May 16, 2021
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The Dreaded K Word

The Dreaded K Word

First, ABVP goons managed to prevent Sanjay Kak's documentary Jashn-e-Azadi from being screened at Pune's Symbiosis University — ironically known for its communications department. And then, today, the seminar that was proposed to be held instead, ‘Speaking about Kashmir ’, where the blocked documentary's maker Sanjay Kak was to speak, was also "postponed".

While the muscle-flexing by the BJP's student wing and Panun Kashmir was blatant, the university authorities now claim that they have not cravenly caved in to the ABVP fatwa -- they now cite, just as the organisers of JLF did, the fear of violence and the advice of Police of the ‘secular’ Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra , and claim that the seminar has only been "postponed" and not cancelled.

On Hardnews, Sanjay Kak tells Amit Sengupta:

See, this film is almost 5 years old, and is freely available on the internet. Thousands of people can see it all over the country and around the globe. I don't think the idea of a screening in a seminar that is threatening to them. I think it is the idea that a real conversation about Kashmir is happening in a mainstream educational  institution, that this conversation is getting the legitimacy it deserves -- that I think is what is scary for them. And not just for the ABVP, please let us remember. It is scary for all those who have all these years prevented a genuine debate about Kashmir in India . Rightwing, Leftwing, Centrist, whatever...

But the fight to be able to speak our minds freely is a continuous one, and as a documentary filmmaker, I'm aware that there will be no rest on this one issue. The ABVP in Pune is only one of the many forces that threaten that freedom... If educational institutions are going to be terrorised into limiting what they can -- or  cannot -- offer their students, then it is obviously something with serious implications. 

No matter what one thinks of Sanjay Kak's film, or however slanted it is seen to be -- and of course it is slanted -- seeking to suppress or ban it cannot possibly be a viable -- or even a smart -- response to it for those who don't want its ideas to be propagated. Because of the controversy -- as all censors and banners of things always find out to their dismay -- just as in the case of the Satanic Verses recently, the Streisand Effect is at play, and as many have pointed out, the controversy has only resulted in more people looking for the film online. Which is perhaps all for the better, for it is only when one knows what is being said that it can be engaged with -- debated, discussed, or even countered and demolished.

At the same time, as writer Hari Kunzru pointed out on Twitter (it's storified below), "Metropolitan India needs to open eyes to Kashmir" and "surely, if members of a national army have committed atrocities, it's patriotic to expose & punish them, for honor of nation." But that was only after pointing out "major flaws (eg no Pandit voices, lack of context)" and questioning "erasing KP's from story" and calling it "weak". And he's only stating the obvious when he says that  "there ought to be 10 films, 20 films, teasing out complexities, challenging prejudices. More light, less heat."

Why not just face the various complexities of Kashmir for what they are instead of trying to brush them under the carpet? It's only then that the issue of Pandits can also be addressed with honesty and clarity. And it's only then that one can actually truly try and understand what everybody there -- and that includes the armymen as well -- goes through on a daily basis. There is no bravery in gagging a film-maker, however much one may disagree with him. But dealing with the reality -- the truth -- of Kashmir and its various facets does require at least some commonsense and willingness to engage.

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