American filmmaker-writer Jamie DeWolf, who was in Kashmir this month with his partner and underwater model-photographer Iara Mandyn, has described the Valley as “the most militarized zone in the world” with one soldier for every seven citizens and “guns everywhere”.
In a Facebook post, the 41-year-old slam poet and circus ringmaster from California who stayed in Srinagar with Iara on a professional assignment in and out of the city’s Dal Lake, said he has secretly filmed dozens of interviews “with torture victims of the Indian state, protesters who’d been beaten, blinded, amputees missing fingers and legs, horror stories end upon end.”
The interviews will be coming out in the next two months, the pair said, billing them to be “one of the first comprehensive reports on human rights abuses in Kashmir”.
“There were grenade attacks while we were there, a citywide strike, protesters ran over and killed. I won't lie that it was a shaky experience,” added the June 27 post by DeWolf, who lives in Oakland, a major West Coast port city in the US. “Watching people get snatched off the street in front of our hotel while I had explosive footage hiding in my room was intense.”
San Francisco-based Iara, too, posted on Facebook about her ongoing sojourn in Kashmir—a place she describes is “insanely gorgeous” but riddled with “a lot of tension”.
“A couple weeks ago my partner and I ventured halfway around the world to Srinagar, and decided while we were there we had to try and take mermaid photos in the famed Dal Lake. Here’s the first, aboard the shikara wooden boat with the Himalayas in the background!” notes the model-dancer, who is a certified freediving instructor, scuba diver and one-time lifeguard.
DeWolf, who is a great-grandson of late American author L. Lon Hubbard who founded a new religious movement called the Church of Scientology in 1954, said he found Kashmir “not exactly a top tourist location”, where he and Iara “were flying in with a cover story of doing a mermaid shoot”.
“We scattered various film gear across our suitcases and checked in the mermaid tail. But what we were REALLY doing was secretly filming dozens of interviews with torture victims of the Indian state, protesters who'd been beaten, blinded, amputees missing fingers and legs, horror stories end upon end,” his post added.
“And on the last day, we did the mermaid shoot! Our guide found a boat that would take us out to a secluded area and Iara Mandyn transformed and stunned us all with her fearlessness to leap in the lake,” DeWolf writes. “It was a profound, transformative experience and shook me to my core but I'm so grateful we did it. And look at this beautiful shot!”
Added Iara: “The story behind “these photos is way crazier than the image could ever convey. They were sooooo close to not happening. The region is insanely gorgeous but there's a lot of tension in Kashmir right now, so we were quite wary the entire time we were there,” says the June 20 post. “We almost scrapped the idea but then by luck found an awesome guide, and a boatman who was willing to take us out. Almost all of the women there cover up from ankle to neck even in the blazing heat of summer, and don't swim. We didn’t want to cause a stir, so we rowed out to a remote part of the lake to be able to capture these. So many thanks to everyone who made these happen.”