It would not be accurate to say that my work has nothing to do with the politics of the Kashmir conflict. However, I will simply say that its concern is the long-drawn pain and suffering of a people whose voices have been muted, caught between borders and uncertain destinies,” says film-maker and photographer, Avani Rai.
The 27-year-old Mumbai-based photographer first went to Kashmir in 2014 while working on a documentary on her father, legendary lensman, Raghu Rai. She didn’t know much about the conflict then and wasn’t there to cover it anyway. However, it was a different scene two years later. Rai went back to Kashmir in 2016 after Burhan Wani was killed. Wani was the commander of a militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which was active in Kashmir and was terminated by Indian security forces on the 8th of July, 2016. The unrest that followed his death was massive — according to reports, there were more than 96 deaths and numerous protests that injured over 15,000 civilians and 4,000 security personnel.
Rai chose to stay back in Kashmir and found the reason to document the people and the atmosphere while she was in the valley.
“In this daily cycle of bloodshed and strife in the valley, wherein the competition of narratives between India and Pakistan, the stories of the pain and anguish of the people of Kashmir is conveniently glossed over. The women and children, especially, experience trauma in a way that cannot be justified,” she says, adding: “Today, the phone calls are silenced. Most of the voices we hear are from Srinagar, because that is where the journalists and the media are located. The rest of Kashmir — whether it is Uri in the north, or Pulwama in the south — has long been off our collective radar. The only voices coming out of the interiors today are on pen drives, snuck out with utmost caution.”
At the time of going into print, the people of Kashmir have had no network for over 20 days. While government figures state that everything is peaceful in the valley, journalists and activists claim otherwise.
“We always keep saying written history is rewritten by those in power. But photo history can’t change and my father believes in that. We are supposed to learn from history and we are not doing that. People need to know what we have gone through,” Rai had told The Asian Age in a 2018 interview.
With her Kashmir project, she has managed to do just that.