Jashn-e-Azadi…a review

At one point, while responding to a question after the film, Sanjay Kak had the courage to say that ‘Kashmir is an ambiguous place’. The film tells its Indian audience one important thing: Let’s at least be certain about one fact, and that is, things are uncertain. The film is not a crusade; there is no agenda. It is not attempting to impose meaning on what does not lend itself to such imposition.

The film is about unsettling the received wisdom. Multi-layered, polyphonic, criss-crossing narratives are woven eclectically, and pulled together by the theme “Azadi”. And Azadi can mean anything. It can mean a woman seeking revenge of her husband’s murder; a child’s innocent slogan which finds a rapturous response from the crowd; the last failing words of a dying college-going boy brutalised by soldiers; a veteran’s prayer to “Ishwar, Allah, Baghwan” asking metaphysical powers in his sigh so that it can take on any powerful military. It can also mean a disappointed poet’s dream of a glorious return to his home; or another poet’s desire to end the frenzy that has blurred his vision. It means Independence.

Frames merge; so do the different aspirations and dreams. Azadi comes alive in the tearful eyes of a mother seeking blessings at a Sufi shrine; the playful Baands bringing a rare smile to long-stricken faces; or a commuter asked to stop for identity check, who throws his Identity papers down casually; thousands of people shouting in unison: “We want? Freedom”. A freedom staring down the barrel of the enemy’s gun.

We discover a uniformed criminality which, in common parlance passes of as the security forces. Convoys of army vehicles, loaded to the brim with always-restless always-on-the-move alien soldiers fighting a war against no one. A war with no end; therefore, a war to the end.

The stifled vision of Kashmiris. Behind barbed wires we get glimpses of the distraught faces of children, who do not quite understand if all Army wanted to give them was a vocational training why were they orphaned. We see young boys forced to strip and then slapped across their faces. Stories of rapine and arson narrated by sufferers with a limited vocabulary that do not quite represent the horridness of the actual experiences.

An irony. Jashn-e-Azadi. How We Celebrate Freedom. A place where the last traces of freedom have been crushed underfoot by an arrogant occupier, how do people celebrate freedom? Jashn-e-Azadi! How We Celebrate Freedom? Muted Kashmiris handed radios by a bearded soldier. (Apparently, a Muslim.) ‘Listen to what is happening in the world’. Speak not. Treacherous occupier. A glib psychologist counsels an elite audience out of the ‘Resistance to the Occupation Syndrome’. Yet, another psychologist helps poor people rebuild their lives; lives eaten away by the Post-Trauma Stress Disorder. The Baands, too, bless their oppressive rulers in the end. What frenzy is this!

The film-maker has people blaming him in Delhi for not talking about the plight of Pandits in detail. In Srinagar, he will have people accusing him for not depicting the miseries of Kashmiri Muslims enough. But the film, unlike the old man, in Kupwara, whose fate it is to keep counting the dead in the war, is not about numbers. It is about alternative, if broken, stories; stories of people on the street and in the fields. It is about a resistance, lived. It is about uncomfortable memories that come in the way of the occupier’s history.

Jashn-e-Azadi is not the conclusive account, but it opens a thousand and one different ways of looking at Kashmir. Cheers!

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6 thoughts on “Jashn-e-Azadi…a review

  1. Jashn-e-Azadi-Half truths and Mental Frames Vivek has never been to Kashmir, he knows Kashmir as any other Indian would, through biased NDTV programs or through newspapers which don’t present the true picture either. Yet somehow what he asked me surprised me. At the end of the movie he inquired from me as to why the movie did not have even a byte from Mirwaiz(in Vivek’s opinion Mirwaiz is the tallest amongst Kashmiri separatists).I had taken Vivek with me because I thought he would relieve me of some boredom sitting through a rather long monologue cum endorsement session of two hours on Shahadat and Azadi.I half knew the answer for I was seeing it for the second time.The first time I had missed some initial 20 odd minutes because I wasn’t allowed into the auditorium for I might spoil the celebration of freedom(Jashn-e-Azadi).Wonder what censorship this was?I had to produce an e-mail invitation from the respected Director to get into the hall, for his authorities were strict on anyone who chose not to obey them. Anyways that’s past now but the spirit of celebration should continue….shouldn’t it…..I left without answering Vivek.I was far too buried in thoughts of Jashn. I took the road back to my house, not my home dear, that’s already burnt, oh, way back in 1990, the Jashn of Azadi was being celebrated by torching my home in Bagat-i-Kanipora, in the night when we were all supposed to be celebrating Janam-Ashtami in the cool climes of our homes. The morning newspaper brought news of this celebration to the refugee camp which has been my existence since. I am sure a lot of people will say Jagmohan asked Pandits to leave, even for arguments sake taking that to be true, did it give a license to Sanjay Kak’s protagonists to burn my house and desecrate my religious places. I wondered, was that the way of celebrating freedom. Maybe the director believed it was. That’s why although he sat somber on the banks of Rembyaar in Shopian (while shooting for the movie), seeing the pathetic condition of a 5th Century shrine (of Kapalmochana which was now a broken Shivling, a desecrated spring and razed Dharamshalas) he did not deem it fit to be a part of the movie.A woman whose goat was killed by the fire that engulfed her house and cowshed was shown grieving for her goat. I wondered what would have happened to Mather and Chander, my two cows, did the spirit of celebration (Jashn-e-Azadi) consume them too, wonder whether they were Hindu or Muslim, my father bought them from one Mohd Yusuf in my village.My wandering thoughts much like the beard of my dear friend Masood often gives me sleepless nights in exile. This was destined to be one such night. I was instantaneously reminded of the curse of Lakshmi on us, Kashmiris“Nilamata Purana 294-96. O lord, then angry Visoka cursed Kas’mira, “O wicked one, as I have been absorbed by you today by means of falsehood and you have informed Sati about my activities, so your people will be mostly liars, possessed of impurities, hired servants and dishonoured in the worlds.”What else explains so many gaveyards when we could have a thousand flowers blooming on the same land, I thought. What else explains Kashmiris being slaves for last 800 years? Sanjay Kak does mention our slavery of 800 years in his movie , what he however chooses not to mention is, who were the masters? Who enslaved us..he wouldn’t say? Half truths as they say can be more dangerous than complete lies. Pyare Hatash’s verses have been shown in a manner where an ordinary non Kashmiri viewer is made to believe as if he is also a protagonist of the Azadi. The translation of the couplet from Rajatarangni was wrong and again misappropriated. Calling Kalhana the chronicler of Hindu Kings was a mischief played in a subtle manner Therein lies the game of the movie maker, his adeptness at appropriating the content.The magnum opus (sorry for my description, but I am yet to see a longer documentary, probably verbosity is a virtue with Kak) has its own figures for dead and exiled. The movie says two hundred Kashmiri Pandits killed and one lakh sixty thousand exiled. The first images that flashed in front of my eyes when these numbers were shown on the screen were of Brijlal(my father’s best friend) and Choti. Brijlal (a driver in Dept. of Agriculture) and his wife Choti were tied to a jeep in their native village and then dragged till dead. When we received their bodies they were chopped into small pieces as if someone had just brought meat from a butcher. Blood still was fresh in some of their veins as it had reddened the body bag in which we received them. What way to celebrate Azadi??? Kudos to the Robin Hoods who did this, kudos to the director for endorsing their way of celebration, sickness and creativity comes in such mental frames, I never knew. Beware… a lot of modern day Neros are around the corner.When I asked Sanjay Kak the source of these figures he said he had obtained these from some Joint Secretary in MHA, New Delhi. The movie director being a respected man, I had no doubts that he had got them from GoI. When I asked him what’s the source of his figures, one hundred thousand killed in Kashmir since 1990, he strangely had no GoI statistics to support his figures. Who believes GoI anyway? I have received a reply to an RTI saying only 16455 civilians have been killed in Kashmir since 1990.Now who would believe that. If GoI would have been sacred as Kak wants us to selectively believe, we wouldn’t have the movie in the first place.We have Yasin Malik as a lead character in the movie, someone around whom the movie revolves,(a savior, a Gandhian ,an ex-terrorist in new attire all rolled into one),giving us sermons, telling us how he treads the path of non-violence. There are flashes of Azam Inquilabi and Syed Ali Shah Geelani (as patriarchs) but it conveniently skirts other separatist leaders, leading anyone to speculate whether the self styled Che Guvera’s of today (based in Delhi) are keen to project Yasin Malik alone as a leader of the masses or is there more to it. His presence at the first screening raised a lot of eye-brows and the discussions revolved more around Yasin Malik than the movie itself, with heckled audience putting him in a fix over his past but then as they say ” Every saint has a past, every thief a future”. The lead character says India wants to impose Brahmanical Imperialism in Kashmir. Does our lead character even know the meaning of the term ”Brahman” or was that a borrowed metaphor from Arundhati Roy, which he did not understand but knew how to use.One of the flashes in the movie says ”Kashmir is the most militarized region in the valley” Maybe it is. I remember as a kid once we saw a Policeman in our village. We literally walked around him to see what he looks like. For all of us he was an alien who had somehow fallen off his spaceship and landed at our village. It was a quite a sight for all of us and some fun too. What then explains the presence of army and para-military forces in the same village when till 1989 it hadn’t even seen a proper policeman. The movie does not mention why the army had to be placed there after 1989.Isnt it imperative for a film maker to show a complete picture and not half truths.While I was almost sobbing at the images of graveyards, I was reminded of Abdul Sattar Ranjoor who was not allowed to be buried in the village graveyard by Sanjay Kak’s Robin Hoods’. The movie once again fails to present a balanced point of view and seems more like a mouth piece or propaganda machinery at work. It simply fails to take into account any divergent view from the agenda that the director (or whoever influences him) had set to. How else does one explain that no other point of view is reflected in the movie. Who can argue against the fact that a large section of the masses want Aazadi but it would be equally foolish to believe that no other point of view exists. Again half truths come to fore with consummate ease.This wasn’t a movie on Pandits that’s what Sanjay Kak wrote to me. We can understand that, knowing well what and whom it is about. Wouldn’t it have been better if Pandits were simply not mentioned in the movie than have a falsified and intentionally biased version of Pandits’ pain and sufferings through a minute and a half screen appearance of their abandoned houses.It seemed like intentionally rubbing salt to their wounds. What also comes to fore is the lack of knowledge about the issue on which he has made the movie. His self hatred is clearly visible in the movie, he believes that Pandits have been unfair to Muslims during the Dogra rule. Maybe it is not entirely incorrect, but when I confronted him on his knowledge of Medieval Kashmir (when Hindus were persecuted), the same was found wanting. I cannot imagine writing a column without delving deep into the subject, but then Sanjay Kak is a different person, he can make a movie on Kashmir without even reading basic texts. A good documentary does not take sides, it simply documents and presents facts as they are, the director is never seen to be either endorsing or negating what he shows. When Sanjay Kak explains the meaning and essence of the term Shahadat, the swell of adrenalin is clearly audible in his voice, that’s when he moves from being a film director to an invisible but strong spokesperson of his concept of what constitutes the celebration of Azadi. To prove his point of view he has even borrowed footages which make it look exactly like the sexed up Power Point presentation that USA made to UN as their premise for attacking Iraq.History is replete with neo converts going that extra mile to prove which side of their bread is buttered but I believe the Director wants to walk all through the Safar-e-Azadi(similar sounding names….wonder who directs whom)to prove his loyalty to the only leader of Kashmir, Yasin Malik.

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