jashn-e-Azadi. The tragedy of its people, and the presence of the military apparatus has robbed everything of its beauty. Between ordinary people and the military the only relationship that is left is of power and repression. People think of the army as ‘foreign’, the army thinks of the people as ‘terrorists’ and ‘pro-Pakistani’. Despite the little tri-colour flags that are distributed on Independence day, and the cultural programmes, there is no dialogue between the two sides. In such a relationship dialogue is not even possible, which is so essential between Indian state power and the kashmiriyat of the valley, and through which alone real peace is possible. Sanjay Kak emphatically shows that distributing flags and transistors, by building schools and sewing centres for orphans, by such tokenism, or by the display of state power at official functions, in sum, peace cannot be achieved through military power. That apart from it’s suffering people, no one really seems to want peace in Kashmir, and this is the even more disturbing feeling that we experience in this film.
Jashn-e-Azadi is probably the first documentary film that looks at the Kashmir tragedy so comprehensively, with sensitivity, and with kashmiriyat – and in this experience of kashmiriyat there is no difference between Hindu and Muslim. This is a sharp, moving and humane document, made not on behalf of state power, but on behalf of the common people. Often it seems as if Sanjay Kak is showing too much of the religious aspect of Kashmir, but if we remember that religion is also a politics, then we understand its purpose. For if to fight against an immense political power, people shelter under religious power, it should not surprise as at all.
Sanjay Kak has taken contradictory images and placed them together through such relentless editing that it makes Kashmir’s horror even more impactful. The fast and sharp editing often reminds one of the cinematic language of Costa-Gavras, and we feel we are watching a feature film. Another aspect of Jashn-e-Azadi is the tragic poem of a Kashmiri poet coping with exile, which mourns the end of a home, indeed, the end of love itself. The poet’s voice is heard only on the phone: broken, unclear, tearful. It’s another indicator of our lack of dialogue with the common people of Kashmir.
Despite having had various civilian governments for many years, in Kashmir the distance between politics and the army has disappeared, which is the first condition of democratic politics. Jashn-e-Azadi brings out this reality with great commitment: that in Kashmir the army is politics, and the politics of the army is only to oppress. Viewing Jashn-e-Azadi should be a basic lesson in understanding the condition of the common people of Kashmir, which can have other chapters, and sub-chapters. (For example the conditions of the Kashmiri Pandits in exile). As the biggest obstacle to relations between India and Pakistan, the principal solution to this is that the Government solve the internal problems of Kashmir.
In recent months there has been talk of bringing back the troops from the Kashmir valley, or reducing their numbers. It would therefore be better if the representatives of the central government–the Prime Minister, the Home Minister–see this film, and feel the pain of the Kashmiris who are squeezed between the Army and Militancy.