| A screenshot of the documentary, Jashn-e-Azadi
Calcutta, Feb. 9: In a dark anteroom tucked away on the Presidency University campus in Calcutta, a young and edgy group gathered yesterday afternoon — packed too close for comfort and doing something that has raised eyebrows and a few hands and legs of the moral police in other parts of the country.
They were watching Jashn-e-Azadi, a documentary by Sanjay Kak, which explores the concept of Azad Kashmir and the conflict in the valley. The move was engineered by two students of the university from a region battling conflicts — Waled Adnan from Shillong and Sourav Roy Burman from Agartala.
At a time when freedom of expression has become a matter of debate, the students felt it imperative to let it be known that they want to grow up fighting this battle against what they call “thought control”.
An independent documentary filmmaker, Kak’s films on migration and the anti-dam movement have won much acclaim abroad. On January 29, the screening of the documentary was stopped in Pune-based Symbiosis University after the student organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), raised objections to its nature, which they considered was divisive and anti-India.
It was then that Waled, an economics student of Presidency University, could not contain his curiosity about the movie and deemed it fit that others should know too. “I keenly follow the politics of conflict. It was earlier out of compulsion because that is what the local papers were flooded with back home in Shillong. Now it is an interest. I hope such films are made on the conflicts in the Northeast, too, as each conflict there is unique and complex in its own way,” he said.
And then like a good follower of modern subversion, Waled went on Facebook, created an event and invited the people’s response. As positive response rushed in from those who could and could not attend, he decided to go for it. “It is really frustrating the way things are heading. Books are banned before being read. We are insulated from information that makes sense and are bombarded with candyfloss. I wanted this screening to make a point and what can be a better place than this campus to do that.”
Kak’s narrative of Kashmir conflict did find takers. From an empty room when the screening began, there was no place to accommodate any more people in the anteroom half-an hour into the show.
Nani Mamung from Arunachal Pradesh, who studies history in the university, was glued to the film. “I am happy that such a film was screened on my campus. Even if partially, I can relate to the documentary. When I travel in the Northeast there is an overwhelming presence of the army and militants. You kind of live in a fear which is not so in Calcutta. This phenomenon has intrigued me for long and any study or film dealing with insurgency interests me.”
The documentary has also been screened at Assam Club, in Laban, Shillong. Even in Presidency University, the going was not all easy for the organisers. When they were all ready for the screening, vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar was not willing to grant an official green signal.
“We could not delay any further. With our examinations scheduled later this month, the crowds on the campus are already thinning. A week later, fewer students would have attended,” Sourav, a student of political science, said.
On the day of the show, director Kak congratulated the students through an email. “You have gathered here today because you want to flag a protest, because you want to send off a signal that students at Presidency College will not surrender their right to be informed about the world, to hear and speak about issues that are central to our times. That’s a fundamental right, and we cannot — and will not — surrender that. For making that gesture, and putting your foot down: Zindabad,” he said.