The Brahminical specialist stranglehold on Kashmir is broken’

Sanjay Kak: I think I have this dual identity both as a Kashmiri and as an Indian. As an Indian I would be very concerned about the growing militarisation of our society.

Sanjay Kak is an independent documentary filmmaker whose work includes Jashn e Azadi (How we celebrate freedom, 2007), a feature-length film about Kashmir and Words on Water (2003) on the anti-dam movement in the Narmada Valley in Central India. His films have been screened across the world, winning several Indian and international awards. In an exclusive interview with, Kak talks about his book “Until my Freedom has come: The new Intifada in Kashmir”. The book, released recently in New Delhi, is a collection of some of the best writings that have emerged from within Kashmir.

Q: There has always been a continual flow of literature related to Kashmir. There is hardly anything that hasn’t been written about in the past. How different is the work that you offer in this book?

A: I think there’s a big change. A lot of writing on Kashmir has come from a slightly tired, liberal nationalistic position.  Much of the commentary of Kashmir is sourced from the same people for the last twenty years, the so called Kashmir specialist. And frankly I don’t think I’ve heard any of them say anything new in the last ten years. And yet, they don’t ever seem to be embarrassed by the fact that their analysis of what is happening in Kashmir is constantly proven wrong. The reason is because they are not interested in seeing what is going on. They are actually interested in articulating what they are told to… that you should see that elections have happened in Kashmir and all is well. So I think the time has come to somehow correct that. And also because the new media has allowed a whole lot of new people to comment on events and a whole lot of people are getting information to which they wouldn’t have had any access earlier, that whole Brahminical specialist stranglehold on Kashmir is, I think, broken.

Q: As you write in your essay in this book, you went to Kashmir in 2003 after a gap of 14 years. Why, even as a filmmaker, did it take so long?

A: I think that for someone who is born a Kashmiri Pandit (Kashmiri Hindu), the years between say 1990 and 2000 were very perplexing, irrespective of what you were thinking of what was going on. When I went in 2003, it was actually just a tourist trip. But even in 2003 what was going on in Srinagar, and outside it, was extremely disturbing. Even as a tourist, you couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. And I thought the most astonishing thing was the level and impact of militarisation. I came back – and sometimes I’m embarrassed to use this word – I came back very humiliated. Because I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know what was going on.

“Until my Freedom has come: The new Intifada in Kashmir” is a collection of some of the best writings that have emerged from within Kashmir.

Q: In your essay, you talk about militarisation and ‘breakdown of institutions of democratic governance’. And ‘something with far-reaching consequences for India brewing in those troubles’. What consequences exactly are you talking about?

A: I think I have this dual identity both as a Kashmiri and as an Indian. As an Indian I would be very concerned about the growing militarisation of our society. Whatever happened in Nagaland and Manipur and Mizoram in the 1950s and 1960s happened very quietly. Then there is the prospect of militarisation of central India like in Bastar and Chhattisgarh.

So it’s not just about Kashmir. It is about what kind of a vision we have of society. We can go on calling ourselves the largest democracy in the world but are we slowly going to see large parts of this country going to military control? Just because we don’t have the political means to address it? And whether it’s in the north-east or whether it is in Chhattisgarh or in Kashmir, it (militarisation) will keep growing. And armies are professional institutions. They are not unhappy to have new territories, new forces, and new budgets given to them. They are not going to say that it’s a bad idea. But it is really up to the political class to think about it. But the political class is so bankrupt of ideas that all they can think of is increase the number of paramilitary and move the soldiers from here to there.

Q: The government has been talking about troop reduction since quite some time especially in the wake of the protests of the last few years. What has been the extent of troop reduction? What has been its effect?

A: There hasn’t been any troop reduction. Whenever the chief minister makes a statement of troop reduction, the army commander denies it. Not only are they not serious about it, each time they raise the issue it actually makes it more dangerous because you realise that actually it is the army and the defense ministry who are calling the shots and not the political class. It’s becoming more embarrassing for the civilian government more than anything else.

Q: You talk about the political leadership and how it is or is not representative of the people of Kashmir. I found it quite interesting that the only political leader to make it to the book is Masarat Alam – someone who is not known much outside the valley. Why did you choose to include his interview in this anthology?

A: He is there precisely to give you an indication of the kind of figure who not many people know… no one ever considers him in the mainstream. He is not given the darjaa [position] of a leader. He is just some shadowy guy with a big beard. But yet everybody knew that there was a time last year when certainly Masarat was the key player in what was going on. But it was not that once Masarat was picked up [arrested by the police], the protests disappeared completely. So, obviously there are other people like, him less visible perhaps. In fact, he said something against journalists in Kashmir in 2007 at one of my film screenings. But I didn’t know him then, I had never met him. He was just some guy who got up at the back of the hall and asked a question. So there must be many people like that.

Q: What about art in this book. There is quite a significant amount of it including the excerpt from a graphic novel.

A: I used a lot of poetry in my film too. It is very much part of the oral culture in Kashmir. There is poetry of protest and so on. Kashmir did not have a long kind of written literary tradition, but poetry has always been. You find people of the younger generation who can rattle off poetry in ways that at least I couldn’t when I was growing up in the rest of India. People know the work of Iqbal, they know the work of Faiz, they know the work of so many poets. So it’s a place where poetry is a very real thing.

Q: We often hear something called lasting peace in Kashmir. What according to you could bring such a peace to Kashmir?

A: Extraordinary imagination. I really think that Kashmir could be… could be… that place of all our fantasies. It could be theoretically a South-Asian inn. A place between India, Pakistan, China and Central Asia… which was its traditional role, a kind of crossroads. But it cannot be that if we have narrow and timid imaginations… like once Kashmir is independent, it should have its flag, it should have an army, a navy, an air force… not that way. In fact, I was just going through one of the pieces in the book [Until my freedom has come] and it says, ‘If Bhutan can be an independent country, then Kashmir can certainly be.’ So it’s not about viability, it’s really about whether we have the imagination. Does even the Kashmiri leadership have the imagination to imagine a solution, where it doesn’t need to have its own army and it doesn’t need to have tanks and it doesn’t need to have fighter pilots and jets. We are only limited by our own imaginations.

Nawaz Gul Qanungo is a Srinagar-based writer and journalist. He was formerly based in New Delhi with India’s major financial daily Business Standard. His work has appeared in some of India’s major publications including Business Standard, Tehelka, Down to Earth, the Tamil Dinamalar and Kashmir Times.