Tuesday, 6 January 2009

New film about Kashmir: "Jashn-e-Azadi"

One of the best consequences of travel is a sense of connectedness with other places, or at least an awareness of their existence, that can linger or reassert itself long after you come home. I see a place name in in the news, and it conjures up sights, sounds, smells, smiles, conversations, and events. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I find myself flashing on the thought that at this very moment people are, among billions of other things, jostling for places in the crowds boarding Bosphorus ferries in Istanbul, or waking up in tiny villages in Bolivia to the sound of the wind scouring the altiplano. Young mothers and fathers are lining up outside the offices of “labor brokers” in the Philippines, while those Filipinos and Filipinas who have been lucky enough to find jobs through them in the past are washing dishes in Doha, and caring for other people’s children as nannies in Hong Kong.

Empathy and awareness of others are, pretty unequivocally, a good thing. Decisions we make have consequences for other people and in other places around the world. Those are often out of our sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind. (We also should recognize their limits, of course. In particular, a place we have visited once in our life tends to be fixed in our mind as it was, or as we saw it, at that moment, regardless of how it has changed. When we compare, in our minds, two places we visited a few years apart, can we really tell which of the differences in what we saw are really differences of place, and which of time?)

One of the places that has retained that sense of connectedness for me, from souvenirs and stories and watercolor images from my grandparents’ many extended visits as well as memories and snapshots of my own brief time there, is the Kashmir Valley.

Recently I got a chance to see a new documentary film about Kashmir, Jashn-e-Azadi (“How We Celebrate Freedom”), at a screening organized by U.C. Berkeley’s Center for South Asia Stuudies in conjunction with a visit by the director, Sanjay Kak. The film is also available from a U.S. distributor on DVD or as a download.

Kak is himself a Kashmiri, although not from the majority community (his family are Hindu “Pandits”) and no longer living in Kashmir. Kak’s purpose in the film isn’t to tell his own story. He’s actually been criticized by Hindu fundamentalists and Indian ultra-nationalists (who are often, but not always, the same) for not talking enough in the film about why almost all the Pandits had to leave the Kashmir Valley.

But Kak’s point is to let Kashmiris tell their own stories, and I think he has been remarkably successful. He also lets the Indian occupation forces in Kashmir tell their own story (they assumed that as a Pandit he was on their side, and would portray them favorably), and supplements his own recent interviews and documentary footage with anonymous “home video” documenting times and events, especially in the 1990’s, that no journalists were allowed to see or film.

It angers me when Kashmir is depicted in the news as the cause or site of a conflict “between India and Pakistan”, as though it weren’t a place and a people with their own culture(s), their own traditions, their own past and present, and their own desires for the future. If there is one precondition for peace in Kashmir, it is that Kashmiris themselves must not be pawns in a geostrategic game, but must have a central role in making the decisions about their homeland. Kak’s film is an important contribution towards wider understanding of that imperative.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 6 January 2009, 06:02 ( 6:02 AM)
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