October 28, 2010

Half Stories, Half Truths about Kashmir

by Pradeep Magazine:
Sanjay Kak is a Kashmiri Pandit who has made an evocative documentary, Jashn-e-Azadi, which captures various forms of protests in the Valley and traces the deep sense of alienation of Muslims. The word azadi, in that film, acquires a meaning far deeper than just freedom or secession. The concept of azadi is so entrenched in the Kashmiri Muslim consciousness that neither State largesse nor repression can restore peace to the valley, if their struggle isn’t understood in human terms.

Kak’s documentary also brings out the angst of Kashmiri Pandits, their longing for a home from which they’ve been uprooted. A few years ago, I watched this disturbing human drama and, as a Pandit myself, admired Kak’s courage in confronting vested interests, including his own community. As we came out of the theatre, a relative of mine lamented, “I feel guilty."

This guilt did not arise, as mine did, from the realization that the Kashmir issue is not a religious-fundamentalist movement, as the Indian state portrays. He, instead, felt that “by watching the film he was endorsing the outrageous, misleading propaganda his own community member (Kak) was spreading.” Kashmiri Pandit activists have prevented the screening of Kak’s film in Delhi through protests you can’t call peaceful.

This preamble is to put in perspective the story about last week’s seminar, ‘Azadi, the only way’, which has spawned many versions, each wildly different in its perception of what transpired. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call for azadi there has outraged Indians; they want him and Arundhati Roy — whom the middle class hates as much as V P Singh for his Mandal experiment — to be tried for sedition.

As a witness to the event, I must admit that the 400-strong audience, comprising mostly young Kashmiris, erupted in frenzied applause every time a speaker referred to the oppression by the Indian state in Kashmir. There were speakers from the ultra left too, who underlined the brutal suppression of just mass struggles across India. Their speeches were equally anti-State, but they weren’t hate speeches nor did they advocate violence.

In this charged atmosphere, the problem began when Roy began to speak. She was heckled, for ignoring the injustices against Kashmiri Hindus, as she blasted the Indian State. The taunts of the hecklers, numbering just a dozen, were drowned in the thunderous applause of the majority, which wanted the seminar to continue.

A brief pause later, Roy raised some pertinent points for the separatists to ponder. She argued that the Kashmiris should join protest movements against injustices all across India and not care only about their own cause. She also demanded to know what kind of state the separatists envisage — whether the minorities, like the Pandits, would have equal rights and made to feel a sense of belonging in Kashmir, unlike now.

As the crowd lapped up each word Roy spoke, I felt proud that our democracy has become mature enough to allow leaders of radical movements to express themselves in the very heart of India. But my pride ebbed when Geelani began to speak — a handful of protesters began to raise cries of Bharat Mata ki jai, unfurl the tricolour and make threatening advances towards the stage. They were asked to listen peacefully or leave. Ultimately, the police escorted them out.

Geelani, the ‘incorrigible hawk’, appealed to India to talk to Kashmiris in the language of insaniyat. Responding to Roy’s query, he said an independent Kashmir will grant equal rights to all. He reiterated his demand for a referendum in the undivided J&K, promising to abide by the verdict, even if it went in India’s favour. He expressed hope of India becoming a superpower, outstripping even the US and China.

This was what I heard and saw. But the story in the media was quiet different — there was only the heckling and humiliation of Geelani and Arundhati Roy.

That the Kashmir story has an alternative narrative, which Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi depicts and the seminar in Delhi fleetingly touched upon, needs to be told to India’s masses without hecklers hijacking the agenda.

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