This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
To view Ashwin Kumar's 2 films Inshallah, Football and Inshallah, Kashmir on the Kashmir crisis back-to-back, is to wake up to a very real and palpable crisis in our body-politic. The harrowing first-person accounts of torture persecution and death of the local population in the hands of those who have been elected to protect the right to freedom of every Indian left me shaken to the core.
No, this can't be happening in democratic India. Worse still these two documentaries, shot with the emotional velocity of feature films (Inshallah, Football is particularly elegiac lyrical and inspiring) are faced with censorial issues.
Speaking on Inshallah, Kashmir Ashwin states, "People think it's about extremism. It's actually about humanity. It's a companion piece to my earlier film Inshallah, Football."
Apparently, a multiplex chain has offered to buy both of Ashwin's documentaries and release them as one film. Provided the censor board clears them both.
At the moment Ashwin has taken on the censor board and the Censor Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) has asked him to appear before them explaining his press statements alluding to alleged irregularities in the CBFC.
Sighs Ashwin, "I wish I didn't have to be in this unenviable position where I have to make an appearance before the censor board. They're hauling me up for making certain comments, some general comments I made about corruption. I don't wish to take on the censor board. I just want to make the point that there's a lot of subjectivity involved in the decisions which may result in undue coercion. I've already sent the CBFC a long and detailed email on my problems with censoring. I think we should re-examine the rules and laws of our country."
Ashwin feels the censor board has made myopic observations on his Inshallah, Kashmir. "The CBFC can't seem to differentiate between an independent voice in a film giving a testimony, and the voice of the filmmaker. They seem to think the voices in a documentary represent the filmmaker's voice. The censor board doesn't seem to understand the documentary format. Inshallah, Kashmir was completed on January 26. Very significant, isn't it. At the moment I've not screened it anywhere since it remains banned."
However, Pankaja Thakur the CEO of the CBFC has another story to tell. "Inshallah, Kashmir has not been banned. It went to the Examining Committee which referred it to the Revising Committee. The Revising Committee will soon re-view the film. This is the standard procedure as prescribed by law to certify films. And the director will be called for a meeting to put his views forward."
Sources inform us that the CBFC intends to consult experts on the Kashmir issue before taking a decision on Inshallah, Kashmir.
Ashwin Kumar adds, "It is very important for the rest of India to understand the issues in Kashmir. The last 20 years of government propaganda about Kashmir has created a one-sided discourse and any opinion that contradicts that discourse is considered anti-national. That's absolutely ridiculous. We need not one or two films like Insallah, Kashmir, but hundreds of such films. It's a very critical issue for our democracy. There're so many issue that have cropped up recently to shake up every liberal-thinking democrat, whether its the Salman Rushdie controversy or Sanjay Kak not being able to screen his film in a private university in Pune. If common people in India and Pakistan do not have access to the reality in Kashmir then we're in deep trouble. Even my other documentary Inshallah, Football shot in Kashmir has been given an 'A' certificate. There is no basis whatsoever to give an 'A' certificate to a documentary which has neither violence nor sex."
When pointed out that his two documentaries may have serious political ramifications and hence the 'A' certificate Ashwin retorts, "Are we saying that under 18s cannot understand the suffering of Kashmir? Inshallah, Football is about a young footballer who gets a scholarship to go to Brazil . But the Indian government denies him a passport because his father is an ex-militant. My documentary is about this kid's aspirations. I've tried to look at the Kashmir crisis from a humanitarian point of view. The description of the French Revolution in textbooks is as disturbing as what is going on in Kashmir. We've detailed descriptions of the violence that Bhagat Singh and Subash Chandra Bose resorted to, to achieve independence. What is so objectionable about a Kashmiri militant talking about his experiences? In my opinion the 'A' certificate has been abused by the CBFC to restrict the circulation of Inshallah Football. It's a verdict I had to accept or I'd have to battle for another two years. But if we don't listen to the voices from the Valley, it will be lost to us. Thanks to the Pakistani influence in Kashmir the gentle Sufi side of Islam is almost lost in the Valley and replaced by anger and militancy. We've bred a generation of hatred in Kashmir."
Ashvin condemns the concept of censorship. "Cinema is the only artform where a handful of people decide whether we can or cannot have access to a work of art. My recommendation is to make the censorboard a body to only announce adult content to parents. I'm very happy to challenge the system in my small way. The cinema's role is to depict the changes in society. At the moment we can't do that. Given current censorship 30 years from now we'll look at a very cautious, politically correct cinema."