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Symbiosis seminar: When it’s J&K, the truth is never black and white

"...The tired old untruths are no more able to dress up the reality of Kashmir," says filmmaker Sanjay Kak. True, but which reality are we supposed to believe? There are so many versions of it in the troubled Jammu & Kashmir. India has its own version of reality while Pakistan has its own. The lay people of Kashmir view it from one perspective while those at Jammu or Ladakh from another. Outsiders from different time zones have differing perceptions of the state.

The 'truth' is never a black and white proposition in the state what with its complex political and communal history. Any single version of it is bound to be incomplete. What Kak has filmed is probably, despite all the hard work and honesty involved, what he is convinced to be the truth. Others might not agree with that, especially the Pandits who are as much victims of the turbulence in the state as the majority Muslims in the state.

Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah. Image courtesy PIB

That is what makes taking a position on Symbiosis University’s decision to postpone its seminar on J&K so difficult. The decision followed opposition from the BJP’s youth wing ABVP and some NGOs. Sanjay Kak's documentary, 'Jashna-e-Azadi' was supposed to be screened at the seminar. It, according to protesters, makes militants in the state 'heroes' and paints the Indian Army in the negative light. Also, it ignores the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits.

Not long ago, member of Team Anna, Prashant Bhushan, was attacked in the Supreme Court for suggesting that there should be a plebiscite in Kashmir, a proposal held in deep hatred by right wing organisations. There was an outrage over Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s demand that the unpopular Armed Forces Special Powers Act be withdrawn from certain pockets of the state. Anything suggestion to do with J&K evokes passionate reaction in the country.

Where does the freedom of expression and free speech fit in here? In a your truth vs my truth scenario, it becomes difficult to take a stand. The ABVP members are not known to be the most tolerant of people in the country but sometimes the issues they raise are difficult to brush under the carpet. On the other hand, such organisations cannot be allowed to go on restricting free speech. Just a week ago, writer Salman Rushdie was forced to cancel his visit to Jaipur Litfest by a group of Muslim fanatics. This is not an ideal situation to be in. But the options are limited.

"Free speech has always been under threat, and will always be. As journalists and documentary film-makers, we know that every day of our working lives. The point is to not succumb before the bullying," Kak told CNN-IBN. Sad. But there are no clear answers to the problem. Use of force is not quite the solution -- it has wider political ramifications.

Restraint—from creative people—could be the answer. If such events are limited affairs involving like-minded people, they would not raise the hackles of too many people. But why must they succumb to pressure from the intolerant people and narrow their audience? It does not make sense in a free country.

The problem is not likely to vanish anytime soon.

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