Kashmir movie triggers new controversy
By: BY ANDREW BUNCOMBE
Indian filmmaker Ashvin Kumar is used to controversy. His previous
documentary, Inshallah Football, about the conflict in Kashmir and its lingering ramifications, was refused a certificate by the censors. With the
launch of his latest film, Inshallah Kashmir:Living Terror, he has sought to avoid that problem by putting the film directly online.
uploaded his film on January 26th – India’s Republic Day – and by early this afternoon, it had already been viewed 25,000 times.
“There were two agendas for putting it online,” he told me. “One was to get around the censor board. Secondly, and more importantly,
I wanted to make it truly democratic so that people would not have to pay to watch it.”
He added: “A blind-spot has been created in
the Indian political mind…some sort of barrier fuelled by government propaganda. I wanted to put across a bunch of people talking about their
own problems and see if they could not connect by avoiding the government clutter – a sort of people to people thing.”
Kumar, who received an Oscar nomination for one of his earlier films, has done a largely impressive job in telling a difficult story, trying to
explain how and why Kashmir’s separatist insurgency was created, the violence it led to and the devastating response of the state that has
created a situation whereby the Kashmir valley is one of the most heavily-militarised places on the planet, where mental health issues are soaring and
where a sense of helplessness pervades. (His film may also have the unintended impact of boosting tourism numbers; Kashmir has utterly mesmersing
landscape and the documentary captures that.)
Kumar has spoken to many of the major players in Kashmir’s recent history, including the
current chief minister Omar Abdullah, the former Kashmir administrator Wajahat Habibullah, the activist Parveena Ahangar, who has struggled for more
than two decades to raise attention to the hundreds and perhaps thousands of people “missing” at the hands of the state, or else the
Of course, no project about Kashmir can ever be completed without creating controversy and Kumar’s film has already sparked
heated debate, though Kumar said he believed that the response from people inside Kashmir had been largely positive.
Some of the criticism relates
to one of the most controversial and tragic episodes of India’s recent history – the exile of the minority Hindu or Pandit population, who
fled the valley from 1990 onwards as the insurgency took hold. From a population of around 400,000, perhaps just 4,000 Hindus remain
Kumar’s film certainly addresses the Pandit episode. He talks about how, after an incident in which 50 Muslims were killed by
troops and the blame was heaped on the Hindus, the majority community set about harassing the Pandits, ordering them to leave the valley and attacking
and killing them.
Among Kumar’s most vociferous critics on this aspect of the film is Rahul Pandita, a writer and journalist from a
Pandit background, who took to Twitter to denounce parts of the documentary, saying that attacks on Hindus predated the armed forces’ shooting
of Muslims at Gawkadal.
He also took objection to comments made by Wajahat Habibullah, who told Kumar: “I don’t think it was
necessary for [the Pandits] to leave.” [I personally interpreted that to mean that it "ought not to have been necessary" for the Pandits to
leave.] In an email, an admittedly furious Pandita, who is currently working on a memoir on Kashmir, said: “It boils my blood to see, time and
again, how the circumstances leading to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits are skewed. In this documentary as well, same thing happens: as if KPs were
targetted only after the Gawakadal massacre of January 21, 1990. The fact is that the hunting and killing of Kashmir’s minority community had
begun much before. It was long before that we had become the Tutsis of Kashmir.”
The best thing is to judge the film for yourself. Thanks
to the generosity of Kumar, you can see it