By Shamim Zakaria:
On 2nd November, 2000, with the rising sun, chirruping of birds, the serene valleys of north-east India, one perhaps espied the day to be mere wonted. Unfortunately, the day remained a black spot in the history of Manipur. Malom, a town situated in Manipur’s Imphal Valley, bore witness to the Malom Massacre. Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state, brutally shot dead ten innocent civilians waiting at a bus stop. The deceased included women, senior citizens and minors. The shrieks, and the cries of those ten innocent souls washed away in the gruesome bloodshed. The obvious license to this devilish act was, and is, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Along with the sufferers, the Malom Massacre changed the life of another young lady forever. Irom Chanu Sharmila fasted as part of her regular Thursday chores, which had been continuing from childhood. However, unlike every other Thursday, her fast never ended and continues till date stretching to 14 years now. Arrest, release, re-arrest, judicial custody has become her regular routine. Amidst offers from various political parties to contest elections, her crusade for humanity still continues. But, this isn’t what she staked her hopes, aspirations, and dreams for. Yet today, a hefty percentage of Indians have barely heard about her or her crusade. Even after 14 years of relentless struggle, confused faces pop up when asked about AFSPA. Organizations and big wigs have tried to spread the word, but perhaps the voice was not loud enough. And even today, brutality, human rights violations, and tears continue in the name of AFSPA.
Now, a stalwart of film making, Vishal Bharadwaj comes with his yet another masterpiece, Haider. Here, the location, and people change, but the suffering remains similar. Ebbing everyday under the purview of this draconian law is the ‘heaven on earth’Â – Kashmir. Adapted from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the director flawlessly and brilliantly carves it out onto celluloid. Thus, gifting the audience with a platter of pensive reality. The film depicts the pursuit of Haider, a Kashmiri boy portrayed by Shahid Kapoor, who returns to the valley in search of his lost father, once detained by the Indian Army in a crackdown. In his odyssey, Haider is acquainted with numerous shocking realities about his closed ones, including his mother.
The film starts on a serious note and perorates on a similar dreadful note. Shahid Kapoor’s hard work is very much evident from the fact that he, along with Vishal Bharadwaj, refrained from any remuneration to make Haider a success in all its endeavours. In the present day film making, when everyone seeks to be enlisted in the 100/200 or perhaps 500 crore strata, such an audacious stand from the film’s prime pillars make it all the more special.
Though Haider depicts a horrendous face of the Indian Army, yet these inhuman stories are not untold. Even after being exposed to such tales, we blatantly snub it. Or may be sometimes a bunch of more concerned Indians tend to shower words of pity, while reading the morning newspaper along with a sip of tea.
The film ends with some grim images of death and bloodshed, but it augments a flame of numerous unanswered questions. Returning to the ground reality, be it Manipur, Kashmir or other areas where AFSPA prevails, who’s to blame? Or as Shahid Kapoor mentions in the film, who’s the actual chutzpah? Chutzpah – a Hebrew word meaning the quality of audacity for good or for bad.
Apparently the Indian Army is the most disciplined force in the world. However, sometimes fact say it’s ostensible. The recent Operation Hilltop, by Tehelka, showing this very same Assam Rifles being corroded by mammoth corruption is an example of that. With the massive relief efforts initiated by the Indian Army in the recent Kashmir floods, they tried to show yet again that they aren’t the enemy, but protectors and guardians of civilians. But, the image turns murky as many claim it to be more of a PR activity then ground reality.
The one with guns demand freedom, but independence from whom? The people, the land and the country is their own. Certainly the government and our leaders too want this bloodbath to end, but is that really so? As Wikileaks’ diplomatic cables have recently disclosed, Indian government employees agree to acts of human rights violations on part of the Indian armed forces and various paramilitary forces deployed in the north east parts of India, especially Manipur. And AFSPA continues to be the greatest enemy of humanity causing disgrace to the people under its purview. So, where’s the real chutzpah?
In the midst of a ferocious collusion between huge elephants when things are politicking, it’s always the forage which lay crumbled – it’s always the common innocent souls that bear the pain.