Filmmaker Bilal A Jan, a Science Graduate from Kashmir university, studied Film Appreciation Course from NFAI and FTII Pune and has earlier worked as an Assistant Director with noted film directors like Shyam Benegal, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Dr. Jabbar Patel for their films like Netaji – the forgotten Hero, Mission Kashmir, and Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma respectively. His last documentary film “The Lost Childhood”, which is about the exploitation of working children in Kashmir valley, was the first documentary in Kashmiri language to be selected in Tehran International Short film festival and Mumbai international film festival in 2008.
Bilal’s recent 27-minute documentary “The Ocean of Tears” depicts human rights violations in J&K and the crimes inflicted on women during the ongoing conflict. The film produced under the banner of Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) of India raises the issue of mass rape incident of Kunan Poshpora. This is for the first time in the history of conflict that a central government institution has financed a documentary that talks about the human rights issues in the valley. Although passed by Censor Board of Film Certification, the documentary was recently stopped from screening by the authorities in Kashmir University.
In an interview with GK Features Editor, Majid Maqbool, filmmaker Bilal A Jan talks about the violence inflicted on women in Kashmir valley, how a Kashmir conflict based film came to be funded by a central government body, and why the Kashmir University authorities stopped the screening of the film in the campus at the eleventh hour.
You have said that your documentary Ocean of Tears “is a story of reported and unreported cases of violence against women.” How do you see the violence against women in Kashmir carried out by the Indian state in the large political context of Kashmir dispute?
When I start working on the subject, initially it was not only confined to conflict related violence but violence as a whole which includes domestic violence as well.
During our Research we came across high percentage of violence against women due to the on-going conflict of the past 23 years, in terms of Sexual violence—Rape, abduction, eve-teasing of women and girls. Insecurity is the biggest issue in Kashmir, particularly in rural areas where military bunkers or police and CRPF checking spots are a common sight.
We came across such cases where girls have taken subsidiary route for going to school or college or for buying daily household things in order to save their honour and dignity. But that does not mean we don’t have domestic violence in Kashmir. No authentic survey on domestic violence has been conducted by the government till date. Therefore no official records are available. However there are sample surveys conducted by the Department of sociology, University of Kashmir in collaboration with some NGOS, revealing that domestic violence in Kashmir exists in different forms in up to 37 percent cases.
How did you come to make a documentary on the violence against women in Kashmir? During your research in Kashmir what were the findings that you eventually wanted to show in the film?
During the making of my last documentary film “The Lost Childhood” I came across various stories of violence against women in terms of conflict and domestic. Everyone talks about women empowerment but nobody speaks about Violence inflicted on them in Kashmir valley, so I thought this could be a good subject and I started working on it.
Why did Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT), a central government institution, finance a documentary that talks about human rights volitions in Kashmir? The fact that state responsible for the plight if victims supports a film that talks about human rights violations in Kashmir sounds surprising to many people here. How do you reconcile with this contradiction?
PSBT is a non-governmental, not for profit trust with the mission to create and sustain a credible space for public service broadcasting in India which is independent, participatory, pluralistic and democratic, distanced from commercial imperatives and state/political pressures. PSBT works to mainstream the Indian documentary and empower independent filmmakers.
You should not get surprised how PSBT has funded a conflict based film like Ocean of Tears. PSBT has earlier made various conflict related films in India. When I submitted the preliminary proposal to PSBT, I mentioned only the Kunan Poshpora incident. Only thing is that you have to be objective and truthful.
The rape victims in Kunan Poshpora have over the years talked about their plight with the media, but they say despite repeatedly telling their stories they did not get any justice in return and the culprits remain unpunished. How difficult was it to earn the confidence of rape victims for them to be able to retell what they went through that night?
Very right, and of course it was difficult to convince them, but during my reconnaissance, I visited them three times before going for shooting. And it was a forgotten case despite a case in the SHRC.
How do you deal with the difficult questions posed by the victims when they ask: what will your film do except for refreshing our wounds and bringing more shame to our people?
They are very much annoyed with the media and told me that everyone who comes here speaks very high and the bytes taken from us are later fabricated and they malign us, and leave us in traumatic and humiliated condition again and again.
I told them that my motto is something different – that I want to know after such shameful act done by the security forces what steps have been taken for getting the justice. The film asks a question about justice denied. I asked them for their cooperation and they did cooperate.
Do you think that a documentary like yours will disturb the conscience of Indian audience enough for them to raise questions and seek answers from the state about crimes committed by their soldiers in Kashmir over the years?
Of course it does. One of my friends, a Bollywood film editor and writer, saw the excerpts of the documentary on You Tube and said, “Bilal, It is candid, haunting—Aisa kiya Army ney?” It may shock them, but truth is truth. An entire village cannot cook a story.
Do you think the Kunan Poshpora rape victims will ever get justice and the troops responsible brought to book? How has the incident affected the lives of inhabitants of Kunan Poshpora, apart from bringing shame and social ostracizing the villagers?
Until now no justice has been done, but a faint possibility of getting justice cannot be out ruled at any point of time. As far as the film is considered the secretary of State Human rights Department says that “the case is pending before division bench of court,” and according to him this will be disposed off within 3 to 4 months. He further says that “we cannot prosecute the security forces, but we have already sought report from Home ministry and Defense Ministry, Government of India.”
You have been earlier quoted saying that your film “is not limited to cases related to conflict, but we have also focused on the domestic violence against women.” But doesn’t that dilute and undermine the larger question of state violence against women carried out by government forces in Kashmir over the years?
Of Course it is evident that their lives have been affected due this shameful act done by the troops. The entire village wants that those responsible for this shameful act should be prosecuted and justice delivered but so far justice has been denied.
When I made the proposal and even during the final draft of the script both conflict and Domestic violence stories were in the film. And the rough cut was made of 78-minutes duration. But the approved duration of the film was 26 minutes. Further film evaluators suggested me to choose either of the two. So I chose the conflict part.
Were you asked to include the “domestic violence” stories by PSBT?
No, it was my choice to include the Domestic violence as I wanted to highlight the violence as a whole—Conflict and Domestic.
What were the changes and cuts you were asked to make by PSBT before you could release the documentary? Any portion or interviews you had to cut in the final version which otherwise you would have liked to include in the documentary?
No changes or cuts were asked by the PSBT and Censor Board of Film Certification GOI. Only CBFC asked me to put a disclaimer in the beginning of the film.
The documentary was recently banned from screening in Kashmir University. You were initially given permission but at the last minute on the day of screening the police authorities and KU administration stopped its screening. How do you see this ban and the reasons given by KU authorities for not allowing the screening inside the campus?
They didn’t give me any reason but said they have reservations. I told them what reservations they have when the film is passed by Censor Board of India. More than one Lakh people have watched the documentary on You Tube. We had placed ads in the leading newspapers. I told them if they had reservations, they could have told me earlier so that I could inform people about postponing the film. But at the eleventh hour, when only 45 minutes were left for the screening, you are telling me that we cannot screen the film.
Registrar replied back and said, “I am sorry”. I told him please don’t say sorry to me; say sorry to those people who came from different places, cities and villagers to see the documentary. And we walked out in protest. It is a curtailment of freedom of expression. It’s an attack on art of filmmaking and the filmmaker. The ban was unethical. Who gave them authority to stop my film when I had sought proper permission of the screening of the film and paid Rs.20, 000 as hall charges and fuel charges? A daily newspaper quoted the VC saying, “ I got the information from registrar that the movie contains some objectionable material and the registrar banned the film. I am in Rajori…”
This is my bread and butter. I request the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pro-chancellor of Kashmir University and CM Omar Abdullah to intervene into the matter and allow me to screen my film here as this film is cleared by the Censor Board of Film Certification.
After the recent ban in KU, will you make another attempt to screen the film in Kashmir? Will the viewers get to see the whole documentary on YouTube in the near future?
Of course I will try to find a place for screening of “ocean of Tears”. I don’t think that people will get to see the whole film on You Tube but people can buy the film from PSBT, New Delhi.