By Aditi Annapurna:
On Tuesday, the 31st of January, Symbiosis College in Pune released a statement that it was to defer the screening of the Kashmir-based documentary, Jashn-e-Azadi, and this was eventually followed by the college indefinitely postponing the entire academic seminar that was planned to discuss the situation of conflict in the Kashmir Valley.
Any Indian who truly prides India for the fact that over the years, it has grown to become a country that gives voice to even the most radically different opinion would be disappointed at this state of matters. Such a move of a college being subjected to and ultimately surrendering to the threats from an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is grievously tarnishing to the image of Indian democracy and Freedom of Expression. Or even if national “image” is not what concerns its citizens much, an act of curbing such a form of Creative Expression spells great concerns for the future of an India that gives Voices to the Voiceless in the most entire sense. This brings to mind another issue that, though having received abundant media coverage, did not quite reach a satisfactory conclusion — the barring of Salman Rushdie from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival in January. Both occurrences, though different in the kinds of societal tensions they stirred, have one element in common — the Artist and his work bearing the brunt of a few men and women who considered any form of circulation of his material as too perilous to the mindset of the State and its people, and ultimately concluded that barring his works was the only solution to resolving the crisis in hand.
Jashn-e-Azadi is a film that aims to portray the kind of violence that had pervaded the Kashmir Valley region in the years following India’s Independence. While very few of us have actually visited the region enough to know about the truth behind the reported violence prevalent in the state, we do have enough media reports as well as first-person accounts to believe that the Valley has been caught in armed conflict for many decades, and that the tears and cries of bereaved inhabitants at the loss of their loved ones are too heart-wrenching to watch for us to think of them as false. We all have that one Kashimiri Pandit friend who always tells us about his/her parents and how they lost their homes in the wake of military conflict and forced evacuations. Jashn-e-Azadi is a carefully-maintained documentation of these memories, of accounts of these severed relations of a person from his Home and Family.
When a film that aims to put words and music to the painful stories of these people, and when a screening of any such artistic work is barred, the very democratic ideal of Freedom to Speech and Expression is threatened. It is thus a very rational fear to set in our minds; that it is in these small steps that the country plunges into the darkness of ignorance and isolation of people and their opinions. Such an act deserves to be challenged at the heart of its very purpose and intention, as the Freedom of The Artist and The Spectator is at stake.
Coming back to what caused such a reaction to the documentary film of Sanjay Kak’s, there still remains a pertinent question that needs to be addressed. The ABVP put forth the reasons for their efforts to postpone the seminar, for the screening of the film was “offering a platform to anti-national elements at the seminar”. The Constitution provides enough protection from these “anti-national” or seditious elements, and lays down provisions that any acts that attempt to incite violence amongst the people in opposition to the State and its sovereignty must be quelled, as they threaten the very foundations of the country and its democratic ideals. Even if Jashn-e-Azadi were such a film that could be classified as particularly seditious content, even so – the means with which its circulation was curbed was not particularly democratic. The purpose of such academic events and discussions is to create a common platform, a network of communication between the diverse voices existing around a particular issue. If a certain group of people did hold serious objection to Rushdie’s literary works and portrayal of certain characters, they must have made use of the platform to voice their opinions about it. In the case of ABVP, the real and democratic solution would have lied in responding to Dissent with its formidable opponent, Dissent. Because, in reality, the Jashn-e-Azadis of the country and the World at large will come and go, and all that will remain is an aura of communication in its truest form having set its foothold on the Indian Social and Political Sphere.