Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune postpones event after ABVP protests screening of Sanjay Kak’s Kashmir film
Close on the heels of the cancellation of author Salman Rushdie’s visit to the 7th Jaipur Literature Festival due to the storm over The Satanic Verses, documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak had to bear the brunt of Hindu fundamentalists.
“Voices of Kashmir”, a seminar at the Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune, stands indefinitely postponed after right-wing student organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) protested the screening of Kak’s film Jashn-e-Azadi. The film explores the many meanings of azadi (freedom) in Kashmir.
College principal Hrishikesh Soman told TEHELKA that he wasn’t aware of the content of the film when it was initially scheduled to be screened. When ABVP protested, he decided to remove it from the seminar schedule. “We also need to take into account their emotions and feelings. We got to know only later that the film says unwarranted things about the Indian Army. We felt it was avoidable. I am an Indian. Why should I not support the Indian Army?” he said.
Soman denied that the decision to postpone the conference was because of pressure from ABVP. “We are in talks with NGOs like Hindu Jana Jagriti Manch and have decided that we need more time to broaden the scope of the conference. It was never meant to be a political conference. We want to explore socio-cultural themes, Sufism, Kashmiri music and the rich heritage of Kashmir. We don’t want to touch politics.”
Kak was informed last week by a teacher from the college that the film could not be screened because of the ABVP ruckus. The college asked him to use the time to talk to students on a title of his choice. “This is an established college, part of a recognised university, and this is a seminar that is being supported by the University Grants Commission. Isn’t it the job of the police to protect such an event? Instead, they seemed to have been part of the reason why the institution was forced to stop the screening,” said Kak.
Jashn-e-Azadi (How we celebrate freedom) begins with an Independence Day celebration in the state with no Kashmiris in attendance and goes on to ask complex questions about the conflict.
“It’s not the idea of a public screening that is threatening. It’s the idea that a real conversation about Kashmir is happening in a mainstream educational institution, that this conversation is getting the legitimacy it deserves; that is what I think is scaring them. And not just for the ABVP, please let us remember. It’s scary for all those who have all these years prevented a genuine debate about Kashmir in India. Right wing, Left wing, Centrist, whatever….”
When asked if students should be exposed to different points of view on every debate, Soman said, “Maybe, but the university is not the place for that.”
Kak feels that government always surrenders to “bullies”. “What I find really troubling is that the State always seems to accede to the bully’s demands, but never stands up for those who are being threatened. All it needs is a group of bullies to show up, whether in Jaipur, Pune or anywhere else, and the police will immediately turn on the speaking voice. That is a real perversion of the idea of reasonable restrictions on our right to free speech,” said Kak.