Half Widow, a film based on the plight of women whose husbands were abducted and killed by the Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir, is set to be released in India next week.
Made by a Kashmiri filmmaker, Danish Renzu, it enthralled an audience at the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival in Surrey in 2018.
An armed struggle has been going on for years Indian-occupied Kashmir over the right to self-determination. In response, Indian forces have been involved in the forced disappearances of political activists and civilians, merely on suspicion.
Women whose husbands were never found and are presumed to have been killed are referred to as half widows in Kashmir.
Renzu estimates that there are 2,500 half widows in the region. Some have been fighting for justice and closure for more than three decades.
Although the Indian state has always been complicit in suppressing dissent through violence, tyranny has actually grown more aggressive in Muslim-dominated Kashmir under the current right-wing Hindu nationalist regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Those who try to defend the democratic and human rights of the people of Kashmir are frequently branded as “anti-national” and ostracized by supporters of the ruling BJP. So much so, ordinary Kashmiris are harassed in other parts of India by the police and vigilante groups.
On August 5, the BJP government abrogated the special status granted to Kashmir without any consultation with local leaders. Since then, Kashmir has been under lockdown.
Not only have thousands of troops been deployed in the name of security, many Kashmiri leaders have been detained indefinitely. Internet services have been heavily disrupted and there is a complete blockade on press freedom.
It is rather interesting that Half Widow passed the censor cuts in India. This may have to do with the fact that Renzu never wanted to point fingers at anyone and focused more on healing and closure. The protagonist of the story whose husband is missing decides to give up participating in rallies and learns to write to tell her own story.
Renzu believes that more protests lead to more killings, and it is time for the people of Kashmir to live in peace.
While Half Widow does not take a position against the Indian state and tries to look at the issue from a purely human perspective, it might actually stir up an angry reaction in India's charged political environment when the film hits theatres in Delhi, Jammu, Mumbai, and Pune from January 6 to 9.
After successfully opening a debate on state repression in Kashmir outside India, the film has become even more relevant for domestic audiences under the current situation. It may even help the Indian mainstream re-examine its own ideas about the people of Kashmir and their hardships.