Culture

‘WITNESS counters larger anti-Kashmir narrative in the media’

The team behind the project has been touring and have addressed audiences across different cities till now, including a recent one in Srinagar. 

Srinagar: ‘Witness’ – a photo book by nine Kashmir based photo-journalists – is a “counter” to the larger “anti-Kashmir narrative in mainland Indian media”, said one of its promoters.

On Sunday evening, two of the nine photographers reached the financial capital of India – Mumbai – where a book release function was held at the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture.

The book chronicles Kashmir from 1986 to 2016 – over a period of three decades – through the works of nine photographers.

Edited by documentary filmmaker of ‘Jashn-e-Azaadi’ fame, Sanjay Kak, the two journalists, Dar Yasin and Syed Shahriyar, shared their experiences of working in the conflict ridden Kashmir, in conversation with film maker Rafiq Ilyas.

Dar Yasin is a staffer with the Associated Press (AP) and Syed Shahriyar is associated with the Free Press Kashmir (FPK).

Speaking to FPK from Mumbai, promoter of ‘WITNESS/Kashmir 1986-2016’, Tanveer Ajsi said, “Kashmir has always been seen as a place sans its people.”

“The media – Indian mainstream media – has always demonised the local populace,” he said explaining, “either it has been tourism, or the nationalism, and patriarchy which have found place in Indian media viz-a-viz Kashmir.”

On Sunday evening, two of the nine photographers reached the financial capital of India – Mumbai – where a book release function was held at the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture. (FPK Photo)

Published under the newly established Yaarbal imprint, the book has been supported by the Prince Claus Fund of the Netherlands under their ‘Culture in Defiance’ programme, and the Bangalore based India Foundation for the Arts under their Arts research program.

“We have been working for the last 22 years and it is our second project in Kashmir in the last five years,” Tanveer Ajsi said.

“It makes us think about what’s happening there because we’ve bought into the idea that the ends justify the means, that brutalisation and the nearly 68,000 lives lost over three decades – almost 8000 Kashmiris remain missing – is a small price to pay to maintain an idea of India”

The ‘Witness’, he asserted, “has put a spanner in the imaginary projection of Kashmir by the media.”

“The book speaks about the life, culture and the tradition of Kashmir,” he said.

In her review, Manjula Narayan wrote in the Hindustan Times, “flipping through Witness/Kashmir 1986-2016/Nine Photographers prompts the viewer/reader to think about all these things, to confront the role of the Indian state in Kashmir, and the complicity of the Indian middle class – many of our sons, brothers, fathers and husbands have their guns trained on those boys with stones clenched in their fists.”

Answering questions from the jam packed audience, young Shahriyar detailed how he managed to reach Tral – home town of slain Hizb ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani – during the intervening night of July 08 and 09.

“It was not possible, as people were on roads and the government missing,” he told the audience.

“Journalists, photo-journalists, work in a catch-22 situation in Kashmir,” he narrated.

“It is like the government agencies consider us as sympathisers of the people, and people see us as agents of the government,” he added.

Shahriyar maintained how a journalist has to strike a balance, and more so credibility while he starts working in Valley.

The award winning AP staffer, Dar Yasin, explained to the audience anout how people “can’t come to know about such stories in the mainstream media”.

“This book has come up with such (photo) stories, that you don’t find mainstream media covering,” he said in reply to a question. “It is about people and life in Kashmir.”

“It makes us think about what’s happening there because we’ve bought into the idea that the ends justify the means, that brutalization and the nearly 68,000 lives lost over three decades — almost 8000 Kashmiris remain missing — is a small price to pay to maintain an idea of India,” Narayan wrote in the HT adding, “Witness edited by documentary film maker Sanjay Kak forces you to look at what you’d rather not — at the wretched, the tortured and the maimed.”

The photo book is an attempt to “preserve art, especially in regions of conflict”.

Released in February this year, at Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi, Yaarbal – the promoters of the book – traveled to Bangalore, Srinagar, and to United Kingdom for its promotion.

Released in February this year, at Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi, Yaarbal – the promoters of the book – traveled to Bangalore, Srinagar, and to United Kingdom for its promotion

This evening, Yasin and Shahriyar will take their story to the audience in the coastal city of Goa.

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