March 21, 2013 By Shauqeen Mizaj

Religious Right and the Human Rights: The Case of VIBGYOR

bilalThe media, endlessly hunting for scoops, apparently missed or rather deliberately averted a recent episode of dissonance involving the Sangh Parivar and a Kashmiri documentary featuring the plights of the 1991 Kupwara rape victims. For the corporate-controlled media, the subject either lacked adequate sensationalism to grab enough audience or posed a threat to its identity and existence.

Last month, the RSS-BJP followers created pandemonium during the screening of a documentary by Bilal A. Jaan titled Ocean of tears at the ninth short films and documentaries festival “Vibgyor” at the Sangeetha Nataka Akademy Campus in Thissur, a district in the Indian state of Kerala. Vibgiyor which takes place every year in February, is an international  film festival which showcases documentaries, short fiction films, music videos, experimental films and animations from around the world and across India, in addition to hosting ‘Face to Face’ with filmmakers. An endeavor by intellectuals and documentary directors, social workers and activists, the fest has found its niche in the social circle and is in its ninth year.

A documentary about the lives of the rape victims in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora, in the Kupwara district of Kashmir, was showcased at the film festival.  Directed by Bilal A. Jaan, a young and aspiring director from Kashmir and produced by Rajiv Mehrotra, the documentary spans twenty seven minutes and portrays the “oppression, humiliation and torture of Kashmiri women because of militancy in the state”. A separate premier was held for the police before presenting the film to the audience in order to fend off complications.  Despite threats from the Hindutva groups, the organizers were going ahead with the show. But the smooth screening was disrupted by the RSS-BJP followers, who barged into the theatre yelling slogans like” Vande Mataram”. They ripped up the screen and destroyed the media center, hoardings and banners creating complete chaos and demanding to stop the screening. In a confrontation, several activists, including women, are reported to have been manhandled by the police. But the screening was completed with joint efforts of the audience who hurled a forceful “go back” towards them and the organizers.  Despite the requests by the festival authorities, no cases were registered against the trouble makers. The media too didn’t reveal much of the story to the public expecting it to pass like just another fag.

The seven minute trailer of Ocean of tears was viewed around 1, 49,000 times on YouTube. Following the threats from the Hindutva groups and the accusations that the documentary was made with the intention of demoralizing the Indian soldiers, the Public Service Broadcasting Trust of India (PSBT) removed it two months after its uploading. The film maker is striving to get his film screened in his home state and across the country. With the government interrupting twice to stop the public screening, Bilal has approached the United Nations to persuade both the state and central governments to allow the screening of the documentary.  With feeble response from the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR), Bilal has now written to the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, seeking his intervention in the matter.

One keeps pondering why the government has stopped the screening of the film despite its certification by the Censor Board. Banning the film for fear of law and order problems in the state is surely not justifiable and the move affirms the government’s pandering to the loathsome demands of the right wing Sangh Parivar.   It is reprehensible how in a country which is known as the world’s largest democracy, a nation which is always proud of its insignia of egalitarianism, incidents of absolute repudiation of right to expression occur frequently. In this context one should also read the pressure tactics employed by the right wing groups against Wendy Doniger’s book.

The Kupwara Rape

The tragedy Ocean of Tears narrates is considered the worst human rights violation by the Indian security forces. According to the reports, the Indian soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles cordoned off the village to conduct a search operation in the late hours of a February night in 1991. Ten to fifteen of them entered every home and raped the women regardless of their age, pregnancy and marital status sparing only very small girls. The women were gagged before carrying out the inhuman act to prevent them from making noise.

The Indian authorities dismissed the case as baseless with no investigations into the matter burying it like countless other crimes by the Indian military

The media widely covered the tragedy often playing up the issue. On April 7, 1991, the New York Times reported the Kunan-Poshpora rape incident as “India Moves against Kashmir Rebels”. The United States Department of State, in its 1992 report on international human rights, rejected the Indian government’s conclusion, saying there was “credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass-rape in Kunan-Poshpora

The women who endured the trauma suffered serious psychological damages with most of them retreating into their homes spending their lives in utmost agony. The social stigma associated with rape added to the misery resulting in people either isolating or harassing them and refusing them for marriage. The wounds from the ordeal still remain in their minds. It seems that their silent and painful outcries have finally reached the ears of the concerned. Whether these women get the justice denied or not is yet to be seen.  In October 2011, The State Human Rights Commission urged the government to reinvestigate the mass rape case and give compensation to the victims. They also called for proceedings to be taken against the then Director of Prosecutions who had resorted to a closure of the mass rape case and not an investigation. Mufti Baha-ud-Din Farooqi, Chief Justice of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, on March 17, 1991, led a fact-finding mission to Kunan Poshpora.

The victims and their families had waited all these twenty two years for getting the justice denied. They exhibited immense patience, fortitude and perseverance.  “It was the denial of the unfortunate event that prompted me to investigate the subject”, says Bilal. Ocean of tears was highly appreciated for its content, research and cinematic mise-en-scene and has been invited to be showcased at several international film festivals. Bilal is content and says that the international community should be aware of extreme human rights violation in Kashmir.

That a handful of thugs with the help of police could ride the roughshod over the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of its Constitution is really worrying. . That these incidents occur with the police force remaining as silent spectators and often aiding and abetting the vandalism even at the time when we are bracing ourselves for the poll is not really encouraging

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