Kashmir movie triggers new controversy
Indian filmmaker Ashvin Kumar is used to controversy. His previous documentary, Inshallah Football, about the conflict in Kashmir and its lingering ramifications, was refused a certificate by the censors. With the launch of his latest film, Inshallah Kashmir:Living Terror, he has sought to avoid that problem by putting the film directly online.
Kumar uploaded his film on January 26th – India’s Republic Day – and by early this afternoon, it had already been viewed 25,000 times. “There were two agendas for putting it online,” he told me. “One was to get around the censor board. Secondly, and more importantly, I wanted to make it truly democratic so that people would not have to pay to watch it.”
He added: “A blind-spot has been created in the Indian political mind…some sort of barrier fuelled by government propaganda. I wanted to put across a bunch of people talking about their own problems and see if they could not connect by avoiding the government clutter – a sort of people to people thing.”
I think Kumar, who received an Oscar nomination for one of his earlier films, has done a largely impressive job in telling a difficult story, trying to explain how and why Kashmir’s separatist insurgency was created, the violence it led to and the devastating response of the state that has created a situation whereby the Kashmir valley is one of the most heavily-militarised places on the planet, where mental health issues are soaring and where a sense of helplessness pervades. (His film may also have the unintended impact of boosting tourism numbers; Kashmir has utterly mesmersing landscape and the documentary captures that.)
Kumar has spoken to many of the major players in Kashmir’s recent history, including the current chief minister Omar Abdullah, the former Kashmir administrator Wajahat Habibullah, the activist Parveena Ahangar, who has struggled for more than two decades to raise attention to the hundreds and perhaps thousands of people “missing” at the hands of the state, or else the insurgents.
Of course, no project about Kashmir can ever be completed without creating controversy and Kumar’s film has already sparked heated debate, though Kumar said he believed that the response from people inside Kashmir had been largely positive.
Some of the criticism relates to one of the most controversial and tragic episodes of India’s recent history – the exile of the minority Hindu or Pandit population, who fled the valley from 1990 onwards as the insurgency took hold. From a population of around 400,000, perhaps just 4,000 Hindus remain today.
Kumar’s film certainly addresses the Pandit episode. He talks about how, after an incident in which 50 Muslims were killed by troops and the blame was heaped on the Hindus, the majority community set about harassing the Pandits, ordering them to leave the valley and attacking and killing them.
Among Kumar’s most vociferous critics on this aspect of the film is Rahul Pandita, a writer and journalist from a Pandit background, who took to Twitter to denounce parts of the documentary, saying that attacks on Hindus predated the armed forces’ shooting of Muslims at Gawkadal.
He also took objection to comments made by Wajahat Habibullah, who told Kumar: “I don’t think it was necessary for [the Pandits] to leave.” [I personally interpreted that to mean that it "ought not to have been necessary" for the Pandits to leave.] In an email, an admittedly furious Pandita, who is currently working on a memoir on Kashmir, said: “It boils my blood to see, time and again, how the circumstances leading to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits are skewed. In this documentary as well, same thing happens: as if KPs were targetted only after the Gawakadal massacre of January 21, 1990. The fact is that the hunting and killing of Kashmir’s minority community had begun much before. It was long before that we had become the Tutsis of Kashmir.”
The best thing is to judge the film for yourself. Thanks to the generosity of Kumar, you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq0tIazO3wATagged in: kashmir, movie, pandits
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter