Sunday, 4 March 2018

Jashn-e-Azadi - How We Celebrate Freedom

How We Celebrate Freedom India 2007. Dir. Sanjay Kak. 138min. Kashmiri, Urdu with EST.

Screened on Saturday 16 September 2017 at the BFI London 

To mark the 10 years since the film was  first released, we held an panel discussion w
ith Director Sanjay Kak, Nitasha Kaul, Mirza Waheed and Mehroosh Tak (Chair).

Sanjay Kak Q & A
(left to right) Sanjay Kak, Mehroosh Tak, Nitasha Kaul, Mirza Waheed.

Sanjay Kak is an independent documentary filmmaker whose recent work reflects his interests in ecology, alternatives and resistance politics. His most recent film'Red Ant Dream' is the third in a cycle of films that interrogate the workings of Indian democracy. His films 'Jashn-e-Azadi' (How we celebrate freedom) about the struggle for Azadi-freedom-in Kashmir, and 'Words on Water' about the struggle against large dams in the Narmada valley in central India, have been widely screened both in India and abroad. He is based in New Delhi.

Nitasha Kaul is a Kashmiri novelist, poet, academic, artist and economist who lives in London. Her debut novel Residue (Rupa/Rainlight, 2014) about Kashmiris and the politics of identity across nation-state borders was earlier shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Aside from fiction and poetry, she comments in the media, addresses audiences within and outside academia, and has written in edited collections, journals and newspapers on themes relating to identity, democracy, political economy, feminist and postcolonial critiques, Bhutan and Kashmir. She holds a joint doctorate in Economics and Philosophy, and is the author of the book 'Imagining Economics Otherwise: encounters with identity/difference' (Routledge, 2007). Her work, over a decade and a half, has been multidisciplinary; she has been an Assistant Professor in Economics at the Bristol Business School and an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the Royal Thimphu College in Bhutan. She is now an Associate Professor in Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster in London. See and @NitashaKaul

Mehroosh Tak is a doctoral researcher with the Leverhulme Centre for Integrated Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) at SOAS.

Mirza Waheed is a novelist and journalist based in London. Mirza has written for the BBC, the GuardianGrantaGuernica, Al Jazeera English and The New York Times. His first novel, The Collaborator, was published in 2012. His second novel, The Book of Gold Leaves, was published in 2014 , by Penguin books. See


This is a transcript of the discussion. Mehroosh Tak introduced the session and invited Mirza Waheed to respond to the film (unfortunately this part was not recorded and is not included in the transcript). 


MIRZA WAHEED: ...two years or so just to reconnect with the film. But also, that moment in 2007 then the film came out and people in Kashmir watched it, the first reaction I remember very clearly was of grief – pure and raw grief. People wept and cried and poured in theatres, in homes, private screenings, public screenings. The first reaction amongst a wide section of Kashmir society was of grief. There was a lot of crying if I remember correctly Sanjay. And the reason for that was this was the first time somebody had spoken to Kashmiris directly in the visual medium as well as the... it was the first time somebody spoke to Kashmiris about their condition, about their life. About their lives both in the imagery sense of the conflict but about their historical lives. It was the first time ever probably that someone had spoken to them.

The only parallel in the cultural framework would be poet Agha Shahid Ali who is mentioned in the film and we have some lines by Agha, in a sense, that was the first time when I was growing up in Srinagar and we saw all these that you saw in the film. It hit us first-hand and you didn’t know what happened. You are young. You are a student. You are a teenager. You don’t know what’s happening. Even if it's happened to you, it takes years and years to process and make sense of what has happened. It was so massive, so colossal.

The entire machine of the conflict, the huge apparatus that descended upon Kashmir, on the city, on the country, was so enormous, was so immense that it took me as a writer, as a journalist at least a decade to even speak about it. I go back to Delhi often. My Delhi years – I’ve been to university in Delhi – and I speak of them sometimes as silent years. I didn’t know how to make sense of what I had just seen as a teenager.

When Sanjay's film arrived in 2007, for me, and for many other people in Kashmir, it was the first time somebody had addressed you directly. But there was a huge difference. There have been media coming from Delhi, from India...

Do let me know, how much time do I have? I tend to go on these days.

[Soft Laughter]

We would often see the Kashmir story told by people from Delhi, from India, or from Pakistan as if we were these cattle, literally. I'm not exaggerating. That was my predominant feeling growing up in Kashmir ­– as if we did not have a voice, we didn’t have a mind, or we didn’t even have eyes. We were told this is what has happened to you. This is why we are doing this to you and this is why you must stay silent. Or this is why you must understand.

There is a great moment in the film – towards the late part of the film – there is a pop psychologist, or motivational trainer, who essentially, basically tells people you should forget everything and change, you know, and [chuckles] change is lovely, and [chuckles], you know, why should you resist? It's very well done, if I may say. 

It's brilliantly done. There was this horrible, horrible man, basically, 
who was telling these little children and men and women that, you know, forget everything else and just take these transistors and TV sets and forget that 10,000 people disappeared, and that mass rapes have happened, and that's just nothing. Why should you stay stuck in the past?

Growing up, we were told roughly the same by India's media, by the Pakistani media as well, to a large extent. But predominantly, the Indian mainstream media which is what you consumed on-screen every night was basically this: that, yeah, you guys don’t know. You all don’t know anything and let's explain Kashmir to you. Let’s explain your life to you and you should essentially lap it up and say, “Wah wah”, and say, “Well done”.

And the sad thing, for a long, long time, many of us believed the lies; not by volition, not by... But we thought this is how it's done. I know of a man – I'll sort of end with this man – I know of a man as a part of research for a novel, I spoke to this man who had been an ex-militant and he had given up his weapons and ammunition and Kalashnikov and he had surrendered– the term in Kashmir is “surrender”, which Sanjay will explain later.

He surrendered and he was... So he had gone and then they let him go and he was grateful. I asked him, “Why are you grateful?”. He said, 'I'm grateful because many of us do not come back from – not from the theatre of war, from police stations. If you are a militant, even if you are not in combat, you could be just taken to a forest as we heard in the film in a lot of times, killed, your face mutilated, and you will be passed off as a dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba commander from the Afghan theatre or from some dreaded Pakistani outfit, and the officer doing that will be given a medal and money and possibly a promotion. This was normal. This was not exceptional. This was not extraordinary. This was the norm.

So I spoke to this man. I said, “Why?” It struck me, I said, “Why is this man grateful”? He said, “I'm grateful because I'm alive”. I said, “But you should be ungrateful to the police and ungrateful to...” he called it government. “I am very thankful to the government that they didn’t kill me”.

So, essentially speaking, he was grateful for not having been murdered extra-judicially because that was the norm in those days – those years Sanjay is going to talk about. That was the norm. It was... And people had... You know, there was this insidious kind of acceptance that had crept in in the collective sort of, you know, consciousness that, “Oh, yes, we should be grateful that my boy/my son/my daughter was not killed extra-judicially; was not taken to a forest and beheaded and then passed off as some dreaded militant”.

So, Sanjay's film, you know, when I watched it first hand and did all that, I must confess, the first time I watched it I cried too – silently, of course, because it was... You know, it brought back every single thing that you had witnessed. I grew up in Kashmir at the height of militancy, then I grew up in the city and I saw everything first-hand. So memories… so the markers of one's sort of consciousness as a writer, as a journalist, as a person were heaps of slippers on a road that had seen a massacre, somebody dying five feet away from you, 10 feet away from you, blood oozing – all the gory graphic things you see in conflict – we saw them first-hand. It was part of life.

Once my sister had a splinter in her leg, because she had gone to college and there was an encounter, a battle, there were bullets and grenades and all that, and then she came home… 20 years later I go back to that scene and process this as how conflict, you know, changes everyone, including people who are not involved.

So my mother, in a matter of fact way, the first thing she asked was, “Can you walk?” It wasn’t anything about that... She was like, “Can you walk?” Her worry was she didn’t want a daughter who might not be able to walk and thus not be a perfect candidate for a match. This is what happened.

MEHROOSH TAK: You mentioned a few... A lot of different things, but the thing that I really took out from hat you mentioned Saturday was about speaking – the one about not speaking for all your time in Delhi, for example, that you say was of silence. The second was about speaking about Kashmir itself. That we finally get the chance to speak about it. And the third was, you started with this, about how for the first time with this documentary someone went to Kashmir and actually spoke to people – the Kashmiri people about Kashmir itself. So not speaking... Speaking about Kashmir and…

[Interjection, inaudible]

MEHROOSH TAK: Yes, and speaking to Kashmiri people also.
This is something 10 years from, like, the documentary itself, even now, what happens quite often is that we have spoken about...

[Interjection, inaudible]

MEHROOSH TAK: So, okay. Kashmiri people had spoken about and had spoken on behalf of but not really ever spoken to or they don’t necessarily get a chance to put their own opinion on the world’s discussion tables. So just to kind of draw those parallels right here.

I'm going to continue with the same thought over here about like 10 years from. So, Nitasha could you just maybe give us some thoughts on that.

NITASHA KAUL: So, it's incredibly strange that there is this nonlinearity of history in the context of conflict. I mean, the... It doesn’t move on. So, like, 2007 when, you know, is the timing of this film and then before that, there is the '90s and you would think that 10 years on things would have, you know, you wouldn’t know whether things have gone forward or backward.

But in effect, you know, like Sanjay, I guess my – and because of the particular ways in which I suppose our identities are specific identities as Kashmiris – that there was a period of gap between the original connection with Kashmir and the going back to Kashmir. 

So, anyway, so recently, I tried to do that, you know, to be there as much as I possibly could, and it seems that there isn’t an answer to whether things have gone forward or back in these 10 years, because there are ways in which you would think, well, has time and consciousness and all these other things that have happened since 2007 because you know, there were various uprisings in 2008, in 2010, the floods of 2014, then 2016, what Waheed very aptly called mass blinding.

So, there have been all these uprisings and things that at points seem to grow a momentum for something but on the other hand, it isn’t as straightforward as that because it's really like things also keep going back into a perpetual quagmire of conflict from which we can’t seem to escape.

But I remember – I wasn’t here for the screening today – but I remember when I saw the movie and when we discussed it when it was screened in London, there was this striking scene of Lal Chowk in the movie where, you know, on Independence Day, they are trying to hoist a flag, there is soldiers, and the dog was there, and it's deserted. And it isn’t really far from the truth at all because it is...  If you think about it, on 15th August 1947, Kashmir was not, you know, was not a part of India in any sense that even Indians might like to say even if you think about the Accession and everything else, all that comes much later.

So 15th August has no significance in a Kashmiri sense, and to have this idea of this democracy, the Indian democracy, which of course as anybody following the news from South Asia, particularly India, would know everything that's happening there with the rise of the extremist Hindutva… The idea of this India democracy is foisted upon the people of Kashmir who have to take that in all its brutality and the symbol for that is the hoisting of this flag, the tricolour which, last year, for example, when – and I guess you do know that last summer was the summer when Burhan Wani was killed and after that there was a deliberate use of pellets by the Indian security forces and in Kashmir on the people targeted often at their eyes which led to these, you know, often young people being blinded. Nowhere else in the world is that kind of weapon used on protestors.

But anyway, in the middle of all of this when 15th August comes around, the Indian Prime Minister made a speech, you know, somewhere else in India saying that we feel for the pain of the Kashmiri people and he talks about Azadi with no, you know, with seemingly no understanding that it is the very kind... This very same sentiment of Azadi, or freedom, that the Kashmiris have in their hearts and minds because of what they've gone through and that is something that, you know, anybody talking about India's history in relation to British colonisation should be able to relate to.

So that was that, but also there is this trend of patriotism in India where Indian teenagers–and I remember last year there was this girl somewhere in India, Mirhat I think, who wanted to go to Kashmir to hoist the Indian flag on 15th August as a way of saying, “This is our territory” and this was a teenager, you know, maybe 13-14-year-old girl in India.

So this spirit, this kind of, you know, the hyped up patriotism that we see in India today makes the whole situation in Kashmir, the conflict, continue to be intractable and also to various people at different times fairly un-understandable. In the… I guess, the important thing about the work of filmmakers and artists and other people who are not automatically seen as political constituencies in that sense – you know, they are not politicians, they are not, you know, they are not the people who are sitting at these deals or part of the governance mechanism – but the kinds of political interventions that artists, filmmakers and others can make are valuable for bringing, you know, a kind of… I guess, a kind of cutting through various knots of vested interested that have been there for too long.

I think with Sanjay's film, I would really like to ask him about that journey and how subsequently, like 10 years on, what Sanjay really would say about, you know, if you had to make that film today, you know, what film would that be? What would that Jashn-E-Azadi be in 2017?

SANJAY KAK: Thank you, Natasha. Thank all of you. I think when you make a film which is 2 hours and 19 minutes, you had a lot of time to say what you want to say. So I don’t want to, sort of, theorise about my own film. I'd much rather take questions. But I'll say a couple of things. One is that this was not a film for Kashmiris, which is important for me to say that because I made a film to disturb Indians. Principally, that was my aim.

So, for a non-Indian audience, many of the cultural references – for example, the song that plays at Lal Chowk on Independence Day – you know, it's a song from the national movement. So, for Indians to hear that played over there is a particularly painful thing and I cannot annotate it for an international audience. So it was a film that was made to trouble Indians but I began by showing it in Kashmir and I have to say that I don’t know why I had not anticipated it but I was completely bowled over by the response that I got to the film.

I mean, Waheed talked about tears but the one and only public screening that I could do in Srinagar because after that I knew I couldn’t do a second one, I went to the large… the only hall in Srinagar that still works, and I brought in a projector and I just sort of SMS-d people and it got filled up. Within minutes it wasn’t just the tears and the sobbing but there was sloganeering, you know, and it would not stop. And in the interval I went up to the mike and I said, “Look, it's a film and maybe, you know, maybe you should watch it today and....”

So one young guy walked up to me and he said, “Listen, don’t try and stop us today. We'll watch the film later. Today it's just our day, you know”.

So what it tells me is not about how remarkable the film is, but it told me two things: that the kind of silence that one was trying to address was not just the silence outside of Kashmir but also within – that was one. The other is that film has some curious quality which I'm not able myself to fully understand, which is that 2007 when I finished the film was a very dark and sad time in Kashmir, you know.

Nothing was... There were no people on the streets. Everything was dismal. There was hopelessness. And so when I made the film, it was a kind of dirge, almost, you know. But when I started showing the film in India, very often people in the audience would tell me, “So what are you trying to say? That it's not over yet?” And I’d say, “Well, that's not what I mean. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know what is implicit in the film”.

And then in 2008, there was a massive uprising and then 2009, and then 2010. The point I’m trying to make is that, curiously, I was not all trying to anticipate a kind of resurgence in the moment on the ground but there it was, you know. So, in that sense, to me, the process and the form of film, I think allowed that kind of response, you know. Kind of the open-endedness of it, the non-linearity of it; the fact that that dates are scrambled – it doesn’t matter whether you are in 1990 or '97. I know it annoys people initially, and then they say, “Well, maybe it doesn’t matter”, and the fact is it doesn’t matter because 2007 doesn’t matter, in 2017, it doesn’t matter. So how does...?

I was watching the film today and there is a scene where this sadhu, this mendicant on 15th August 2000 is coming to the flag and he says, “Anybody who looks askance at this flag I will take his eyes out”. And I said, 'Wow!" This is long before the rise of Hindutva. 
And yet this sadhu has the courage to walk up to Lal Chowk and say something like that.

So, this is the wonderful thing about documentary material that it brings in things which you don’t fully know the meaning of. You can only guess that this is important – this is meaningful you know, and you do it with, I don’t know, a combination of intuition, some Riyaz, some sort of hard work. But, eventually, it gathers a meaning which is larger than you anticipated.

So, any questions? I think we're good.

MIRZA WAHEED: I wanted to quickly address the theme of the discussion, what has changed since 2007 and Natasha is very right – nothing has changed. However, one thing has changed. The response of the Indian state to the uprise, to the mass movement in the '90s, was brutal. You know, if we are told that it has changed or it's different, it was the same even when Congress was in power. It was the same. However, what has changed is with this government, with the Modi government, there is a certain vengefulness to the response. There is a certain nastiness to the response which partly explains that 972 mostly young people, teenagers were blinded partially or fully last year alone. 972. The youngest of them was probably 7 or 8. And this is particularly to do with this current dispensation in India - this Hindu supremacist government.

One of the sadhus that Sanjay talked about in the film who wants to gouge eyes… there’s similar figure who is now in charge of a very big state in India. So that has changed from 2007 to now. The response of the state was the same. It's still the same, brutal, ruthless – kill, blind, maim, do whatever, you know, rape, burn the houses, arson, plunder, you name it. The entire catalogue of a dirty war you can check it in a place like Kashmir. But with this government, the response has been particularly vengeful.  

What I wanted to ask Sanjay was, you know, in the film – it's a small question probably – you have people, you see them, you know, there are the poets, there are performers which is a great, great sort of device in the film, it works perfectly for me. There is a Kashmir's traditional street theatre group it's called Bhand and you have victims and their kin all those people. With the Kashmiri Pandit question, you do not see them. Now, I can probably see it's deliberate because they are not there. They are not in Kashmir, they have left. They left in an exodus in the 1990s as the film makes it clear, at least 200 of them were killed by extremists in that year and before probably.

So I can see that – that because they are not there you don’t see them in the film. But I still had a little issue with... I still want to see them. I hear the poet. That's a great... You had a poet in exile speaking over the phone, you can’t see him. The Kashmiri Pandit poet, Pyare Hatash is on the phone through a broken line, but I still wanted to see some, probably. I don’t know if I'm...

SANJAY KAK: So, I think some of this might need translation for those who don’t know the context of Kashmir. So, on this panel, Natasha and I are Kashmiri Hindus and the other two are Kashmiri Muslims.

[Inaudible background comment, laughter]

SANJAY KAK: I mean, that's what we would be described as. In 1990, one of the more important events was the departure of the Kashmiri Pandits. They left starting in 1990 all the way up to 1998. It is probably one of the more tragic aspects of whatever happened in Kashmir. And it was tragic not just for the Kashmiri Pandits, but for Kashmiri Muslims and indeed for even the Indian state, you know. It really was a very major event. But it's a fiendishly complicated one, because there is oversimplification of the departure which fitted in very well with the sort of Islamophobia which even in 1990 was coming into India as well which is, which is “Oh, look at these Muslims. How can you talk about freedom when you push the Hindus out”? You know.

And the fact is that, yes, the Muslims, whether they pushed them out or not… but the Hindus left. So the end result is absolutely graven in stone. There is no argument about that. But as a Kashmiri Pandit, I had a more complicated reading of my own history which did not allow me to simplify it, you know. So, through the year which the film was shot from August 15th was the first day we shot in 2014, and we finished on August 15th of the next year, I made like 7 or 8 trips to Kashmir and each time I came back with material, my editor would say, “So how are we going to deal with the Kashmir Pandit issue? You know, how are going to deal with the Kashmir Pandit issue?” And we kept discussing ways.
And I said, “Well, I could go to the camps in Jammu or I could do this or I could do that”. And, ultimately, after the fifth trip, my editor turned to me and said, “Why are you forcing that into this film? This is not a film that can explain that”. And too do a kind of tokenism and say, “Well, you know, that was terrible too”… it would be unfair to my own understanding of it.

I mean, today, 10 years and more after, I am ready to speak about that issue because now I have invested 10 years in understanding it. I have a certain fluency with the ideas. I understand what happened. I can talk about it and maybe I don’t want to make a film about it but I can... I understand it.

At that time, I thought that the best way or representing it was as an absence. And so, for example, I could have gone to Jammu and filmed the poet, but I chose not to, you know. I spoke to him on the phone. I recorded. I said, “Can I record you reciting it on the phone?” And I went to this Hal which is a Kashmir Pandit village – or largely Kashmiri Pandit village, this part is now abandoned. And we and we kind of overlaid it, and we did it knowing fully, well that in the climate in which the film was going to come out, we would be pilloried for it. This was going to be the first question that I was going to be asked at every screening but what the hell, you know, sometimes you have to take a position and...

And it... Indeed, this is what happened. Every time I screened the film, the first question was Waheed's question, “What about the Kashmiri Pandits”? And it wasn’t until perhaps the 10th or 15th screening, which happened in a state capital called Patna which is quite far away from Delhi, and I was playing to an audience of, you know, people from the Hindi literary world in a building called Hindi Sahitya Sabha and the Q&A started and this question did come up.

So after about 30 minutes, I said, “Can I ask you guys a question”? And they said, “Yeah, sure”. And I said, “Why has nobody asked me this question which is usually the first question I am asked in the metropolis in Kolkata, Bombay or whatever”? And this kind of very elegant, elderly gentleman in dhoti and a kurta got up and he said, “No, but I get what you are saying. You are saying that if you understand this, how will we understand that? You know you first have to get past this”. And he said, “To us, this is a film about militarism. So we are sitting here and saying, ‘is this what India is going to look like in the future’”? and I thought, “Wow!” This is a... This is not a sort of instinctive response. This is a well-calibrated response. So...

AUDIENCE 1: A very simple question... [inaudible] is your mother from Kashmir?


AUDIENCE 1: All of you?

[Agreement from panel]

SANJAY KAK: So there is a slight variation, in that Kashmiri Pandits speak Kashmiri which is a little more inflected with some Sanskrit, and Kashmiri Muslims speak Kashmiri which is a little more inflected with Persian. So we can totally understand each other but there will be certain key words where we will use slightly different words.

MIRZA WAHEED: A small part.

SANJAY KAK: Very, very small part.

MIRZA WAHEED: You see, the question of language is also important. The language is also tied to the occupation of Kashmir. So a lot of my generation will speak fluent Kashmiri, understand Kashmiri, but they are not able to write because the…teaching of Kashmiri, the main language, was frowned upon by the state. They encouraged the teaching of other languages at the cost of the main language, as a result of which at least two generations that I know of can speak fluent Kashmiri, cannot write it. Can read with difficulty. I have taught myself how to read. I wasn’t taught Kashmiri in school in Kashmir. I went to school in Kashmir, in Srinagar. I wasn’t taught the main language and later on as you grow up, you begin to understand why that is.

AUDIENCE 2: Can I just ask you a question. One is that, can you just briefly summarise your understanding of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits if that's still relevant if you don’t mind? And also, what is the situation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and how does it contrast or compare with the Indian-held?

NITISHA KAUL: […] about the language thing…

MEHROOSH TAK: Can we just go back to Natasha?

NITISHA KAUL:  I’m just going to finish about the language thing and then…


NITISHA KAUL: So I was just going to say that, so the use of language… You see, the meaning behind which language is being used, it has a political sense. So whether... So, in Kashmir, of course, there is Kashmiri but in what is called Jammu and Kashmir, and then if you look at the erstwhile Princely State of Kashmir that includes like various parts which have different languages ranging from Dogri to Pahari to, you know, several other languages that would not be called Kashmiri. However, Kashmiri as such is distinctive and different in the sense that from a linguistic point of view, it belongs to an Indo Dardic family of languages and has lots of other linguistic differences from many other languages from the South Asian kind of group of languages and has similarities with the central Asian group of languages.

But the use of language is really political. Even in the university, I think the Department of Kashmir Studies came much later, you know, and you would think that in Kashmir University, the Department of Kashmiri Studies would be there. So it comes much later and this year, like just a few months ago, there are hoardings, billboards in Kashmir which are like in Indian government-scheme-type billboards which have… and lots of other billboards that I saw mostly to do with the government, that are only in English and Hindi and sometimes actually have a picture only in Hindi. And when you look at a billboard like that in Kashmiri you wonder why would you have like English and Hindi as the only scripts on a billboard in a place where majority of the people would not be able to read the Hindi script. You know, English, of course, because it's English... Some people in the cities would, obviously most people in the cities would follow, but the use of languages and specifically not have, like, even Urdu, is a very political thing.

MEHROOSH TAK: Thank you.

MEHROOSH TAK: Can we just go one by one for everyone.

AUDIENCE 3: Could you say what the script of the language was that Mirza can’t read? I'd like to know.

MIRZA WAHEED: No, I can read!

AUDIENCE 3: Yes, but what is the script?

MIRZA WAHEED: It’s Perso-Arabic. It’s written with letters…

SANJAY KAK: Nastaliq.

AUDIENCE 2: Nastaliq, OK. Thank you.

MIRZA WAHEED: Phonetically it's closer to Dari as opposed to languages in, let's say, mainland India. There you would find some resonances with Dari, with Persian a little bit.

NITISHA KAUL: And there would be those old [inaudible]…

SANJAY KAK: So I'll try to answer that question although, as I said, the Kashmiri Pandit question does not allow itself to be summarised too easily. I think it has to be understood that the Kashmiri Pandits were always a tiny minority, you know, like about 3-4% of the population. They were Hindus and had survived at least 500 years of Islam, so to speak. So it was not as if they had all left, you know, and, in fact, they were not an elite. A majority of them were just ordinary people you know, school teachers, government revenue officials, and so on.

But there was an elite as well who had been in the court of the Mughals. They had even been in the court of the Afghans. So they were a tiny minority whose fortunes got kind of… how should I say… not twisted by the last 100 years of what is called Dogra rule from Jammu, which is from 1847 to 1947, where you had a Hindu king over the kingdom. It's a long story of how he bought the kingdom and so on.

So what happens is that the Kashmir Pandit begins to be deployed as a kind of buffer between the Muslim peasantry and the rulers. So as shorthand, I often say, think of South Africa and Apartheid and think of the position of Indians in South Africa. They were not having an easy time. They were having a rough time but they were a little better off than the condition of the vast majority of Africans.

AUDIENCE: Kenya is better than South Africa, as an example.

SANJAY KAK: Yeah. Now what happens is that the privilege given to them included, for example, the privilege of education. So Kashmiri Pandits were literate. They were school teachers and so on and so forth. I would never say that they were an elite and that, you know, that after 1947 it was not as if there was an anti-elite movement, but they were a tiny minority who had got, in some senses, fused with power.

And then 1947 happens, and by 1952 the romance between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, who was the popular leader of the time, is over and Sheikh Abdullah is jailed, then the government of India doesn’t have anybody to trust in Kashmir. And once again, Kashmiri Pandits... Now this is a sweeping generalisation and I don’t want to be held down to it, but they, again, get, for example, jobs in post and telegraphs department, in telecommunications, which were never given to Kashmiri Muslims. It's only much later in the '70s that it started happening.

So what happens is that in the popular mind, this tiny minority is suddenly slotted in a certain way. So Kashmiri Pandits, by and large, will tell you that something happened in 1989. People went mad one day and the mosque started blaring slogans and, you know, and I find that very... I always found it very difficult. How is it that overnight this thing happens?

Just in the same way that if you think of Rwanda, you know, the killings don’t happen because one day everybody goes a little crazy and they pick up machetes and they go out and kill each other. One has to, one must, look at history and nuance and however difficult it is to take that on board.

So what happens is that a kind of history of hidden resentment builds up and the insularity can be so amazing. I mean, I went in 1989 – the year the rebellion kind of completely exploded – I went with my brother on a trek in Kashmir and we travelled by bus and we stayed in little hotels and I can tell you that we had no clue what was going on. My family had no clue. My relatives had no clue. So if 1989 you asked them what was happening, they had no clue. 

Now, how can you not know that this whole place is about to explode if you are not totally cut off from what is going on? So… I'm not even beginning to answer your question but I'm just trying to say that it can’t be understood without understanding the position of a minority who have been constructed into a space which is designed for disaster. Whoever drew that space for them… I mean, somebody should have anticipated that there is the only way this thing is going to end, you know.

And, lastly, although Kashmiri Pandits were involved in politics, by and large, they prided themselves on being scholarly, withdrawn, not political. And to me, it's as important today as it must have been in 1947. I think that the reason why we are all in such a mess is because we all think of politics as something which is not for us, you know. So I think that you know, I mean… as a community, the fact that they had not engaged – and there are exceptions, really remarkable exceptions especially on the left, you know, the Kashmiri Pandit contribution on the Kashmiri left in 1947 was really quite remarkable. But for the rest, people just kind of think “This is not for us”, and that I think is a recipe for disaster.

MIRZA WAHEED: I'll take the question on the Pakistani part of Kashmir only because I've worked at BBC and we covered both Kashmirs impartially and objectively as we are told at the BBC, which we did, really. There is a huge difference. Pakistan has managed that part of Kashmir far more cleverly than the Indian state. They have given them a fair level of autonomy from the time of the war. Even if it's tokenist in many respects when it comes to the real matters, the real grit lies with the Pakistani establishment, we all know that. However, when was the last time we heard that the Pakistani state has butchered Kashmiris in Muzaffarabad? 

When was the last time we heard the Pakistani state have tortured one in every six Kashmiris in that part of Kashmir. They don’t massacre people on the streets. Kashmiris in that part of Kashmir have grievances. There is a nationalist sentiment, pro-Kashmiri sentiment, strong pro-Kashmiri sentiment in that part of Kashmir.

The ISI manage it very cleverly. They just whisk them away, they interrogate them, they scare them away and something. But what they haven’t done, where there isn’t resentment against the Pakistanis, is because they haven’t put them in torture cells for 50 years or something. They haven’t killed 70,000 people. They haven’t raped any women. So that is a huge difference. So they manage it far more cleverly and they have also maintained a certain degree of autonomy – on paper, at least ­– in the Pakistani scheme of things. It awaits the time when Kashmir is up for resolution so that, you know, the Pakistani state can say with some degree of authenticity legitimacy that we haven’t occupied it completely.

MEHROOSH TAK: There was a question there…

SANJAY KAK: What did you say that my response to that question on Kashmiri Pandits... It sounds very reasonable to me but I am frequently... Exactly what I'm saying today, I am accused of justifying what happened to them and, you know, this is a real problem because I still insist that this is what I believe and it's not a justification. It's just that this phenomenon to understand them, you know, we have to complicate them.

I mean, I'm saying this because just the other day somebody on Facebook started this whole thing, and as evidence, they produced a panel that Natasha and I and Waheed were on in London many years ago and I'm saying what I thought was utterly reasonable, you know. But I was at “See, here you are justifying it”, you know.

So I think this is the complicated thing of some old, heated arguments, that if you don’t accept the binary of good/bad, then you're... I mean, the desire to add nuance is seen as equivocation. 

And as a filmmaker, I mean, I'm willing to take the flak for it but I insist that you know, that's our job. Our job is to complicate things. The daily newspapers, the television networks, they will simplify, but our work is to complicate.

AUDIENCE 3: What was approximately the number that fled?

SANJAY KAK: So not a straight answer even to that question, because Kashmiri Pandits had been leaving the valley long before 1989. So my family, for example, with very few exceptions – and I'm sure Nitasha's it's pretty much the same – most of them were outside of Delhi in 1989. So if you were to ask my mother that “When did you flee!? She would be very upset. She would say, “No, we didn’t flee. We had already gone”.

So, nobody knows the numbers believe it or not. The Indian state, which knows everything about everybody, will not give a number because it's a loaded figure. If they say 200,000 people left, then it doesn’t sound like such a large number, you know. If someone says 500,000 then that's impossible because there weren’t 500,000 people. So one of the things about the Kashmiri Pandit question is that not a single number is verified.

Who came to the camps? How large were the camps? What were the days? I'll give you a small story. I did... I edited a photo book recently. It's a kind of pictorial history of Kashmir 1986-2016. And at some point, I said, “I want a picture of the Kashmiri Pandit migration”, and I started asking the photographers – the senior ones – and they said, “Oh, no, no, no. You know, they left at night”. And I said, “How is that possible”? You know, I mean, 200,000 people can’t leave at night you know. So nobody had an answer.

And I started saying, okay, in the archives, you know, surely there were newspapers in Jammu. You know, surely there were right-wing newspapers, pro-Hindutva newspapers in Jammu who would have said, “Hey, look, this is a terrible thing happening, go on get a picture”. Because I haven’t seen a picture of the migration.

And then one of the younger photographers said to me, he said, “I'll tell you why. I was a teenager and I know how Kashmiri Pandits left. I was at the bus stop and I saw my neighbours with a suitcase and a bedroll and they were leaving, and they said, 'Look, hopefully, we'll be back, you know. Let the winter get over, things will get better’”.

Now, why I'm bringing this up is if you were to ask people in India, they will all tell you that it was like partition. That truckloads of Kashmiri Pandits kind of fled in one long cavalcade drove through the night and crossed the Banihal Pass and came into Jammu but none of this is viable. If you look at the newspapers in Jammu city, none of them reported the arrival of these people.

So, in a sense, my problem with this whole issue has been that it's such a holy cow. That unless you accept the one narrative that exists, nothing else... Everything else is heresy. And I am waiting for the day when scholars – and look at it –  this is... We are talking about 1989, India has such a vibrant social science scene. The first academic book has just come out. You couldn’t find more than 10 academic papers. There is no research. Why is that? It's not a coincidence. Why is it that some things get studied and other things don’t get studied? You know that is the politics of scholarship. Forget the media. Forget the media. But even scholarship, you know.

AUDIENCE 4: Just one question, because you mentioned that not enough work had been done but you made the film from 2005, 2006, 2007? I have often wondered before that and after that as well sadly, why hasn’t there been good work cinematically speaking? So India produces a huge number of films. There is the documentary sector, there is the popular cinema, there is the so-called art-house cinema –  all kinds of cinemas exist in India from the bad to the excellent. Mostly bad, sorry, but there are bits of excellent cinemas that are produced in India. There were much better cinema in the previous decades than it is now I like to think. But my question is, why hasn’t there been a single piece of excellent, brilliant, proper filmmaking since Jashn-E-Azadi?

SANJAY KAK: So if you were to ask the filmmakers, they probably think they have made that excellent, wonderful – whatever the adjectives you used, you know – there have been at least five or six films, feature films from Bombay which deal with Kashmir.

MIRZA WAHEED: No, I’m talking about documentary films you know.

SANJAY KAK: So if you want a blunt answer, Jashn-E-Azadi is a hard act to follow.

MIRZA WAHEED: There are all Jashn-E-Azadis of a different kind.

SANJAY KAK: I think that working in Kashmir is very difficult and...

MIRZA WAHEED: Sorry, sorry to interrupt' it's an hour's flight for God's sake.

SANJAY KAK: It's not about half an hour's flight… It's a difficult terrain.
No, but I'll tell you this that I think that it's... See, I was not a young person when I went to make this film and I think the fact that I had a certain amount of experience allowed me to negotiate my way through a territory which is not an easy territory too. So I'll give you an example. When I said I made 7 shooting trips, I worked with a two-person crew, I was doing the sound and my cameraman was shooting. I would never use the same car on two consecutive days. I would shoot two days in south Kashmir and then rush back. Shoot in Srinagar for a day, shoot in North Kashmir, come back. At the end of eight days, I would pack my cameraman off and I would stay on just to clean up, you know.

So, there was a kind of invisibility, a kind of routineness to my presence which, to me, is the essence of what documentary film is about, you know. Your ability to not have your head blown out of the water, you know. So I think that a lot of younger filmmakers, while they are attracted by the… how should I say… the frisson of Kashmir. The fact that people will not even speak to you. Why should they? My film doesn’t use interviews, not because it's not something I wanted to do, but because I realised very quickly that no one is going to tell me what they are actually thinking about. Why should they?

MIRZA WAHEED: It has also to do with the Indian attitudes. 


MIRZA WAHEED: Sorry I've interrupted because it takes Jezza Neumann from Britain to go to Kashmir and to make the other documentary which is Kashmir’s Torture Trail, which is a Channel 4 documentary a couple of years ago, 3 or 4 years ago. So somebody can go from London, do all these things you mentioned.

SANJAY KAK: I mean, look, Indian filmmakers don’t do so many things. There are so many important issues that they don’t make films about. And I mean, frankly, you know, Indian writes don’t, Indian journalists don’t, and, yeah... You know, there is a silence but then how many films, how many good films are there about the caste question in India? There are not, you know. So there are hundreds of silences which surround important issues in India.

So, I mean, I just think that Kashmir is a very difficult one for most Indians, you know to... It's a kind of... It's an experience that those who engage with it have to take on board that next time they see a flag waving that they'll have to think twice about it. It's not an easy thing Waheed you know and it is... There is a... If I were to describe my own feelings in 2003 when I went for the first time – not first time, after long... after a 14-year gap – I felt humiliated by Kashmir because I said, I'm like, you know, 40, I live in Delhi, I read several newspapers, I think I'm well-informed, I’m a Kashmiri. How come I don’t know what's going on?

In my case, that humiliation turned into a kind of… anger and I said, “I have to make this film for myself” you know, and that's what it is essentially. But I don’t know, I mean, it's not easy for... I think my, sort of, identity as a Kashmiri also kicked in I keep saying that I went to Kashmir in 2003 as an Indian filmmaker, but I returned as a Kashmiri filmmaker and I am introduced as a Kashmiri filmmaker now and I don’t have a problem with that.

NITISHA KAUL: I just wanted to say, so, yeah, I mean, I would say it's the same kind of thing, you know, when you look at what Chomsky says are the filters for why we don’t have critical news in the mass media. It's because the people who are making the films, you know, if they go and make documentaries that are about not just about, you know, dissenting issues but about Kashmir, and if they are in India, they are going to get a huge amount of flak for it.

You know, it has to be, as Sanjay said, you have to have a certain amount of, you know, place before you can do that, but also there is this question of Kashmiris I think, quite rightfully feeling that you know, why should our lives or our... You know, unless they actually can trust or there is a connection or a trust, you know, some... urban filmmaker from some part of Delhi who, you know, who wants to make an incredible film on Kashmir is going to be seen as, “Well, you just want to use our sorrow or our difficulty. What's the thing that, you know... What is the thing in it...? What...? Why should we share our life with you”?

And suddenly from, you know, the stuff around Kunan Poshpora. There are is that kind of fatigue that people feel where they just feel like, 'Well, journalists just come and speak to us and then they leave,' and there is, you know there is that. But also there are I think other films, you know, made by others including Iffat Fatima, theres Ashvin Kumar. Theres other people who make films subsequently but I think it's just this thing of... And now young Kashmiri students I think they are making films and maybe in like another 10 years, we'll...

MIRZA WAHEED: I suspect [inaudible] there is sadly the ideological code of the Indian state amongst the middle classes amongst their artists.. [inaudible]

NITISHA KAUL: Oh, yes, absolutely!

MIRZA WAHEED: [inaudible] and yes, you're right, it is to do with the lack of courage [inaudible] but I think it's slightly more... It's slightly dirtier than that [inaudible].

NITISHA KAUL: And also the permissions. You know, getting the permissions…

MIRZA WAHEED: The code of the state is so complete that many of them don’t want to defer from the [inaudible].

NITISHA KAUL: Yeah. I mean, the silence and lack of understanding around Kashmir in India is so palpable… like, people don’t really know and there is nothing that they can turn to which will tell them anything about Kashmir that is different. The news media is saturated with right-wing propaganda on Kashmir. There is no other way that they can access anything of that complicated history of, you know, of the 40s; of what happened before or in the decade since.

MEHROOSH TAK: I don’t think you even have to go all the way to right-wing media as even the left... The so-called Indian left leaders, when it comes to the question of Kashmir, fail you in many ways that, I mean, we don’t... We shouldn’t even to go there. Where in like the liberal, radical parts of London it's difficult to raise the question of Kashmir and we've been in those spaces.
But I want to actually... Like now, let's speak to the gentleman in the front and the gentleman at the back, please.

AUDIENCE 6:  I found it a fascinating film. I come back to the poetry that you used. I'm interested to know whether you had considered using poetry before you made the film or when you made the film and whether poetry is very much part of the Muslim culture.

SANJAY KAK: I think one of the things that I realised when I started, sort of, investing in Kashmir was the place of poetry in everyday life, which came as a surprise to me because when I grew up In Delhi, for example, young... My peers didn’t easily rattle off Urdu poetry the way Waheed can, for example. And I found that the work of 17th Century poets is being sung, it's played on the radio. So poetry was pretty much in the air in Kashmir you know, and, to me, it was like, “Wow! How come I didn’t notice the density of it”?

But then I also found that sometimes the oblique nature of poetry was able to create this kind of, you know… an ambiguity within which the images would rest very easily. So, I don’t say this very often but one of the poems that's used in the film and it's cut with contemporary images which is “What frenzy is this?”, The poet keeps repeating “Yoot matsar kyah?”, “What frenzy is this”? 

Actually, this was a poem that he wrote in the '50s as a critique of Sheikh Abdullah, and I deployed it saying that, “Look!”… I mean, maybe even people don’t know that but the fact is that poetry has that quality. There is a kind of, you know, sort of eternal quality to it and that it would be able to suggest in the absence of the interview, as I said, which I knew was not going to work there because there is no reason why anybody would talk.

So, yes, poetry is a... It's a real cultural presence in Kashmir and I think the fact that... Everybody is a poet in Kashmir. Every college student is writing poems in English, usually quite bad, but it's a big thing you know. It's not something that, you know... Yeah.

MIRZA WAHEED: I wrote insufferable poetry [inaudible] as a teenager. But Sanjay is right, everyone thinks in Kashmir is a poet, a born poet.

MEHROOSH TAK: Except for me.

AUDIENCE 7: Hi there. My name is Lalit Mohan Joshi I'm also a documentary filmmaker. First thing, I would like to say that I was really very, very moved by your film. It's a powerful film, very, very innovative the way you have used the footage. It's really very, very powerful. I want to mention one or two things. One about Kashmir. I think Saeed Akhtar Mirza who is a filmmaker, he had done a very detailed film. I don’t know whether it was not released or something –  just to mention that. About your film, I feel that –  and this is not a criticism, I'm just doing loud thinking –  it is such a major film on Kashmir, as we all admit that there hasn’t been any work like that which really deals with militancy in such depth –  I personally feel that would you... If you had dealt with a little more analysis like, for example, as you've said that you made it for Indians, even if people watch it here, just to put the whole thing into perspective, the history, and also the other side –  you know, the side of the government of India –  that would have maybe made the film even more powerful. I mean, dealing with all those people who had been tortured with empathy but also with a little bit of dispassion.

SANJAY KAK: So it's somewhere around the time that I made this film I also became very public about my views on the balanced dispassionate film which is that I did not want to make those anymore. And I was very fortunate with this film that I didn’t have to turn to anybody for funding. The previous film I had made had won a huge bag of money at a festival which I was totally not expecting. So I said, “Okay, this is a sign from God where He/She exists that, you know, go and do it”.

So, analysis, I mean… you can read the Times of India for analysis on Kashmir, you know. I didn’t think that any Indian was going to be disturbed by analysis, you know. On the other hand, cinema – documentary or otherwise – has a way of sneaking behind you where it does matter what I say, what matters is what does the image and the sound and the juxtaposition of the tool, what does it do to you inside?

And I noticed that... I've been making films for more than 30 years and this is the longest and the most difficult film I've made. It's not as... I mean, you all have seen it. I don’t need to tell you that it's... 

It's not an easy film to digest you know.
It's long. It doesn’t have a clear narrative. It's circular. It doesn’t have characters to follow. It has no narrative arc. It refuses to observe any of the rules of conventional filmmaking. But what it does, and has done, is that it's the film that I have most shown in India. It's still being screened in India. And for me as a filmmaker, it was a moment of epiphany to say, “Damn, we've been underestimating our audiences”, because see, I don’t show my films only in the metropolis you know. I have travelled with this film.

I have a Hindustani version of it where my voiceover is in Hindustani and I've shown it in the Hindi belt, in small towns. I've shown it in Gorakhpur and Nainital and Azamgarh and Banaras and I've shown it everywhere and the form of it doesn’t bother anybody and that was, for me, the big, big... It was like a release saying that “I can reach out to precisely those people who I want to and I can make the same film that I can show at the BFI and I can show it at the Cinema for Resistance, in Gorakhpur”.

So, balance... What is balance? Are our news shows balanced? Are our newspapers balanced? You know. I mean, at the end of the day, if an imbalanced film can throw a brick in the shop window then I think it's good, you know. I mean, people have to see the cracks before they even realise that there is a sheet of glass between them and the real world, you know.

So it was a big risk and my editor and I used to say that, “Okay, so...” I mean, allow me to say it in Hindustani [Speaking Hindustani] that we are going to get, you know, kind of screwed over for this. And it did happen but in many more multiples, people open themselves to the arguments of the film. So I'm not being... I hope I'm not sounding arrogant, but I'm just telling you that I stand by the form of the film simply because I've screened the film so much that I know that it works with all kinds of audiences you know.

And if you want to know the history of Kashmir, you can go home and Google it you know, but this is not about the history of Kashmir. It's not about facts. It's about feelings and interior landscapes and terror and fear and uncertainty.

AUDIENCE 8: Thank you. A couple of questions, please. You say you've travelled with the film. Has your film travelled over the line of control with or without you? The other question is about translation. I mean, well, I’d be interested about anything more you can say about language, but one particular little thing I notice it generally in Indian films, Hindustan is translated as India. I noticed in your film, Hindustan is translated as Hindustan and is that a deliberate choice in your on your part?

SANJAY KAK: So I'm a subtitle fetishist. It's something that I love, and I start pretty early in the editing process. I think it helps in the cut also. Like we start putting in a rudimentary subtitle and so it's something that I'm tweaking till the last day, till the last thing, because I really do feel that in many contexts, the precision of translation makes a huge difference to how you understand a person whether it's poetry or whether it's spoken speech.

So, not it's this film but say if it's a film set in the Narmada valley and there is an Adivasi telling you what he thinks about the world… You know, I would probably have spent three months refining those subtitles every time I have time, because I want to get it right. I want you to respect the intelligence with which that person is speaking to you, and that can only come when you get more and more precise about the translation.

AUDIENCE 8: Specifically about Hindustan and India?

SANJAY KAK: Yes. So, India is obviously a much more recent construct in India, in Kashmir particularly. Most people think of India as Hindustan, and it's not just Kashmiri Muslims. My grandfather used to say, “I'm going to Hindustan”, and when he was in India, he would say, “I'm going to Kashmir”, because in his headed these were two different countries, but that's how he had grown up. I mean, until 1947, these were two different countries. 

So, yeah, it was just... It's... I'm trying to be precise. That's basically what it is.

AUDIENCE 8: And the line of control?

SANJAY KAK: Oh, so, yeah, you know, 2007 means that we are in a fluid zone where DVDs go across. I did plan to go to Pakistan and I actually got myself a visa and so on. And then I called a friend of mine in Srinagar and I said, “I'm going to Pakistan and, you know, are there any friends who you would like to show up at the screenings”? And he said, “Oh, no don’t worry. You know, anything between 1,500 and 2,000 people will land up at every screening”.

So, I said, “But, I do not want 1,500”. He said “That's not up to you because the Kashmiris across the other side, they are going to show up and, you know, they'll use it to say, 'Look, this is a guy from India who has come and made this film and like, what are you guys doing’”? So I didn’t chicken out but I thought about it. This was sooner after the film had been finished. I said the last thing I want is the Indian intelligence agencies to get this up their wicks and then make it impossible for me to show the film in India.

So sometimes I had tactical retreats. Certainly, travelling to Pakistan in my case was a major tactical retreat. I knew that is I go and show it in Pakistan and there is this crazy response to it, then I will be in... I'm in deep trouble.

MEHROOSH TAK: There’s a question…

AUDIENCE 9: Yeah, I had kind of a quick question but it’s more about the international attention that goes on Kashmir. I mean, obviously, I think there is awareness of kind of clued up people, but I think that, on the whole, compared to, say, Palestine and the relationship with Israel, the place it occupies and like the popular imagination is pretty small, I would say. And has there has been comparisons between what Modi wants to achieve with India and Israel as a state as well. But I was just wondering why you thought that it doesn’t necessarily get the same kind of attention despite all the brutality that has doubled out in the region.

SANJAY KAK: So, I think, a couple of answers and I'm sure all of us have different explanations. Two things: one is that everybody loves Indian democracy whether she exists or not you know. So the world is very heavily invested in the idea of Indian democracy. So Kashmir represents a bit of a betrayal that they are not willing to talk about. That's one. Secondly, post-1990, which is when Kashmir goes on the boil, is also the time when India becomes the poster child of the newly globalising economy.

So, I mean, if were to just look at the New York Times, the New York Times between 1990 and today has done some pretty hard-hitting stories in Kashmir, but those will represent... But you can actually probably... Somebody with a statistical background can plot two graphs. Those will coincide with periods when the Indo-US relationship is a bit messy. But then there will be long periods of silence, you know, when a deal is being negotiated or Clinton has come with a plane-load of businessmen. It doesn’t matter if there is a massacre on Srinagar, it will not make it to the New York Times. What if Boeing had sent a delegation of McDonnell Douglas is coming?

So the international media is the international corporate media and India... And you'll see this changing now because I don’t know whether the news has got to London so far, but the Indian economy is about to tank and when that happens, everybody will discover human rights abuse in Kashmir, you know. So until then, until it's a market, they are happy to, you know, kind of say, “Yeah, it's a bit complicated. You know this globally slanting and Al-Qaeda and, you know, this... Kind of, let's complicate it and it's not so simple” and so on and so forth. Yeah.

MEHROOSH TAK: Natasha, do you want to answer?

NITISHA KAUL: Yes, I mean…The Indian democracy and India as a market for the West, that's obviously the two main reasons, but I think it's also what I suppose a political scientist would say is the low-intensity conflict nature of the conflict and, you know, sadly enough, the fact that the Kashmiris still have a sense of... You know, even the worst protestors from the statist point of view have a sense of humanity and will condemn anything that is outrightly horrible, actually goes against this whole thing that... In that, it's not... You know, for want of... Yeah, and it sounds horrible, but, for want of a better word, the death toll isn’t high enough. They are not Islamist enough for the West to actually care because they are not doing this and they are not saying, 'We are joining the ISIS and the Al-Qaeda, never mind the odd slogan”. It's essentially about having their political rights; about wanting, you know, freedom, about wanting their emergency powers repealed against demilitarisation.

So it's not that kind of a thing and that's why people aren’t interested. The head of the Indian army was appointed by supersession earlier this year, or end of last year, in February made a statement saying, “We want the Kashmiri protestors not to actually throw stones but to use guns and when they do that, we want them to do that because then it's easier for us to kill them”. He said this on record. The army chief in India has actually said this on record in February.

At the same time, he also made statements saying that people who gather – civilians – who gather at the sites of encounters are, you know, they are terrorists too, and that if we treat them as terrorists, you know, if you are just chanting a slogan or raise a flag, then we would be justified because they are terrorists too.

So there are pressures that want the conflict actually to escalate in violence so that, from the Indian point of view, or Sri Lanka, or whatever kind of solution can be implemented, would involve a much more brutal onslaught of violence.

So there are that kind of forces from looking at that but part of it is that because it's not like that... Because even the most dreaded Kashmiri protestor has a humanity still intact and, you know... So, when, for example, somebody made statements in support of ISIS or whatever, everyone in Kashmir condemned it. So when Amarnath pilgrims were killed, you know, even… all the entire leadership, the higher leadership, everyone condemned it. So it's just not as... I guess it's not Islamist enough for the west to actually care.

MIRZA WAHEED: [inaudible] I'll just say one line or, probably two lines. As we speak, a country called Saudi Arabia is bombing little starving children in Yemen and this country is given arms and massive, massive munitions by two states which is Americans and the British. So if they can do that with the Saudis which is an out-and-out regressive repressive regime and all know about that human rights records and what they do to minorities or women [inaudible], if they can be pals with Saudi why are they reducing Yemen to rubble? India is brilliant.

AUDIENCE 10: There was just a quick question related to what Sunil had asked which is, what do you make of, you know, when they have discussions with British politicians who bring up the Kashmir question, do you have a view on it? Do you think that Britain should get involved in trying to find a common solution?

SANJAY KAK: I'll say this, and maybe the people who live in London can. See, I think that they are responding to their constituencies.

AUDIENCE 10: Obviously.

SANJAY KAK: Yeah, and there is a large number of people from Azad Kashmir in Britain, and they are an important electoral constituency. So, politicians don’t necessarily have deeply held beliefs. They have interests and there must be exceptions, I don’t know, but by and large, I think that, yeah, those periodic statements that are made about Kashmir are really I think playing to the gallery and, you know, and everybody thinks that it's won a victory of some kind, but let me tell you that the Indian Foreign Office doesn’t care, you know, that if 3 MPs have gotten up and said that this is awful or the blinding shouldn’t go on. It's nothing. It's water off a duck's back, you know. It's not that it shouldn’t be done. I mean, I understand that but it's not exactly like a deadly effective thing.

MIRZA WAHEED: What is more effective, sorry, what is more effective sometimes [inaudible] so when this British filmmaker Jezza Neumann made this documentary, it created a big, big stir because he is like a BAFTA winner, and so on and so forth, and he had smuggled himself and his cameras into Kashmir, and this was the first time anyone had done anything on what I think is the most underreported, underwritten, under-covered aspect of the conflict in Kashmir, which is torture. And I can tell you that it was so endemic, so widespread, that it puts things like Abu Ghraib [unclear]. You will not believe it.

And this was one film that was quite… it was narrated by Hugh Bonneville, the man in – what's it called? – Downton Abbey. And it was seen. It was widely seen here, and it created some kind of stir, you know, “Oh my God! That does really happen? Does India really do that?”, because as recent statistics show, one in six Kashmiris has faced some kind of torture since 1989. That's a lot of people who have been tortured and when I say “torture” I'm not talking about mild waterboarding, I'm talking about horrific, horrific forms of torture which you will see in the documentary if you want to sort of... Yeah.

MEHROOSH TAK: I know you wanted to comment on that but what I want to end at is something a little bit different from what we've been talking about right now because as a panel of four Kashmiris, what I want to ask and end on is your movie... Your documentary is called Jashn-E-Azadi, so "Celebrating Freedom" and a very cliché question, what does freedom mean to you? Like, in the context of like Kashmir right now, how do you celebrate freedom in terms of Kashmir? Just very quickly.

SANJAY KAK: I just want to say that one of the things that keeps me hooked on Kashmir is the people I meet there. I have to say this that because I'm fortunate… the work I do, I get to meet a lot of people in struggle, but I have to say that Kashmir is something else. And young Kashmiris, particularly, are getting sharper and more articulate and their understanding is getting more and more interesting and all kinds of conversations are possible and I don’t see...

I mean, it's both simultaneously very depressing to spend time in Srinagar, but, at the same time, I come back each time just kind of renewed at the ability of people to just fight on and resist. And I am secretly a great admirer of people who resist, you know. I think that there is nothing more powerful than the desire to resists injustice. And I think that, in a sense, Kashmiris have got their freedom, you know.

I think that post-1990 whatever has happened... I edited a kind of an anthology of writing after the 2010 uprising and we called it rather cheekily, it's called The New intifada in Kashmir.
And I think that by 2010 there had been an unshackling, you know. 

So it was not to kind of – how should I say – cannibalise the Palestinian experience, but just to say that... And it's not the city-bred Srinagar Kashmiri but I go to... I have friends in small towns who are school teachers and they are the most amazing people you know, and struggle has done that to them you know. Nothing else. It's not that they are genetically superior or whatever you know.
I think the struggle and all the chaos, all the darkness, all the blackness, all the horror has shaped people but they have retained that humanity, they have retained love, and that's really powerful stuff. Thank you.

MEHROOSH TAK: Do you guys want to [inaudible]?

NITISHA KAUL: If you can give me a chance to say but I think Brexit Britain... You know, going back to that previous one, I think Brexit Britain has no real kind of… you know, it's a paper tiger if you think about it, and to say something about Kashmir but, otherwise, you know, freedom, yeah, absolutely, I think that there is a political representation aspect of freedom which is undeniable freedom from “want” that people have in Kashmir. It's also an economic, you know, economic situation that young Kashmiris face and that is quite dire. I mean, militancy and... What is called militancy and the military do not exist as options in a vacuum. It comes from a place of desperation and as well...

And, you know, the arbitrary freedom from the application of arbitrary rules and injustice that if somebody kills someone, they should be answerable for it but, as you know, the emergency powers make that not possible. If somebody has disappeared, you should be able to say, “Find out”. You should be able to have answers. It's very simple, but those are the exact kinds of things that people are still struggling with.

MEHROOSH TAK: Well, I just want to thank everyone on the panel and those who are in the room for coming and taking the time..

SANJAY KAK: You've been extraordinary after that long film 
[inaudible]. Totally unexpected. Thank you.