By Fahad Shah
The title above, “Harud gov saridd” means Harud fell cold. The on-going extensive debate on the postponement of the proposed literary festival, Harud (Autumn) Litfest in Kashmir from 24-26 September has many colours. Some say it was the vested interest of the people who opposed the festival. Some even say that it was “Islamic fundamentalism”. How can a person with intellect raise such queries? I doubt the intellect now.
It was the statement of one of the organisers, Namitha Gokhale, saying that the event is apolitical. “Apolitical” means something where political debate doesn’t exist. Though it might have been otherwise, but the intentions or shall we say the proposed image of the festival was fishy. First the location of the festival, Delhi Public School and University of Kashmir, wherein the first one has been the symbol of India since it started to function. Another one which is the university has been successful in dismantling the free voice of students. Last year the office of the Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU) was demolished at night. Hostels were raided by police during nights. Hostelers were told to leave the hostel when a politician from Delhi had to attend an event in the university. The private security of university works as spies on students’ movement. No political voice is allowed. One can even land in trouble for writing anything political in his/her answer sheets during exams.
How can the organisers say that the location was fine? Some accuse Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed, the two world renowned authors of hijacking the festival. A friend wrote on Facebook, “So the sceptics have won. Literature festival indefinitely postponed. People putting up in New York and London must be very happy.” Weren’t both of them born in Kashmir? Both have seen the worst phase of Kashmir conflict, lived atrocities, faced the wrath of government forces for very long. It would not have been Curfewed Night and The Collaborator, if Peer and Mirza would have been enjoying in New York or London. The response to the festival through a letter was absolutely genuine. Veteran journalist, Parvaiz Bukhari commented on the letter with some questions to organisers.
I am happy to see Harud respond, but i am afraid it is a simplistic response and does not answer many questions like:
1. Can the funding sources (All) for the festival be made public?
2. Who has been invited and who left out, both from Kashmir and outside?
3. How was the choice for the two venues made?
4. Who are the festival partners in Kashmir?
5. Will the event be open to general public?
6. If so, will the festival organisers guarantee that those common people who might speak at the event would not be hounded and harassed by any security agency, or indexed for any purposes like denial of travel documents etc?
7. Will any communication between the festival organisers and any government agency be made public? (Permissions must have been sought)
8. Has participation of any government official (even as guests) been sought?
All these questions and many more are relevant because the festival is being held in one of the most contentious and militarised spaces.
We never saw any proper clearance from the organisers apart from that they postponed the event for now. The questions are festivals during a time suppression that too declared apolitical is insult. True, such events are attended by a selective audience, who mostly are not from Kashmir. Mirza’s novel is a collection of tragedies. Peer came up with a memoir, one of the best. Moving to the people who accuse the protestors as radicals and enemies of free speech can only have two reasons to do so, to show their presence and second to not miss a chance to vent out their vengeance against the protestors.
The event should be organised at a place which has no political affiliations. It should be called a “free speech” event; the very thing which supporters of festival say has been hijacked by protestors.
The rhetoric created by many journalists is is with us or against us. No one debates the festival positively. The people who have protested against the festival are trying to create an atmosphere where everything can be transparent. A literary event should be transparent. A common man in Kashmir, like the above friend who has posted such a message on Facebook, know nothing about the politics of all this. He sees the outer glamour of such kind of things and dissolves him/herself in that. Forgetting about the past, he wants to enjoy and relish the “opportunity” which some people from India provide him. A platform where his own people, the people who have written his stories, who represent him in the literary society of world are boycotting. Such irresponsible lot has created a void in the intellectual space of Kashmir.
Harud or no Harud, the Kashmir conflict is same. Though it might have been a cause of projecting Kashmir in other way like they did when a Music event of Junoon band, Pakistan was held in Srinagar. They do when a new coffee shop is thrown open in Lal Chowk, they say people want to come out of trauma so they visit places like coffee shops. But projecting a conflict in such a manner is abuse to journalism and I pity those journalists.
So it’s not the protestors only who are to be blamed for the postponement of the festival. It is the nervous system of the festival, not even the brain, which led to such a situation in the valley. Many events will come. Many writers will emerge. The point here is it’s just the matter of your conscience on which side of the divide you want to be.