Karachi, Jan 13: It’s 15th August. A handful of soldiers are hoisting an Indian flag to officially commence the Independence Day celebrations in Srinagar, the capital of Indian occupied Kashmir.
Apart from the soldiers and a handful of journalists, Red Square, a thoroughfare which remains busy on a usual day is eerily empty. Not a single Kashmiri is in sight. The Indian soldiers struggle to look excited in the awkward silence. One of them addresses the media, reassuring the Indian nation that all is well in the densely militarised state.
That’s how Indian filmmaker Sanjay Kak begins “Jashn-e-Azadi – How we Celebrate Freedom”, a documentary on the human rights abuses in the state that was screened at the Pakistan Medical Association auditorium on Sunday.
Shot between 2005 and 2007, the film lifts the lid from one of Indian’s most tightly kept secrets and as it manages to capture the day to day life of Kashmiris. By using covert techniques, the director recorded footage from the streets of occupied Kashmir that lays bare the inhuman treatment routinely meted out to the civilians.
The numbers are self-explanatory: 700,000 Indian soldiers deployed across the region to fight armed militants. Interestingly, India officially says the number of militants active in occupied Kashmir range less than a 1,000.
Indian activist Yasmin Qureshi, the event moderator, pointed out that the people of Kashmir were living in the same conditions like Palestine, where people had to go through security check posts every day.
The history of Kashmir is inextricably linked to India and Pakistan and the politics of the region has sadly overshadowed the human suffering at the hands of the Indian military. The documentary charts the recent history of Kashmir since the early 90s, when an armed struggle had begun in the valley and the subsequent actions taken by Indian forces which practically continue to this day.
For the film, Kak has interviewed several Kashmiri families to narrate their sufferings. “They came at night in search of militants and often burned down our house. It took us a lifetime to rebuild it. Now my children are asleep on the glaciers,” said a father.
A girl animatedly explains how a band of soldiers shot a young man in the face and did not let anyone come near the body for hours. “He was killed at 1pm and the body was there on the main road till seven in the evening, I saw the whole episode with my own eyes from the gallery,” says a 10-year-old girl. But it is the stories of young men getting picked up in the darkness of the night only to be found dead months later that abounds.
The most telling aspect of the documentary was the queue at a physiatrist’s clinic. A scene shows men, women and children waiting outside doctor’s chamber. A significant portion of the Kashmiri population suffers from mental ailments borne out of the perennial bloodshed. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in women and young girls is rampant as their loved ones are either dead or missing.
After the screening, a question and answer session with the director and Mirza Waheed, the author of the critically acclaimed novel “The Collaborators”, was also held through Skype, which did not go well due to logistical shortcomings.
However, Kak responding to a question said the documentary was an attempt to bring forth the truth about Kashmir to the Indian audience. ”I do not think that a mere documentary can change the lives of the Kashmiri people. Because the problem of Kashmir is so complex that even countries are at a loss as to how we can solve it. So I do not think I am somebody who can solve it. However, the objective of the movie, if you understand, was to highlight some of the oft-hidden facts about the issue.”
Qureshi said that ever since Jashane Azadi was released, the documentary had opened up a debate about the Kashmiri’s plight in the Indian society, “which is something positive because Kashmir had always been something that the free Indian media was reluctant to talk about”.