In his recent article published in a news portal Kashmir Dispatch, Mudasir Wani, a PhD student of politics in JNU, comes out as an agent provocateur. In no-holds-barred critique he takes on journalist Basharat Peer for pushing what he calls a ‘pseudo-narrative’. Mudasir seems to suggest that by co-writing the movie Haider,Basharat has allowed himself to be co-opted by Bollywood, which continues to follow the statist line on Kashmir.
After its much-awaited release on October 2, Haider inspired (also provoked) many reviews. While some described it as ‘an incredibly brave uncompromising film’ (rare to see such adjective pileup), others found it ‘condescending and unjust’. For historian MriduRai it was ‘a politically neutered film’ which did not show real nature of insurgency. So, Mudasir is definitely not the first one to raise objections against the movie. Yet there is something to his polemics that definitely has embroiled Basharat, the writer, rather than Haider, the movie, in the controversy.
Mudasir’s main contention, like other critics of the movie, is that Haider reduces azadi struggle to ‘a revenge saga’, which is a refined misrepresentation of the real nature of the Kashmir conflict. Now since ‘a Kashmiri’s pen is involved’ (figuratively) he should take the blame. No ifs and buts. Any argument which says one has to work within the acceptable premises of Bollywood does not stand, because you cannot have your cake and eat it too. As Mudasir puts it: “How is Basharat’s assertion that “within the limits of Bollywood, we pushed things as far as we could”, different from a young middle class civil servant who tries to “push things as far as he could”––while helping a half-widow, an incarcerated son’s father and so on––within the limited capacity of his office. To push the argument of collaboration a bit further: isn’t the Machiavellian Mufti’s vacuous call for “self-rule” or the Abdullah family’s call for “autonomy”, or even a Kashmiri politicians vibrant speech on Kashmir in Indian parliament or J&K assembly an effort on part of them (sic) to push things as far as they can within the limits of Indian Constitution.”
Some of the arguments in the article seem reasonable and do merit debate, but what I find problematic is the insinuating suggestion that villainous character of Khurram in the movie well may be based on the real human rights activist of Kashmir, Khurram Pervez. It is insinuating in both ways. To indict any one of them for foul play without any concrete evidence is injustice to both. And the dangerous part is that this scenario wouldn’t be any different than a Kashmiri renegade murdering a Kashmiri rebel in 1990’s. Here also a Kashmiri is pitched against a Kashmiri.
However, as I said, there are some reasonable arguments in the write up on which Basharat can be engaged. As they say, ball is in his court. So far, I have not seen a response from him on any media platform. There can be many reasons for this: he does not want to respond at all; he wants to respond but does not know what really to say; he is too busy with his second book on Indian Muslims to get time to respond; or maybe, he didn’t read the critiques yet.
Response from Basharat is better than non-response for a few reasons. First, it will be in tradition of public debate we seldom witness in Kashmir on substantial contemporary issues. The more we have them, the better it is for us as a mature and civilized society. Second, his response will allow people, especially impressionable young Kashmiris, to understand Basharat’s perspective on the issues raised in various critiques.
Being one of the few Kashmiri journalists whose works are published in renowned international publications of New Yorker Magazine, the Guardian, and the New York Times etc. he is well admired and widely known among the young Kashmiris for his memoir Curfewed Night. As a small place, Kashmir has not thrown up many English writers on international stage, particularly one who could represent the azadi sentiment of the besieged Kashmiris. As such Basharat and MirzaWaheed are seen as literary representatives of political aspirations of Kashmiri people and deeply admired for their frequent interventions in popular literary festivals and international media. Now, when the same admired author is slandered publically for his questionable role as a co-script writer of a movie that distorts the reality of Kashmir, renders its people’s aspiration of azadi as nothing but revenge, and his most celebrated work Curfewed Night is suggested to be smacking of self-indulgence, you can imagine to what degree young Kashmiris might be feeling let down or utterly bewildered.
Those who raised the objections and asked the questions are young educated Kashmiris well versed in critical theoretic disciplines, which make them capable to read between the lines. They use unconventional medium like web portals because it is a space carved out by young intrepid Kashmiris for free speech and debate, a space away from state coercion and institutional pressures. They don’t get paid a single penny for their write-ups. But still they keep writing as a matter of duty and moral conviction and responsibility to a cause dear to us all. I have not read a single piece of writing by Basharat in Kashmiri papers except some three years ago in a respected English weekly, ‘Kashmir Life’. So, I see it unlikely that he will publish his response (in case he decides to do that) in Kashmiri media. Then the question is where? Again, as they say, ball is in his court.
Published in Kashmir Reader on 12.12.2014: http://kashmirreader.com/to-respond-or-not-to-is-the-question-for-basharat-peer-28218