Yesterday, JK Tourism released, what it called, a promotional film about Kashmir.

“To offset ‘negative perception’ about Kashmir not being safe, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday released a five-minute tourism promotional or propaganda film called ‘the Warmest Place on Earth’ here at Tagore Hall highlighting the hospitable nature of Kashmiris.”

This is what a news feature read in a local daily. “To offset the negative perception about Kashmir not being safe.”

The film is set in Kashmir showing a young Indian couple on a honeymoon. They have ordered a cab to tour the valley which can arrive any minute. All good up till here.

What happens next is that the couple leaves the hotel and meets an old Kashmiri man. They mistake him for their driver, Mir, which he is not.

Now, the old man instead of taking the couple to his home and showing Kashmir’s warm compassion, he decides to be their driver for the day when he actually had left for his own chores in the morning.

There was massive criticism from Kashmiris, who took to the social media to respond against what it deemed to be ‘begaari’ (forced labour). A term that was widely used against Kashmiri Muslims who were forced into labour by Dogra tyrannical regime.

Ather Zia, a Kashmiri scholar and the editor of an online magazine, Kashmir Lit, takes on the video:

“Pity. It reinforces how – the best Kashmiris are capable of historically is through serving Indian tourists. This time, it is not a Kashmiri running into the arms of a soldier, but an old man, who could be anyone’s father, easily digresses from a home errand and decides to do a voluntary “begaar” for a honeymooning Indian couple. He drives the two around while ignoring his wife’s calls; the poor woman can stay on hold while he practices an extreme bout of misplaced compassion.

he plays docile manservant to a storybook couple whose behaviour is nothing like the average Indian tourists who visit Kashmir. Cue their painfully contrived politeness and no haggling. But their subtle patronizing is notable.

The old Kashmiri goes all out to make the couple comfortable, and he is not even the driver they hired in the first place. the couple mistook him and he accepted it as part of his cosmic duty. Because the assumption here is, that is who we are, impulsive do-gooders manufactured by a tourist economy (even if more than 65% of us are engaged in other work).

There is a scene where a local folksinger, who has become quite famous of late, is playing for the couple. His music or singing barely rises over the most obviously non-local voices throatily singing Kashmiri verses.

This is the benchmark for the entire video.

You see Kashmir, its worn out forced stereotypes, and colonial fetishization while the Kashmiri is barely visible except as a pastiche; he is mired in all his historic servility, even his basic compassion is beholden. If the original driver did not arrive, he must take the burden of showing his home, its warmth.

His compassion is put in service of a desperate attempt to show that we deep down still are the likeable, subservient, acquiescent, compliant servants of yore. That we can still be reclaimed from our rebellion to do what we are perceived to do best: to serve and submit.

Given that as a culture Kashmiris are prone to extreme bouts of compassion (often to their own disadvantage and misplaced), mostly because we have so lacked in receiving it. That we are also spiritual with a deep belief in what goes round comes round. This video nothing but reinforces that we are emotionally servile, prone to impulsive compassion, easily deviated from our assigned tasks, given to making other people’s lives (read colonials) comfortable.

It is a pity but not a surprise that while Kashmiris are singularly denounced as “aatankwadi” by india and even the street protestors are called “agitational terrorists” the servile tourism department – another handmaiden of occupation paints a portrait of the biddable Kashmiri of yore. Who are they trying to fool?

I totally get the “ideal” of reflexive compassion that is shown in the Kashmiri man. It might not be not far from the truth. By and large, Kashmiris are deeply spiritual; even karmic and want to pass on what they see as better, even if it is to their disadvantage. But my rejection of this is rooted in our political history. Our attitude has often, as in this video, been hyper-realized as compliant — at this moment (even during the 60’s Bollywood Kashmir Ki Kali days) this becomes more a message to us that “this is how you should be seen, this is your only history, this will endear you to world again.” The composition of non-Indians tourists would not change much; it would again appeal our perceived “humane” essence, to remain compliant (turn the other cheek, give up resistance, be the Mahdo of yore again).

I would understand reinforcing this aspect of our essential behaviour if we were a Switzerland or Paris but with what Kashmir has been and is right now, can we afford to suspend the political even for a bit? The lure and lull of the “Humans of New York like story,” music, and cinematography has made this a very popular video with many Kashmiris who are sharing it with a big thank you to the Tourism department. As if the video is reclaiming our humanity, but at what cost may I ask? The question is when everything coming out of Kashmir is banned, not one image of our travails is shown, not one truth projected, why is this and other similar messages the only ones being celebrated.

A few weeks back we had Amitabh Bachchan peddling Kashmir, appeasing his people to come visit their “apne.” It is nothing but the sly part of the war by media that is riding on “love” which GOI talks about (while simultaneously blinding and killing). For me as a Kashmiri, this media-contrived love, harping on “our warmth” is nothing but undermining our politics and our painfully accrued political stand. That we have regathered against the cost of our next generation, many of whom at this moment are sightless and will not even be able to watch this travesty. ”

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