Kashmir: Hell in Heaven

Sanjay Kak interviewed by David Barsamian

17 March 2013 Chicago, Illinois

From Alternative Radio, Boulder, Colorado: www.alternativereadio.org

David Barsamian is the award-wilnning Director of Alternative Radio.


Sanjay Kak is a New Delhi-based, award-winning independent documentary filmmaker. His work reflects his interests in ecology, alternatives and resistance politics and movements. His films include How We Celebrate Freedom and Words on Water. His latest film is Red Ant Dream. He is editor of Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, published by Haymarket Books.

You’re in the United States for the publication of Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. You are the editor and you have an essay and an introduction in it. Why this book?

Kashmir is often in the news. And in the years 2008, 2009, and 2010 there were a series of extraordinary events. That part of the world which has been plagued by armed conflict for nearly 25 years, saw in 2008 a marked shift in what was going on. At a time when the armed militancy was seen as having been crushed or subdued or brought under control, suddenly a new form of civic protest, mass crowds, hundreds and thousands of people coming out in the streets, which was something not seen in Kashmir in years. So the events in 2008 represented the end of a certain phase of opposition to the Indian military presence there. The whole issue of the right of self-determination got a new shape and form. The following year saw a similar set of protests.

Then 2010 was like a complete boiling over. From the beginning of March all the way till September the streets were literally taken over by protesters. There were frequent clashes, more than 120 people lost their lives, most of them young boys. But what was significant about 2010—and it was something that we had been seeing coming over those few years before that—was that the protest on the street and the stone throwing and the intifada-like characteristic of that rebellion was also matched by an accompanying flow of writing. Not, obviously, in the mainstream media, which could only see the young men throwing the stones, but on the Internet, which by 2010 had really arrived in Kashmir.

I was struck through the year 2010 and through those protests and the killings and the clashes between the police and the unarmed crowds about the incredible maturity and the quality of the thinking that accompanied the street demonstrations. So, the subtitle of the book, The New Intifada in Kashmir, is as much to do with what we’ve been calling the intifada of the mind. Young Kashmiris, who felt before that they were unable to express themselves in any way—the old option of taking to guns, society had perhaps put a question mark around its efficacy. Along with the stone throwing in the streets, they produced a profusion of new writing. This book tried to recognize this moment and not to memorialize it but to commemorate something very significant happening in Kashmir.

In the book you feature MC Kash, a young Kashmiri rapper. What drew you to him?

Along with the other astounding things that were happening in 2010 was the emergence of Kashmiri rappers. Many of them were rapping in English and retaining not just the form of rap but also its original intention, which was very political. There were a whole lot of them. But MC Kash was the person whose work I was most struck by. It was not just that he was rapping about politics, he was rapping about incidents that were happening around him, but he was also taking pressure. As you can imagine, in a conflict zone, rapping and putting it on the Internet doesn’t keep you anonymous for very long. So the young man was having difficulty. The studio he used to use to record in was under pressure from the government, so he was having difficulty recording. It was amazing that a 19-year-old kid in a place like that was able to in whatever way possible keep doing what he was doing and stick to the politics of it. So “Until my freedom has come” is a line from I Protest, one of his raps, and I thought it was an appropriate title for the book. Let me read part of it,

“I protest.

“I will throw stones and never run.

“I will protest until my freedom has come.

“I protest for my brother who is dead.

“I protest against the bullet in his head.

“I protest.

“I will throw stones and never run.

“I will protest until my freedom has come.”

And then what he did, which was a very clever piece of art, he said, “Let’s remember all those who were martyred this year.” Then he read out all the names of the more than hundred young men who had been killed that year on the street. And there was a very ominous end to it. It’s a kind of roll that comes at the end of the rap. And he says,

“And you will fight to the death of it.

“And you will fight to the death of it.

“And you will fight to the death of it.”

I thought it displayed both an artistic and political maturity which needed to be recognized and acknowledged.

In 2007 your documentary on Kashmir, How We Celebrate Freedom, was released. Did you anticipate at that time that the armed struggle would move toward nonviolent civil disobedience?

In 2005, 2006 and 2007 when I was working on the film, the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir, the movement for azaadi, appeared to have completely lost energy. There were no visible signs of it. If anything, there was a kind of depression in the air. But when I cut that film and when we started showing it in 2007, in several places in India I had this reaction from people who said, “But you seem to suggest that it’s not all over and that something is going to happen.” I was a bit taken aback by that reading of the film, because it wasn’t my articulated intention. I would say, “Really? Is that how you’re reading the film?” Well, I suppose almost like a hunch, the texture of the film has that kind of feeling. But, of course, I didn’t know. It was a bizarre kind of vindication of whatever the instinct was behind putting together the film that just the next year, 2008, we saw a very different kind of political mobilization.

The important lesson is that every time in India, the political establishment and security establishment think that they’ve got a lid on the situation, it’s only a matter of a couple of years before it explodes again, because there isn’t any real change. So you can put enormous pressures on the population, and even those huge, mass protests of 2008, 2009, and 2010 can be controlled, but it doesn’t take much for it there to be an upsurge. And already this year we’re seeing signs of it. Protests are all over Kashmir once again.

(For the full interview visit http://www.alternativeradio.org)


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