Wide Angle Comment

‘Are they dead, alive or have they turned into ether?’

“A recent report pegged the number of the missing in Kashmir, since the 1990s, at over 8,000.” Picture shows family members of the disappeared persons with graffiti representing their loved ones. Photo: Special Arrangement  

As the boat moves gently along the river, Shamima Bano remembers how her missing husband Shabir came to her in a dream once. “His face looked the same but feet appeared different,” she recalls, in Iffat Fatima’s documentary, Khoon Diy Baarav ( Blood Leaves Its Trail).

He is all but a memory for her since he was taken away by the armed forces. For other women like her, the disappeared beloveds have become dog-eared photographs, protest placards or piles of files and documents. “The act of reminiscing,” says one, “is like lying on a bed of nails”. However, the most poignant moment in the film is Halima Begum of Handwara enshrining her disappeared husband Rashid in a song, a song she and other women sing while working in the fields, a song that asks Rashid sa’ab to come back and stay with them, a song that talks about getting their own newspaper so that they can sing their own truth.

She sings of him even at the wedding of a friend’s daughter.

Enforced disappearances

Their truth is that of enforced disappearances, of thousands of men picked up in Kashmir, most of them at the height of the secessionist movement in the 1990s and the early 2000s, by the armed forces and the state police. These men are those who haven’t returned home, those who are untraceable, those whose whereabouts are unknown.

“Where did they go?” their families ask. “Did the earth swallow them or the sky devour them?” “Are they dead, are they alive, or have they turned into ether?“ Memories and songs form their modes of resistance and subversion against the authorities who have refused to move a finger on the issue despite protests and petitions filed individually by people and collectively by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), the only public movement which has endured in the State. “The film is not about the oppression but the resistance,” says Iffat.

The film was in the eye of the storm recently when, at a screening at the Centre of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D), some students protested against it, calling it “anti-national” and alleging that it showed the Indian Army in a bad light. And the familiar questions came crawling back into the cultural space: when a book, a film or any other a piece of art raises a contentious, sensitive issue, shouldn’t we attempt to engage with it rather than just turn a blind eye to the problems it seeks to bring to light? Should we not choose to see the alternative truth it underlines, rather than blindly believing in that which is offered to us by the institutions and powers that be? Iffat has a simple answer to the charges of bias: “In a screening, a viewer told me that I had made a humanistic film but I should not expect a similar humanistic perspective from my audience.”

The soliloquy “To be or not to be” was reinterpreted in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider as Kiska jhooth jhooth hai, kiska sach sach nahin? (“Whose truth is it anyway”)? Iffat’s film encapsulates all of Kashmir’s truths, half-truths, dilemmas and lies in a most searing and powerful way. It is a welcome addition to other serious Kashmir documentaries like Jashn-e-Azadi and Inshallah Football. The film takes off from her previous 26-minute documentary Where Have You Hidden My New Moon Crescent, about Mughal Masi, who died after waiting for 20 years for her son to return. It was then that she realised the significance of putting the testimonies on record. As Iffat says in this film, the documentary is a “consequence of bearing witness”.So, Speaking of the truth, it is not as though the film is perpetrating lies. An APDP and the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice report titled “Structures of Violence: The Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir”, pegged the number of the missing at over 8,000. The disappearances were at their peak in the early stages of the militancy, but have come down over the years, even as Kashmir continues to remain one of the most militarised zones in the world, a place where Army is virtually above the law and has the immunity of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).

An added urgency

Through Iffat’s camera, such facts get an added urgency — more so because she doesn’t fight shy of showing everything the way it is. The hatred for the Indian Army — which has turned Kashmiris into “tenants” in their own homes — in the their hearts; the torture in the Hari Niwas and PAPA 2 detention centres; the crimes perpetrated by the Army’s counter-insurgency militia “Ikhwan”; Halima’s recounting of her husband crossing the LoC to get trained as a militant but keeping in touch with them through a song request programmes on radio; and a young boy being asked to erase the graffiti he made on the wall with his tongue — all these are recounted. Things reach a crescendo towards the end as Iffat shows protests reaching the streets and slogans of freedom reverberating, rather discomfittingly: “Go India, Drub India, Scrub India”. These slogans may hurt and rattle but can we wish them away? And then, the eternal questions remain: how to solve the seemingly irresoluble? What is the way ahead?

The film is a result of nine years of research and involvement with the issue on the part of the film-maker. Iffat’s camera travels the length and breadth of Kashmir, talking to the families and documenting the cases in detail. “I have travelled hundreds and hundreds of kilometres, often visiting a place many times over,” says Iffat.

Praveena Ahangar, the founder of the APDP whose own son Javed vanished in 1990, has been the spine and fulcrum in the making of the film. Iffat had over hundred hours of footage on hand: candid testimonies that spell things out in detail, right down to the names of the officers and battalions who took the men away. They have no choice but to remember. It is their way of resistance, something they have internalised.

“Resistance has permeated into every aspect of Kashmiri social existence,” says Iffat. The film strings together these accounts in a non-linear, non-sequential way.

It was in 2010 that she Iffat started assembling the material, putting it together and editing. It was a long-drawn-out process. “Making this film has been an intense experience,” she says.

The film has had small screenings for limited gatherings, in Udaipur, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai, in Lady Sriram College in Delhi but none led to any mischief as in IIT Delhi IIT-D. In Srinagar it was held in a hotel since there are no theatres there anymore.

Meanwhile, the subjects of the film continue to live between hope and hopelessness. There is an eternal wait, loss and sadness yet an understanding that lives will have to carry on regardless. At times, closures come brutally in the form of a sudden discovery of mass graves. At other times, the lack of closure becomes a bigger burden to carry as the question hangs heavy in the air: are they dead, alive or did they turn into ether?


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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 4:01:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/iffat-fatima-talks-about-kashmir-documentary-khoon-diy-baarav/article8229909.ece

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