The psychological dimension of violence in the Valley

Tanushree Bhasin | The Sunday Guardian | 30 Mar 2013

Films must engage with each other. If one film leaves something out, the other must try to fill that gap,” said filmmaker Pankaj Butalia at the screening of his film The Textures of Loss recently. Over the past few years many filmmakers have picked up their cameras to bring back stories of violence and pain from the conflict ridden valley of Kashmir, despite monumental difficulties faced while shooting such films and then getting them cleared by the Censor board. We know now that the reality in Kashmir is completely different from what the government and mainstream media would have us believe. We know the extent of everyday harassment, the anger among ordinary Kashmiris and the immediateness of death and torture. What we do not know however, is what happens after incidents that usually make news headlines disappear from public memory. How does a common Kashmiri deal with the death of a family member? How does s/he deal with this memory of pain and loss? What does the everydayness of violence do to the psyche of an entire population?

The Textures of Loss fixes its lens at these dimensions of the Kashmiri reality. What emerges is a terribly moving and gut wrenching account of pain and loss as experienced by families for whom life suddenly became a burden. Butalia speaks with numerous families whose lives have been disrupted as a result of state violence. One family in fact has no surviving male members, all having been tortured and killed by the army. In other families too, it was always the women who were left to make sense of life in the aftermath. “For me the biggest challenge was to try and reconstruct this experience of loss. How does one take a situation that seems normal and make it resonate something that has already happened. It is one thing to shoot action while it is happening and another to visit a site where the protagonists are simply going on with their lives. So, it becomes a challenge to create a level of trust where they are able to talk about their feelings and what they are going through,” said Butalia.

One family in fact has no surviving male members, all having been tortured and killed by the army. In other families too, it was always the women who were left to make sense of life in the aftermath.

One sees mothers, widows and children dealing with severe clinical depression and anxiety as Butalia takes us from one family to another, sometimes even to doctor’s clinics where we see a little kid undergoing therapy for trauma caused by accidentally witnessing a man’s killing on the streets. For many of the people Butalia interviews, the process of speaking with him itself becomes therapeutic. “For people who have undergone a tragedy / trauma and have not been able to talk to anyone about it, the camera plays the role of the therapist. As a filmmaker it is important to be patient and reassuring and not let the person feel you’re on a shoot and run mission. This does not mean that even though the moment may seem therapeutic, it will in any way provide any kind of lasting relief,” he explained. For one young boy, an interview for the film allowed him to finally open up about his memory of witnessing his brother getting sexually abused by a soldier. “If I die now, I would have passed away without ever having known freedom”, he says with desperation in his voice.

Shooting a film as sensitive as this and one, which makes it political stand so clear couldn’t have been easy. “The tension of always having to be careful to not run afoul of the army was ever present. I wanted to shoot army convoys head on to get maximum impact but this was impossible because you can’t really point a camera at someone who has a nervous finger on the trigger,” he said.

The film is painful to watch, each interview as disturbing as the next. Still, it is an important film for the way it emphasises the plight of women who can only make it through the day by focussing on their work and helping their children survive violence. In this intricate web of memory, tragedy and survival, the film helps unlock that which is suppressed, in a way shedding light on the psychological dimension of the experience of un-freedom.

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