Kashmir Films: The Azadi To Choose Own Narrative
Kashmir Films: The Azadi To Choose Own Narrative
13 July 2012
Times of India
: There's an irony about the latest fuss over a Channel 4 film on Kashmir. It's that the Kashmir valley has no cinema halls - an outcome of Islamist diktat in 1990. Cinema, like music, kite flying, wearing 'skimpy' clothes (for women) and drinking alcohol are haraam, designed to promote vice. In the last more than two decades, people here have reconciled to this drab existence - they are happy to have their kicks outside the Valley, like the women who shed their veils the moment the aircraft lands in Delhi. However, for journalists, filmmakers, activists and now writers, Kashmir is very different. For 20 years, it has been one big multiplex, with a shikara ride and wazwan thrown in for free. Kashmir offers the choice of so many narratives that anyone can come and with utmost sincerity tell a story that uncovers the truth. Jezza Nuemann has done just that: produced a tightly directed film on Kashmir which makes for a gripping watch. Stories of torture and statistics, of murders and disappearances that would move all but the stone hearted. It's apparently got Kashmir laid bare, backed by statistics: One lakh people dead, 8,000 disappeared and, most shockingly, 'two out of every three men in Kashmir are tortured by security forces'. For Nuemann, on his first visit to Kashmir, the help and guidance provided by Pervez Imroz, a leading human rights activist in the Valley, is obvious. Indeed, Imroz is the hero of the documentary. His quiet courage and devotion to his task come through. The government's response has been to block the documentary on social networking sites. But if Nuemann had instead landed in Srinagar and driven straight to the Gupkar road home of chief minister Omar Abdullah, what sort of a film would he have made? He would have been told that the figure of 100,000 dead since 1990 is fiction, for other than the government, no agency - including the Hurriyat or Imroz - has compiled any data on the dead. And the government figure of 45,000 dead includes 20,000 militants and 16,000 Kashmiri civilians killed by the militants. The figure of 8,000 disappeared is, again, without supporting data. In 2011, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) produced a list of some 500 names. Nuemann would have had the same gut wrenching interviews of lives destroyed by bullets and torture, of women raped and grieving sisters, except this time the bad guys would have been militants. Then, Nuemann would have faced the same hostility that another filmmaker Ashwin Kumar did on social networking sites. Ashwin's last film, 'Inshallah Kashmir', was released this year. Like Channel 4, Ashwin, too, focused on the torture and violence faced by Kashmiris, except he included victims of both security forces and militants. The result: Ashwin became a 'state agent' for many of his former fans in Kashmir. The only thing in common with both these narratives is the cast of characters. Unemployed youth and stone-pelters fighting 'ideological' wars. The kind who hold government contracts and start 'I Protest' pages on Facebook; who send their kids to schools faraway from the turmoil but applaud when schools are shut for five months in Srinagar. In this revolving door of narratives, there is one for every taste and inclination. For many journalists from Delhi, Indian and foreign, Kashmir is a relief from the heat of the plains with the benefit of a story thrown in. So a friend's wedding or a seminar on Sufism or just a visit to family from distant shores, is also an opportunity to 'document' the conflict, or sometimes to pronounce Kashmir happy or oppressed. You can, like a former Union minister recently, celebrate your wife's birthday and also toss in a small session with intellectuals to plump for your new book. The government's attempt to stifle the Channel 4 documentary is as futile as the anxiety of Kashmir's chroniclers that a literature festival would damage the cause by showcasing 'normalcy'. The 70 lakh people who live here know every side of this rainbow of narratives. They know that thousands have been killed, raped, tortured by both militants and security forces in this dirty war. They know there are no jobs in Kashmir because nobody will invest here. They listen with gritted teeth to their leaders in Delhi applaud when teachers are beaten by their students and schools shut for Friday namaaz or when posters extolling the hijab are forcibly put up in their daughter's classrooms. This war of narratives is being fought everywhere, in newspapers and books, in TV studios and on Facebook. Most often, it preaches to the converted. So, those who fear Kashmir will be normal and those who acclaim its normalcy need not fear. Kashmir shall serve them well. All you need is a prism to decide the flavour you want for your narrative.