The screening of independent filmmaker Sanjay Kak’s critically acclaimed film Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom) was cancelled along with a three-day seminar on Kashmir at Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune when ABVP activists, the student wing of Bhartya Janta Party, and some Kashmiri Pandits protested against it.
The cancellation of screening of the Kak’s film has once again stirred up the debate about the freedom of speech though not in the mainstream media, which played down the news. Only one major newspaper carried the news of cancellation of the seminar on its front page. Thanks to alternative media like social networking sites the issue remained in public glare.
It was in total contrast to the media frenzy, both in electronic and print media, when Salman Rushdie did not visit the Jaipur LitFest after alleged threat to his life. Unlimited newspaper space in oped-pages and hours of primetime debates and commentaries by the top media gurus were spent to discuss the issue with regard to freedom of speech. Contrary to that, underplaying the news of barring the screening of Jashn-e-Azadi appeared to be deliberate.
It has been observed that media observes self-censorship, when anything related to Kashmir no matter how genuine and newsworthy it may be, in the so called national interest. This was more than evident when earlier this week Principal of Symbiosis tacitly withdrew the film screening as it may anger some people and fourth pillar of world’s largest democracy remained mum. Kak said in a newspaper interview, “The fact that the film had been cancelled was a pointer to the difficulties one faces in talking about Kashmir.”
Jashan-e-Azadi is a critical look on Indian policies in Kashmir, denial of freedoms and a perspective from Kashmir that has been mostly ignored by the mainstream media. Sanjay Kak whose films have been providing alternative views: be it Kashmir, Maoist issues, displacement of tribal’s or the displacement of people by the building of big dams like Narmada.
Kak’s films on all these issues go contrary to the mainstream views held by both liberals as well as rightwing elements in India. However, it is the Jashn-e-Azadi, which has been objected to from its first screening by a small group of Panun Kashmir activists with support from the rightwing Hindu parties. These elements created fuss at almost all the screenings of the movie throughout India. However, Symbiosis event is the first such case when screening of the documentary and the subsequent seminar on it was cancelled. In fact, the role of the police, who had unofficially asked for cancelling the screening of the movie, who would have been otherwise facilitating it is a bad precedent.