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Kashmir: What I Learnt While Shooting in a Conflict Zone

My first memory of Kashmir goes back to the time when my parents took me there as a child. I remember playing with the daughter of the houseboat owner there, that was when I first fell in love with Kashmir.

The extraordinary landscape, the living lakes, the snowy white carpets, I saw it with the innocence of a child. I’m happy and content that I could see Kashmir so peaceful with those eyes. Because just in a few years I would find out that the reality was devastating.

Years later, when I found out about the amnesty of pellet guns in Kashmir, I was shocked. So I gathered all my savings, assembled a crew and went there to capture the current political upheaval and human rights violations on camera for the world to see.

I interviewed victims, lawyers, political leaders, activists, protesters, stone pelters. The things I saw and the people I met had changed my perception of the conflict that has been going on for the past 70 years in Kashmir.

When I came back, I started putting together all the footage I had captured in the form of a documentary.

Here are a few things I learnt as a filmmaker while I was on the road –

The effect of violence on children is indelible

The conflict has made a huge psychological impact on the children, they have a forged sense of right and wrong. It has become normal for them to see violence and protest.

For example – Once a group of children, the youngest being just around 5, blocked the whole road, as a protest against a recent incident in the area. They refused to budge till the security forces came in.

Perpetrators Walk While Innocents Suffer

During a funeral protest, there was tear gas shelling and everyone started running, they broke down the metal fences, that was one of the scariest incidents that I remember. In fact, a shell fell right next to my DOP as well. There are also heartbreaking cases where 13-14-year-old kids have been blinded by pellets.

Hospitality

One of the poorest torture victims I met, lived in the mountains. He had no legs and all his fingers were broken, yet I was amazed at how hospitable he was and how welcome he made me feel with whatever little he had to offer.

To him, it didn’t matter what part of the world I was from or what caste I belonged to. It was touching to see how he was willing to offer me something that he would have planned to consume over days.

Expect the unexpected while filming in a conflict zone

During a stone pelting protest, someone once hit me with a log because they thought I was from the media. The protest was against a recent encounter killing by the security forces and the mob was very angry.

There were innumerable such instances when my crew and I had to forget about our own safety. We once rode back from a shoot late at night, as three people on a bike, in a very long isolated route of about three hours, we were petrified as that was a region where encounters between the army and militants were rampant.

Humanity trumps all other emotions

Amidst the unrest and killings in Kashmir, one of the stone pelters, at the end of our interview, said that I was like a younger sister to him and he will keep me in his thoughts and pray for my well-being. It was very surprising and touching. It really made me humanise all these people involved in the conflict and see them with a different perspective.

As the documentary stands right now, we have completed the shooting and have a rough edit ready. It is a feature-length film of 90 minutes, we now need money for original background music, sound mixing, colour correction, voice over and studio, final editing, and subtitles.

That’s why I’m crowdfunding on Wishberry to make sure the stories of the innocent victims are heard. And all the people who have had faith in me and had the courage to share their experiences can be helped in the right way.

So please do come forward and support the campaign. Every little bit counts. Thank you.

 

Text and images by Prerna Jain

Prerna Jain, a filmmaker studying Law in New York went through bone-chilling encounters like being in the midst of stone pelting protests; talking to activists who have been tortured because they uncovered mass graves, families of victims and disappeared personnel.

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