A controversial film highlighting “disappearances” in Kashmir that premieres in Britain this week has led to fears of heightened tension between the country’s Indian and Pakistani communities.
No Fathers in Kashmir tells the story of a British-Kashmiri teenage girl who travels to the Indian Himalayan state to search for her father, only to discover that he “disappeared” and was then killed after being taken away by Indian soldiers for interrogation.
The film is set against the backdrop of the continuing turmoil in Indian-administered Kashmir and vividly addresses the contentious issue of human rights violations that are alleged to have been committed by security forces as they battle to suppress a popular insurgency that has raged for the past 30 years.
According to human rights campaigners, an estimated 8,000 people have “disappeared” during this time.
The film, partly funded by a group of British Kashmiris, opens in Bradford followed by screenings in London and other cities where there is a substantial South Asian population.
Last year, Kashmir exploded into renewed turmoil after the Indian government revoked its special status and placed it in lockdown. Known as Article 370, the move stripped away the autonomy Kashmir had been granted in exchange for joining the Indian union after independence in 1947. Another part of the state remained within Pakistan. Both countries claim it as their own.
The move prompted anger in Britain and protests outside the Indian High Commission, which resulted in violence, vandalism and several arrests. Demonstrations were also held in other cities, including Birmingham and Manchester.
Of the 1.1 million British Pakistanis, more than one million originate from the part of Kashmir governed by Pakistan. While there are no official figures for the number of Indian Kashmiris in Britain, the overall British Indian community numbers almost 1.4 million people, and support for India’s position is strong among some sections of that community.
Sabir Gull, a senior member of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which was founded in Birmingham in 1977 and campaigns for the state’s independence, said: “We don’t want this film to create more problems but there’s no getting away from the fact that it definitely could – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shown.
“Kashmir is a sensitive matter for both British Indian and Pakistani communities. Drawing attention to human rights violations through film or any other medium is giving the oppressed a voice. Disappearances and the other crimes that have been committed against the Kashmiri people will not go away if we bury our heads in the sand. At the end of the day, we are all British but we can’t ignore what’s going on.”
Kuldeep Shekhawat, head of the UK branch of the Overseas Friends of the BJP, which supports India’s governing party and aims to increase its popularity among British Indians, said: “This film does not serve any purpose. It will just inflame hostility and tension. Things were difficult enough last year between the two communities but have calmed down a lot since then. If Kashmir is an issue then it is between India and Pakistan. We are all British here, so why should we be getting so obsessed with Kashmir?
“This film will not help community relations. India is a democracy and has an effective legal system, so if there are any human rights violations they are addressed through these channels.”
No Fathers in Kashmir was released in India last year following a year-long battle with the country’s board of censors, which insisted that certain parts be cut and that the film also contain a number of disclaimers.
After adhering to the demands, director Ashvin Kumar then had to hire lawyers to challenge the film’s initial adult certification, which would have prevented it from being shown on Indian television. British screenings show the unedited version of the film.
Kumar said: “Disappearances and other human rights violations are wilfully being ignored by Indian society and the media. There’s a denial in the country and it’s sad that this also seems to be the case among sections of the Indian diaspora in Britain.
“Indian armed forces behave with total impunity in Kashmir. The consequences of the disappearances are devastating for families and there’s total apathy towards their plight, which has been continuing for the past 30 years.”
He added: “My film is trying to make things better through compassion and humanity. But if you don’t discuss what’s wrong, you will not make things better. The solution is to talk about the crimes that have been committed against the Kashmiri people – surely, no one in Britain is suggesting that we should not do this just because it may upset a few people?”
Kumar has made two other films about Kashmir; Inshallah Football and Inshallah Kashmir, which both won national awards in India. He was also nominated for an Oscar for a 2005 short film that he directed. He will be taking part in a number of Q&A sessions during the screenings of No Fathers in Kashmir.
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