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Bringing Kashmir before our eyes

Kashmir, the name conjures up either a picture of great beauty or grave distress. But going beyond the usual picture, we rarely care to find out more. In a bid to present the seldom spoken about aspect of the land of valleys, 6 Assagao, Museum Of Goa and Dogears Bookstore will collectively host ‘Kashmir Before Our Eyes’ from June 12. NT BUZZ speaks to curator Ajay Raina to know about the need for discourse on the subject

Janice Savina Rodrigues | NT BUZZ

In a discussion of the Kashmir issue, we can bring out very diverse opinions and observations, sometimes conflicting, while other times in agreement. But no matter how many discussions we have in our homes and our offices, the Kashmir issue will be an enigma to most Indians. Some look at it with a kind of wariness while others may sympathise and feel sorry for its people there, but getting the true story or a whole picture is a task that is not impossible, but a tricky one. In an attempt to help understand the issues of probably India’s most troubled state better, a group of likeminded people have began what they call the ‘Kashmir Oral History Project’. The Project that has been moving around various cities of India, from Mumbai to Pondicherry, Thrissur, Chennai, Hyderabad to Pune and others, has now landed its wings in Goa.

In Goa the Project will be a part of a slightly bigger programme ‘Kashmir Before Our Eyes’. The curator of the Kashmir Oral History Project, Ajay Raina while speaking about the endeavour, says that the lack of a comprehensive understanding of the state of Kashmir and its people compelled him to develop this project. Starting it as a film festival a couple of years back and screening a list of Kashmiri films, Raina invited people to further discuss issues. “The people were invited to discuss the context of Kashmir and the films represented all the views cutting across different viewpoints,” he says.

But then he moved to the US and now that he is back in India and with the current happenings in the land of the shikaras, Raina felt a pang of urgency in reviving the Project that could help unravel some of the most misunderstood people of the country. “We want to show or screen these to people; there are different perspectives on Kashmir, not just one: not only pro-India, pro azaadi or anything else. We want to show people across the country the works of Kashmiri artists, writers and filmmakers, it will broaden the understanding in many Indian people.”

Collating the material for the project has been an on-going venture, which is constantly added to the immersive information available. The Project forms a perfect study base for people who are keen to dissect the issue of the land. “All the material is on a website where again we are cutting across religions, sects and borders, ideological viewpoints, we have people talking about their experiences of being in Kashmir and witnessing with their own eyes the conflict and telling their stories that are unique in their own way. This will be an archive for the future generations so that they can understand what has been going on in the past,” says Raina. The archive consists mostly of the oral history, personal stories of the people impacted by the conflict captured in audio and video formats. “There have been a lot of films made in and about Kashmir, be it fiction, documentary, long and short formats in the last 30 to 50 years, we have tried to include as much as we can in this,” says Raina.

‘Kashmir Before Our Eyes’ spread over six days and three locations across the state will give the people of Goa an insightful peek into the past and present of the mountainous state. Though all the material for the Project is available on its website, there will also be additional screenings, book readings and discussions. “On June 12 we have a presentation at 6 Assagao where we will screen interviews in audio, video and some written format. There is also going to be readings of fiction and non-fiction about Kashmiri experience. They have been translated from Kashmiri into English over two sessions, one in MOG and the other at Dogears Bookstore,” says Raina.

Painting a picture of Kashmir through words and films, the programme will not include a display of photographs. “It is all oral traditions and different viewpoints that have been captured,” says Raina.

When asked about the general notion of a tourist to Kashmir and pointing out that one such notion is ‘a beautiful land with certain harshness’ Raina responds: “What is said is quite true, it is a beautiful place, but it’s been made ugly by the conflict, that ugliness comes across in the people, in the reaction to the events, how they read their history, how they read their everyday life in Kashmir. And we are just trying to broaden the perspective of an outsider through this attempt.”

The point of the programme is that we as Indians need to go beyond the generalised idea of Kashmir, to the other aspects so that our understanding of all is not limited to either this or that. “We say that minorities were driven out, but there are also other aspects where other local people have also suffered the violence; in more brutal ways. Only one aspect is spoken about, either about the minorities or the militants. We try to avoid the complexities and reduce it to simple narratives which don’t help resolve or address any issue. What one person says is not enough,” says Raina.

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