Skip to content

  बोल कि लब आजाद हैं तेरे.

November 5, 2014

This is a long blog post. Too long even going  by my  track record.
But this needed to be said.

For sorting out my own thoughts on the matter. Jumbled as they are and yet inter connected.
Because freedom of expression is one of the most beautiful  gifts this democracy has given us.

For non blog friends. I write under the pseudonym Indyeah.

At the outset I should mention that I am an Indian. A reasonably decent human being as those who know me will attest. A woman. A fierce nationalist. Minus the jingoism.The daughter of an army officer. The sister of an army officer. And the wife of an army officer.
All of them have served in the valley.

In the most sensitive of areas. The kind of places that flare up in a heartbeat. At the sight of a uniform. A loved one is about to serve there . One is still serving there. I am the cousin and niece of many others in uniform.

I am all of the above.In that order. And maybe someday the mother of one too. I wish I too could have donned the uniform. And god knows I tried. But it was not to be. Because perhaps then with that final medal on my shoulder I would be deemed fit to comment on this. On what I am about to write.

Why have I mentioned all of the above? Simply because before I write what I am about to write, a mental image of who, what or how you perceive me to be should form in your mind. Because you will anyway won’t you?
I don’t stay on one side of the fence.
I can argue for freedom of expression having reasonable restrictions. And then a few years later question the hypocrisy that our pseudo liberals show when it comes to getting offended whenever members of a particular religion do something and the subsequent branding of  an entire religion as fundamentalist and promptly banning the offending item altogether. Of having double standards when it comes to other religions. Because ‘they’ are the poor victims caught in the crossfire.

A long time back, about 5-6 years ago I wrote on something that was close to my heart. Freedom

It started an intense debate in the blog circle.
It led to rebuttals and more .
I wrote again ”Freedom continued.”

A friend had a viewpoint that I respected then  as I do now. Freedom of expression and the right not to be offended.
Today, I stand with that friend too. His words resonate with me,

I have no illusions about India ever turning into a civilised, tolerant nation. I would, however, value freedom of expression because it is one of the few things that will slow – not stop, just slow – our inevitable transformation into a banana republic. We’re almost there, anyway. While it is my fond hope that it doesn’t happen in my lifetime, I’m not holding my breath.

And last but not the least, here Qatar Calling is what I wrote on M. F Hussain’s decision to move to Qatar and my views on his freedom of expression.

What is the point of writing all this? Re-visiting old arguments?

Because I saw a film in recent times. Haider.

I went into the hall with all kinds of reviews jostling in my mind for space. The ‘‘oh!its brilliant!” and ‘‘yeah, could have been better.” to ‘‘Disgusting piece of anti -national filth.”

I sat and watched the entire movie without moving an inch. It was gripping. Save for the romantic interludes between Shahid’s and Shraddha’s character which just seemed as if they had been put in for the regular bollywood hero -heroine love staple. Some parts were stretched beyond what was required. But it was a well made, well crafted movie.
It wasn’t brilliant.
It wasn’t out of this world.
But it was damn good.

The movie was the beginning of a heated discussion in my Delhi circle of family and friends.
I never got the impression that the army was being depicted as some kind of evil entity as many say it has been . The army did what it did in those troubled times in the way it best knew how. It did what this country required of it and asked of it. Atleast that is how I saw it.

I, for one loved that dialogue from the army officer about giving it back to those militants when one of his men is injured.

Yes, one could argue that the separatists, the militants have been shown in a soft, almost benevolent light. That the doctor’s answer ” Zindagi” when he is questioned by his wife about whose side he is on as he is about to operate on a militant is sneaky on the part of the director. The director is treading a fine line.
In the second half of the movie the army narrative disappears. Now the focus is just Haider and all those connected to him. It is a human story. One should view it like that.

But to say that a film like this shouldn’t be made? That it is anti national? Anti army? Pro -kashmiri muslim? And we call ourselves a democracy?  A fully functioning vibrant one?

Just a question. Why has this movie not been released in Pakistan? After all, all the charges of the movie being anti nationalist , anti- Indian fare should whet the appetite of the Pakistanis. No? Because the movie shows snippets of reality.

Just because it does not show the precursor to 1995 does not mean that what it is showing is a lie. It is a half truth. A convenient one that Vishal Bharadwaj has chosen. It would have been nice to have had a context in which to place 1995 and the violence that followed had the director also chosen to show another side of the story. Rahul Pandita’s and of other kashmiri pandits.
But Vishal Bharadwaj did not. Instead he chose to tell Basharat Peer’s story.
But should that be the director’s burden to carry?

In our country, artists can choose to paint, depict, write about the majority religion in the way they deem fit. That they dare not do so when it comes to minorities should tell you something.

Our outrage should not be about why this movie was made. About how dare he the director show the army in a poor light.

Our voices should support the director’s freedom of expression.

Do you know why? Because tomorrow when someone wants to give a voice to the kashmiri pandits, to the inhuman behaviour our forces are subjected to in that very same valley by the very same ‘innocent ‘ haiders ,then I don’t want outraged people standing in the way of my or anyone else’s creativity.

And if you outrage against a Haider , against an individual’s right to freedom of expression, then you lose all right to show/create/paint/ make what you deem fit .
Because there will always be those who are offended, those who don’t see things from the same perspective as you do.
The debate is not about Indian army being portrayed as the villain.
And it is not about why has the director skipped over the past and chosen to jump as many say ‘conveniently’ to 1995.

The debate is about whether we who proclaim to be a fully functioning democracy where freedom of expression is of the utmost importance , can  understand that there are many sides to a story.
That stories will not be told according to our convenience.According to our fancy. That we can ask why the other side was not shown but that it does not negate  what has been shown.

We can at best nitpick . Pick holes in the narration.We can criticize .

What we cannot do is ask for it to be banned. We cannot , cannot under any circumstances ban it. Nor can we vow to stop such things from getting made in the future.

A loved one of mine ,  alongwith his men  was left to drown by the locals in the flood waters in a vehicle that was caught up in the fast current of the Jhelum. No effort was made to save them by the locals. The very same locals these men in uniform had gone to save. Instead, do you know what the locals tried to do? Snatch their guns leaving them to drown.

It is a tribute to the army of this country that not only did the men in uniform save themselves from the raging waters of the Jhelum  and their weapons from being snatched by the locals but they also saved  the very same locals a few hours later.

Another loved one has had stones pelted at him and his men. For standing at a place that could erupt at any time and where he had been ordered to keep a vigil. Stones pelted , simply for standing there.

And yet despite this, despite knowing that the lives of my loved ones are on the line, I cannot in my wildest dreams call for banning such movies or for them not to be made.

Because I cannot , will not let my bitterness turn into revenge.

Kaveree Bamzai , a reporter and a Kashmiri Pandit herself, writes, We too once had a home with 25 rooms, an apple tree in the back, and a kitchen garden which grew more than we could eat. The thread of life has been broken, families destroyed and traditions interrupted. But as in Pandita’s case, “the remembering must go on.”

But equally does that mean that one has to negate the suffering chronicled in Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night, which is as potent as Our Moon Has Blood Clots?

Every community remembers its struggle differently. The Other is a convenient demon, even if he is an intimate friend. Can suffering be measured?

A retired army officer who has served in the valley in the same time period as mentioned in the movie has written his views here. One Haider is not enough.

To think that this movie tells you everything you need to know about Kashmir would be fallacious. We will perhaps need another half a dozen movies just to scratch the surface of the many truths of Kashmir.

There is no reason to believe that it didn’t happen but such incidents (as those of ‘fake encounters’) came down dramatically after the 1996 assembly elections. It is something which ideally shouldn’t have happened but when people are sucked in the vortex of an ugly conflict, ugly things happen. The question of justice for those who suffered in that conflict — innocents, militants, sympathisers, security force personnel, Kashmiri Pandits, families — is a vexed one. Should it be “retributive” justice or “restorative” justice advocated by Mandela in South Africa? Can time heal all the wounds? If so, how much more time do we need? These are complex questions in any conflict and in case of Kashmir, almost impossible to find simple answers to.

Haider is a movie we should welcome whole-heartedly. More than the quality and the message of the movie, the fact that such a political movie can be made and released in this country is something we should be justifiably proud of. Let a thousand more Haiders bloom.

Perhaps Anupama Chopra in her review says it best when she says,

” Go into the film knowing that it is problematic and unwieldy. And that it is one side of the story — Kashmiri Pundits get a token mention and, after being cast as the villain, the Indian army gets a line of praise for its handling of the floods in Kashmir. Those are stories that perhaps other filmmakers will choose to tell. But I can guarantee that you will emerge from Haider shell-shocked. And when was the last time a Hindi film did that to you?’

Rashneek Kher in his review of the movie sums up the feeling of many when he writes,’

The filmmaker chooses to ignore those significant years which saw hundreds of temples being razed to dust, thousands of houses burnt after being looted, which saw this very majority, which is portrayed as almost subjugated, participating in a gory ritual of driving away the minorities and being the subjugators themselves. +There is a convenient script and an inconvenient half truth which makes the very edifice of the movie suspect and thus less credible.

‘Post Script: When I saw the song “Bismil” (which was irrelevant to the movie in any case and could have been shot anywhere else in Kashmir) being pictured there with this big black gory puppet inside the temple, I couldn’t resist but ask if Bharadwaj would have dared to do something similar in a mosque, a church or even a gurudwara? Haider’s convenient half truths and some inconvenient answers.

The reason I say that I understand the anguish of those friends of mine who have felt hurt by the portrayal of the Indian army or how the suffering of kashmiri pandits seems to have been erased is this. Firaaq. I saw that movie by Nandita Das and wrote my views here. 

I was as anguished as all of you are. I too spoke of the other side. And about how could Nandita Das brand an entire community as a villain? Purely evil?

And yet .
And yet I had the same views as I have now. This is what I wrote then.

The beauty and strength of India and infact most democracies is precisely the freedom of expression that they guarantee to their citizens.   India too can have many Firaaqs made and noone can say a word because it is the artistic expression of the filmmaker and her sensibilities that are being portrayed on screen.  

If Nandita Das has chosen to make a movie on the Gujarat Riots we should applaud her.But we should not be completely blind to her limitations as a film maker.   When the Indian liberals say that religion should be kept out of conversations like these,it is equally important to highlight that Nandita Das made this movie as an Indian. Not as Hindu or a Muslim or any other. Do not say that Nandita Das is a Hindu who made a movie on atrocities on Muslims. How is it that religion surfaces here??That too by liberal individuals?   She is an Indian who made a movie on a brutal truth. Period.   The movie ofcourse will not make or break Indian society.Very few movies do. It will be lucky if it is able to earn enough to recover its production costs.   I am not saying this out of any ill intention, but simply because in India unless a movie is a masala movie , they fail to earn anything substantial at the BO and the good ones are left in the lurch.   Firaaq too is a good attempt by a good film maker to show an ugly face of a supposedly ‘normal’ society.   However,the attempt is not brilliant and neither is it unbiased, it is merely good (and i am being generous here) and it remains there.

  Sometime  back, I  had gone to the Wagah border and the Hussainiwala border for  the evening ceremony conducted by BSF.

I saw the people of Pakistan sitting on the other side. In both places, some things on the Pakistani side were similar.

Men and women were seated separately on their side. From the common to the elite class, women did not sit with men from their family. All of the women wore burqahs and hijabs.
Their audience looked uniform. In both Wagah and Hussainiwala..
Same dresses for the men and women. No jeans. Not for men. Nor women.
The women who looked like they were from a more elite background wore a better quality of burqah.

I remember one instance clearly. A newly married Indian couple probably on a honeymoon trip were sitting on our side. The husband and wife were too engrossed in each other to worry much about or pay attention to the ceremony. The husband would nuzzle his wife’s neck and kiss her on the cheek with love in between.

For the entire ceremony, the Pakistanis , the audience and guards alike(the guards furtively so) could not take their eyes off the duo. They looked at the couple as if they were aliens.

And what was the scene on our side? People were busy clicking photographs. They wore anything and everything you could  imagine. Jeans, cargoes, Tank tops, halters, Short skirts, long skirts, sarees, salwar suits. And you couldn’t make out who belonged to which religion or region or which language they spoke. And noone paid attention to the couple.

I have never felt more proud to be an Indian. Or more fortunate.

The naysayers say we are no better. But I beg to disagree.

Oh sir! We are a lot better. The kind of difference that is visible between the armed forces of both the countries should be proof enough. One as  political as it is possible to be and the other so apolitical that they give a whole new meaning to the word.

A blog friend had written a mail to me when we were discussing freedom of expression and the limits to be imposed on it. I still remember some lines of his.  

I think Bradley said a book burns at 485 ° ; at what temperature does a painting burn. And your freedom, gal?

We cannot say what should or shouldn’t be made or shown. To do so would be treading down a very dangerous path. It opens the way for other groups, fringe or otherwise to demand the same. Each group thinks its outrage is justified.  Its demands legitimate. It snowballs from there.

As long as the government of this country can ensure law and order no matter how much the provocation, then films can continue to be made. Artists can continue with their creativity.

And do you know why I want more Haiders to be made? Without any curb on freedom of expression?
Because I want to discuss Article 370. And UCC. (can already imagine the mayhem , can’t you? That is exactly my point)

I will lose all right to do so tomorrow if I do not support an individual’s creativity today.

If you really want to stand up for the soldier,stand up for something concrete.

Materialistic as it sounds, stand up and ask why his pay is peanuts and his pension half of his pay after he retires.

Why is it that he spends an entire lifetime having to choose between taking care of his family or the education of his children or buying his own modest house or ‘indulging’ in luxuries but never all of these in the same lifetime.

A country that goes on dharna for basics such as bijli, paani and the prices of petrol and diesel.

Where homemakers are constantly lamenting the fact that tomato prices have gone up and it has upset their daily budget…where we are outraged when we hear about the prices in the parliament canteen , in that country we are lamenting the fact that our army has been ‘dishonourably’ treated? In a movie?
What a joke!
Do our armed forces personnel and their family members live on air? Or on this intangible called izzat?

This , to me, smacks suspiciously similar to the way the hindus are being exhorted by the fraudulent ‘ representative ‘ senas and their ilk and the muslims by the various religious heads and jamaats. They are not interested in providing education and employment opportunities to the people of their faith whom they claim to represent.

Those who have decided to ‘speak up and defend’ the honour, the izzat of the soldier? I really have nothing to say.

Just a request, please if you can , if you have a conscience , fight for OROP, fight for the benefits that are a soldier’s due. Fight for something concrete. The soldier is tired of these intangibles like izzat and aan.
Give him tangibles. His pay, his pension which should match the magnitude of service that he does for a thankless country.

Make the armed forces a votebank and see how miraculously, almost as if overnight, all their demands will be listened to.

I had the same lament years back. I have the same lament now.

And read this.

The loyal Indian soldier stands alone.

A country makes a sacred contract with its soldiers that while he/she will lay down his/her life when called upon to do so, the nation will take good care of his/her and his/her family’s needs to the extent its resources would permit. The armed forces feel they have never got their due from various pay commissions over the years but the government in its wisdom decided to keep the armed forces away from any representation in the latest Pay Commission.

The dominance of bureaucrats meant that while the interests of the bureaucrats were well-recognised, the armed services once again ended up getting a raw deal.

The discontent is so serious that some of the best and brightest in our services have refused to go for the Higher Command Courses and more and more are seeking an early retirement. Indian armed forces are desperately trying to fill vacancies as other professions are luring the young of the country. Against the sanctioned strength of 300 per batch, the National Defence Academy finds that it can only attract 192 cadres this year. The same story repeats itself in the Indian Military Academy.

A country that purports to be a rising power is facing a shortage of more than 11,000 officers. Our politicians remain more than willing to waste tax payers money by routinely boycotting Parliament and have never shied away from increasing their own pay and allowances, claiming that they remain underpaid. Yet those who defend the sanctity of Parliament are given a short shrift.

Many years later, has anything changed? Ask anyone who wears the uniform. They might not tell you, for the oath they took prevents them from doing so, but their loved ones will.

This country that applauds the relief and rescue work done by its armed forces during natural and man made calamities but does not even for a moment pause and ask why our armed forces are doing the work that ideally should have been carried out by the NDRF?
The civic agencies?

By any other agency except the armed forces.

Did our forces sign up for this?
Weren’t they meant to safeguard this country’s borders?
To protect it from external enemies?

So when did they start cleaning up the messes our politicians and our countrymen created?

When and why were they given the all round responsibilities of solving all the crises of this nation?

So the question is not what price is a soldier’s izzat? In some movie or some artwork.

The question is what price is a soldier’s invaluable work?
In war AND in peace?

What price is a soldier’s life?

That is what this country needs to ask itself.

It is the soldier who ensures that we enjoy unfettered freedom of expression in this country.
Let us not erode that freedom in his name.

PS:- Apologies for the change in font size at places. Technical glitches

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2014 7:20 pm

    And it took me a lot of time to read this on my tiny phone screen….
    All through I was nodding to a big YES, especially wherever there was a stress on the freedom of creativity.
    Have not yet watched Haider…now will surely see it to understand many points in this post.
    When you write with such passion, how can words stop at 8 sentences ?? I understand…but keep writing 🙂
    me- Ah yes! pretty darn long no? Just wrote whatever came to mind reg the issue. FoE is something all of us here love so much by now. Over so many years we have defended it, listened to and read arguments for and against it. Has really broadened our horizons.

    I love the blogworld for this.

    Thank you for having the patience to go through all of it Uma:)
    DO watch Haider and share your thoughts:)

  2. pixie permalink
    November 5, 2014 10:55 pm

    I kept nodding too.. everything you have said makes sense.. now, I really have to watch this movie.

    Keep writing Indy..
    me- Glad you agree Pix:) Do watch whenever you can and share your thoughts:) And thank you for dropping by:)

  3. November 6, 2014 6:15 pm

    No,I have not watched this movie.Personally,I am very sensitive on some topics,subjects.
    Social media,friends circle and a part of print media was critical of the story line which blames the Indian armed forces.
    Why must I watch such muck and get angry? Hence ,its my decision to boycott it.

    me- I respect your views Sir. However, I would still request you to watch it. Until we see with our own eyes and listen with our own ears, things and opinions cannot be trusted. There may be a slight change of perception or maybe not.
    As for certain sections of social and print media being critical, when has a sensitive topic ever been immune from such things Sir?

    My take on the controversy is simply this Sir,
    I refuse to be apologetic about what our armed forces do in Kashmir.
    I am completely in favour of AFSPA.
    I support every action of my forces because I know that if anyone misuses his/her power, they will be dealt severely by the armed forces, an organisation that they are a part of. And Indian Army has the best track record when it comes to dealing with and punishing those who have misused power.
    To my mind, being offended by this movie and its portrayal of our armed forces is akin to being apologetic about what they do in Kashmir. As if we are guilty.They are guilty.
    Yes, they interrogate if need be, they arrest, and they kill terrorists/ANE . So what? I don’t have any illusions about our armed forces standing there and handing out roses at lal chowk. This is the job that they are there for.
    This is the reason I liked the movie and applauded what the armed forces were shown doing.

  4. November 6, 2014 6:54 pm

    Like Uma, read it on phone. Long it definitely is, but every word rings true for me. Kudos for writing this, Indy.
    me- Thank you so much Shail

  5. November 7, 2014 5:59 pm

    Loved this. You write really well, Indyeah. I read you some years ago when you weren’t posting much and subscribed then. Agree completely. I hope many more movies are made from the pundits’ view point, the army man’s viewpoint. Then we have a discourse that has enough sides represented, hopefully a more informed and engaged populace. Ideally.

    In the mean time, rhetoric and constant campaigning is the style – who knows, maybe this is what the country needs.

    I watched Firaaq and liked it. That I know people who went through worse only affirms the point that all sides need to be represented and expecting one movie to do that isn’t a fair expectation. Please keep writing – it’s lovely to read.
    me- Welcome here and thank you for the lovely words Sangitha. Glad you liked my writes.

    Then we have a discourse that has enough sides represented, hopefully a more informed and engaged populace. Ideally.
    Amen to that.

  6. December 8, 2014 10:30 am

    I saw the movie too and whilst I was too caught up in the silliness of not having a heart to heart with his mom and resolving all confusions to avoid this tragedy I couldn’t help but notice that this is a sensitive topic to make a movie on… at the end I felt the director did well without really giving an opinion on one side… yes the hero is shown on the other side and that makes a perception among people who always need the main character in the film as a hero!

    Having said all that there are always preachers who feel that movies like this or Fiza should not be made showing the terrorists as heroes or ones caught in the fire… I feel they do not understand that among the wrong doers there are always some who are caught in the crossfire and if someone decides to tell their story or projects their story/film on that he/she should be able to do it..

    The soldiers well we forget they are humans… but that is what needs to be driven down again and again…

  7. March 2, 2015 9:07 pm

    Well researched article. One of the reasons for the dwindling intake of NDA is that its main feeder the Sainik schools contribution has reduced. Sainik schools have been under the scanner for for more than one reason.

    Good to know you are from a army family 🙂
    Cheers and regards.


  1. Enchanté | A Quest on Overdrive ... :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: