[Reader-list] Police stops screening of Jashn-e-Azadi

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Fri Aug 3 20:06:56 IST 2007

Dear All,

I have been following with interest the thread on the Reader List
regarding the interrupted (or should I say prevented) screening of
Jashn-e-Azadi in Mumbai, courtesy the Mumbai Police. It appears from the
actions of the Mumbai Police that that the citizens of Mumbai are more
in need of protection from various kinds of stimuli than those of us who
have happily sat through more than one screening of the said film in
Delhi, and in Srinagar without any harm being done to our minds or bodies.

I am not writing to defend the film here, because I think a film, or any
work of art does not need a 'defence'. A film, or a work of art, or any
instance of communication is not an accused in a criminal court, we are
not attorneys, advocates and lawyers, a mailing list is not a court. I
am more interested in trying to think through some of the issues that
have been addressed in various postings.

Those who have called for a ban on the film, or have endorsed the
Mumabai Police's actions, or have written angry mails protesting about
its screening basically have the following arguments, and I will list
them all. Do correct me if I miss any.

1. The film is one sided, it does not (adquately) represent the point of
views of displaced Kashmiri Pandits.

2. The film gives space to people that some of the correspondents on
this list consider to be 'terrorists'.

3. The film is not patriotic or nationalistic.

I do not disagree with any of the above points. (though I have a
qualified disagreement on point 3, to which I will come later). But even
if all three points are agreed to, I still see no reason why the
automatic response to them has to be a call for a ban. Or for a
vilification of the filmmaker.

Since it appears (or at least that is what I have been given to
understand) that we live in a nominally free and open cultural space,
there should be no problem at all for anyone to make films that they
think best represents the position that they hold. Either we agree that
this is the case, or we agree that your 'freedom of expression' has to
stay within the narrow limits of what is permissible under the world
view of Indian nationalism. In which event it does not remain freedom of
expression any longer, rather it (the capacity to be expressive) turns
automatically into a monopoly that only Indian nationalists can enjoy.

In any case, nothing stops, or has stopped till now, anyone from making
any film that -

a). adequately represents the points of view and experiences of the
Kashmiri Pandit community

b) gives adequate space and consideration to those gentlemen in and out
of uniform who unleash terror on the majority of the population of the
Kashmir valley

c) that oozes patriotism or nationalism from every frame

(On this point I have a slight qualification to make, it seems to me,
that there would be some, though not by any means all, perhaps mainly
Kashmiri nationalists and patriots, who would not be disturbed by
'Jashn-e-Azadi'. So it is inaccurate to say that the film has to be
rejected if you are a nationalist or a patriot. It all depends on which
kind of patriot or nationalist you are.)

Since I am neither an Indian nationalist or patriot nor a Kashmiri
nationalist or a patriot, I find it difficult to say which variety of
nationalims and patriotism should be given more importance. Both seem to
be sentiments that attach to different configurations of territory. I
have tried for many years to work out a set of  evaluative criteria by
which sentiments that attach to one configuration of territory can be
judged against sentiments that attach to another configuration of
territory. If you give value to any sentiments that attach themselves to
any bits of territory, I cannot quite understand why or how you would
deny other people their sentiments to the bits of territory that they
lay claim to. How can we call one more valid than the other? I do not
have an answer to this question. Does anyone else on this list have a
satisfactory answer? Does anyone even know if a satisfactory answer lies
within the realm of a theorectial or a practical possibility.

But this is a debate that we can continue on some other occasion, at
least for now, let us return to the film that is exercising everyone so.

So, those who are so disturbed by 'Jashn-e-Azaadi', might think about
how they can make their own film instead of trying to ensure that one
that exists is canned. Similarly, those people in Kashmir, Iran, the UK,
Indonesia, India, Egypt and Syria who stage spectacles  calling for the
assasination of Salman Rushdie, or Taslima Nasrin, or the authors of a
batch of cartoons drawn in bad taste, might consider writing their own
books, or drawing their own cartoons. Killing an author or banning a
film or a book results in a net diminishing of cultural material.
Writing a book to argue against one that exists, or making a film to
counter another point of view, (even if jejunely) at least results in an
incremental addition to the body of cultural material available in
society at any given time.

After all, Sanjay Kak, the maker of 'Jashn-e-Azadi', did not, as far as
I recall, call for bans on documentary films that were considered to
give an 'adequate' representation of Kashmiri Pandit experiences - like
'Tell them the tree they have planted has now grown' or  'And the world
remained silent' . (In fact I do not remember any discussion of whether
such films should be banned.) I also do not remember any obstructions by
angry slogan shouting young men of films that have given more than
adequate representation to the foot-soldiers (formal and informal)of the
Indian state, engaged in fighting terror (and non-terrorist civic
action) with terror in the Kashmir valley. Nor has anyone, to my
knowledge, asked for feature films like 'Roja', 'Dil Se', 'Mission
Kashmir'. '16 December', 'Fanaa', 'Sheen', 'Maa tujhey Salaam' (and I
could go on, because there is an emerging sub-genre of the 'Kashmir'
film in the Bombay film industry) to be banned - all of which are set in
Kashmir, more or less all of which are explicitly sympathetic to the
Kashmiri Pandit point of view, all of which ensure that 'militants' are
portrayed in a purely negative light, and all of which are more than
adequate exemplars of Indian nationalism and patriotism. Needless to
say, several of these films were critically well received, granted
'entertainment tax exemptions', awarded with state honours and applauded
in the media. The chances of your film doing well if you toe the Indian
state's line on Kashmir are quite high, so it would be some amount of
dissimulation to suggest that films sympathetic to the predicament of
Kashmiri Pandits, or generally supportive to the Indian state's claim on
the territory of Jammu & Kashmir, are somehow marginal, silenced,
censored, obscured expressions. An objective assessment and audit of the
kind of films that have been made on Jammu and Kashmir over the last
twenty odd years would show evidence quite to the contrary.

If the culture we all participate in (as partisans, protagonists,
spectators, producers and bystangers) is  so willing to accept the
presence, circulation and adulation of one point of view, (the Indian
nationalist, explicitly pro Kashmiri Pandit position on J&K) which in
fact has a dominance, a near monopoly on the representation of the issue
of Jammu and Kashmir, at least as far as the moving image in India is
concerned, why then, is it so difficult for this cultural milieu to
tolerate the presence of one or two or maybe three films that try to do
something else?

A film is not a bomb. A film is not an unsheathed sword. A film is an
argument in words and images. If the dominant argument in words and
images have the lion's share of attention, then what is wrong in another
kind of argument in words and images making itself known. Or is there an
actual anxiety that the case of the dominant argument is so flimsy that
the mere presence of one or two films that act otherwise will blow their

Remember, the post 1947 history of Jammu and Kashmir is taught neither
in India, nor in Pakistan, nor in Kashmir. In such a climate, it is very
easy for flimsy arguments to rule the roost. In such a climate it also
becomes necessary for those who live by those flimsy arguments to try
and stop anything else that happens, by any means necessary. Such as
calling the Mumbai Police to stop the screening of a film. I know that
similar things happen in Bangladesh or Pakistan when documentary films
about the fate of the Ahmediya community are sought to be screened.

I remember having been present at more than one screening of a film such
as  'Tell them the tree they have planted has now grown' or having sat
through film after Bollywood film that bedecked itself with the fake
blood of fake Kashmiris. I saw no reason to call the police. I saw no
reason to raise slogans in or outside the auditorium, or to try and
obstruct the possibility of a reasonable discussion. Did anyone on
the list try and call the police, genuflect to the censor board, or make
a noise, or try and obstruct a screening when any of these films were shown?

  If those of you on this list who are endorsing obstructions to the
screening of 'Jashn-e-Azaadi' did not object to the screening of all
those films that have entertained us with the agenda of the Indian
state, then I think that it is only fair, reasonable and decent that you
either let films like "Jashn-e-Azaadi' be screened, without interruption 
or obstruction or, as a logical corollary to your concern for the 
sentiments of those affected by the conflict in Kashmir, call for a 
moratorium on any form of expression, including your own, that takes any 
stance (or even no stance at all) on the issue of Kashmir. It may be 
possible that different kinds of people can find different nuances of an 
impoverished and pared down dignity in the ensuing silence.

It will be more respectful than the clamour of your words today.

with regards,


Nishant wrote:

> Police stops radical film on Kashmir 
> Disrupt screening of Jashn-e-Azadi at Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan on suspicion that the documentary may be provocative and inflammatory 
> Mumbai police on Friday disrupted the screening a radical film on Kashmir called Jashn-e-Azadi on the suspicion that the feature-length documentary could be "inflammatory and provocative." The 2-hour, 18-minute long documentary, directed by Sanjay Kak, was just about to begin when cops barged into the Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan at Prabhadevi and seized all the dvds. 
> "We were told that the documentary is provocative and inflammatory. Therefore we requested the organisers to let us watch the movie before it was screened", Deputy Commissioner of Police, D N Phadtare, told Mumbai Mirror. But getting the cops to play censor was not acceptable to the show's organisers, Vikalp.  "We told them in that case it would not be possible to allow them to screen the film and confiscated the DVDs," said Phadtare. 
> Ironically, Jashn-e-Azadi, which has already been screened in Bangalore and Delhi, without anybody getting inflamed or provoked, explores the implications of the struggle for Azadi in the Kashmir Valley. As the blog on documentary ( http://kashmirfilm.wordpress.com)  says: In : In 2007 India celebrates the 60th anniversary of it's Independence, this provocative and quietly disturbing new film raises questions about freedom in Kashmir, and about the degrees of freedom in India. 
> When contacted director Sanjay Kak said: "I've been holding a number of private screenings across the country for filmmakers and other interested viewers to start a conversation about the film and get feedback. The Osian film festival in Delhi was the first and only public screening we've had. The screening today was in a private property for a small group of invitees. Vikalp got a call in the morning from the police asking for a copy of the film. When we landed at the venue there was a battalion of cops and they asked us not to screen the film. When we told them to watch it with us they were not willing," said Kak, adding that the cops refused to tell them who had filed the complaint or what the problem was. "All they were willing to say was, 'hamare seniors ka order hai,' and till they had seen the film they could not allow us to go ahead," he said. 
> (Source: Mumbai Mirror)
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