By Abu Saleh
In the twenty-first century globalised, multicultural, and urbanised world, it is assumed that we will become more tolerant, sophisticated, and heterogeneous. On the contrary, it appears that we are becoming ‘less civilised’ and more divisive, subscribing to parochial identities. The ‘shadow lines’ – which separate people – have turned into iron barricades and concrete walls. Fundamentalism and fanaticism leading to communal violence have become a very common occurrence in our daily life. The urban spaces have been constantly communally marked. If one takes the example of Hyderabad, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country, one might wonder at the increasing number of Ganesh Idols in the city and the proliferation of ‘alleged’ hate speeches. The fanatics are even uncomfortable with artistic expressions. From the vicious attack on Taslima Nasrin to the recent incident in Hyderabad, where violence vandalized a Kashmiri Film Festival – ‘Kashmir before Our Eyes: A Festival of Films on Kashmir’ – are examples of increasing intolerance in a city, which was once renowned for its Ganga Jamuna Tehzeeb (religious harmony and syncretism). Like many other cities in India, Hyderabad has become religiously and culturally intolerant or, at least, on the verge of becoming one.
This is my eye-witness account of the violence that erupted during the Kashmir Film Festival in Hyderabad.
Recently, Ajay Raina and Pankaj Rishi Kumar, acclaimed film makers curated a film festival, showcasing many films dealing with Kashmir. It was supported by the Films Division, Mumbai, which is a unit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India. The festival started at Mumbai and people admired it. After its success, the curators thought of taking it to various other cities in India. That’s how a six days event was planned in Hyderabad with the help of local hosts such as the Documentary Circle of Hyderabad, Moving Images, Lamakaan, University of Hyderabad, EFLU, NALSAR, AISFM, L V Prasad Eye Institute, and others.
Everything went on fine until a few days before the festival, when the organizers got a mail on the letterhead of the local Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) against the organization of the festival and one Kashmiri Pandit, supposedly working with the Microsoft, signed it. It is believed that he is the person, who incited some local youths to resort to violence and disrupt the festival. It has been already reported that after sending the letter, some of these youth personally threatened the organizers like University of Hyderabad (UoH) and asked them to cancel the event.
The supposed reason for disrupting the festival was that the films did not focus on the problems of the Kashmiri Pandits. Most of the films narrate the present day situation in Kashmir. Thus, as per their argument, these films are against the Indian Army, anti-national, and support the separatists. They demanded that a few of these films be removed and replaced with a few others, as per their suggestions. The curators didn’t agree to their demand. The organisers informed the Banjara Hills Police Station about the threat. The police agreed to provide protection.
The opening day of the festival was at the L V Prasad Preview Theatre. Before the inaugural session, around forty people gathered one by one and started shouting slogans. At first they broke the entrance door panels, windowpanes, one TV screen and began to throw flower vases. They went inside the projector room, damaged some of the old film reels of the institute/distributor (LVP). When one of the technical staffs tried to prevent them, they beat him up and threatened to throw him down the staircase. Assuming more damage, one of the staff members locked the room. Then they snatched Ajay Raina’s laptop and started running. The staff members, who pursued them in order to recover the laptop, got severely beaten by almost twenty people. The staff had to be hospitalized later. When the filmmakers and those present at the venue requested to stop the violence, they were abused and manhandled. While a few of them were trying to take the music system out, another acclaimed director present there requested them not to do that. In response, he was abused. At the end, the scene appeared a rip off a Bollywood pot-boiler, where the police reach the scene late, as usual. The police arrested a few of the hooligans and Raina’s laptop was recovered in a bad condition after a couple of days.
After this vandalism, few of the organisers acted cautiously and cancelled the subsequent events. The news spread and almost all media, including some of the national news channels, covered it. The civil society condemned it. In the evening, the University of Hyderabad students did a protest march against the incident and met the directors. They gave moral support and requested the curators to continue the festival. Over the next two days, the whole programme was rescheduled. One screening was scheduled at Lamakaan, Banjara Hills. To the surprise, this time the police intervened and instructed the organizers to cancel the event as it’s an open space. Further, the police claimed that they couldn’t provide security, as they were busy with other important matters, such as the Ganesh Puja. Thus, the screening got cancelled there but it continued according to the rescheduled plan in other places like EFLU, NALSAR, AISFM and, finally, at UoH. A large number of audiences attended all the screenings and were followed by fruitful discussions.
People were surprised to see the attack on the festival in Hyderabad. The curators mentioned that no such incident happened in a city like Mumbai, which is considered to be the hotbed of such narrow nationalistic views. Sanjay Kak, who is the director of Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom), which was one of the ‘objectionable’ films in the attackers’ list, lamented: ‘Years back, in the same venue, I screened the film when it was released; nothing happened then. But after many years when people watched the film and acclaimed it, and when it was even available online, it led to hazards. Now these things are happening, which are quite sad. If people have objections with my film, let them come, watch, debate, say that we don’t agree on these points but violence is not the way.’
Mohan Krishna Indraganti, a prominent Telugu film director, was a guest at the inaugural session and was shocked to see all the events. He mourned: ‘This is unfortunate and should not be allowed at all. It’s utterly undemocratic, especially for filmmakers. It’s a medium which brings many issues and all points should be heard before you rampage things. There should be a necessary space for people to have a dialogue…’
This is not the first time that such an incident has occurred. But the world moves on despite such intolerant and autocratic behaviour. After Hyderabad, the festival went to JNU, Delhi. It seems that the educational institutes are the only places which are accommodating the spirit of dissent and democracy. In these tragic times, it’s the duty of the civil society to protect all sorts of cultural resistance.
Ajay Raina succinctly sums up why such dissenting voices must carry on their difficult task in the face of fascism of all kinds.
[Abu Saleh is a doctoral student at the Center for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India.]
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