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Indian filmmakers on mission of unity denied Pakistan visa

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exemption from visa

Radhika Bhirani 

In a unique apolitical ‘exchange’, some Pakistani filmmakers came to India as part of a peace initiative called Zeal for Unity last week. Indian filmmakers who were to visit Pakistan were denied a visa, though.

From India, filmmakers like Tigmanshu Dhulia, Tanuja Chandra, Ketan Mehta and Bejoy Nambiar were slated to go over to the other side on foot through the Attari-Wagah border check post for Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s (ZEEL) Zeal For Unity (ZFU). But they couldn’t.

On being asked about why the Indian entourage of 20 people wasn’t granted the visa, Manzoor Ali Memon, a diplomat from the Pakistan High Commission here, told agencies: “We have checked with our concerned officers, but we don’t have any such applications… We have no details and applications of such kind.”

The ZFU team maintains the applications were made in time, but information on visas was delayed beyond March 16 when they were to travel and then the passports came back without the visa.

An initiative to use the “strength of creative thought leadership” from both the countries to bridge the divide between the two, ZFU involves six Indian directors, including Aparna Sen and Nikhil Advani, and six Pakistani directors of the likes of Mehreen Jabbar, Sabiha Sumar, and Meenu-Farjad, coming together on a common platform.

Pakistani filmmakers, except Jabbar, walked into India on March 15. After a day in Amritsar, they were to walk back into their country with the Indian entourage, and head to Lahore on March 16.

But since the Indians didn’t get the visa, the Pakistani filmmakers decided to stay an additional day, thereby not dissolving, but strengthening the purpose of the exchange.

Their bonhomie in Amritsar turned out to be “unforgettable” for the filmmakers, some of whom said the denial of visa would be a “forgettable story”.

Shailja Kejriwal, who spearheaded the initiative and is behind Zindagi channel which brings Pakistani content closer to Indians, told the agencies: “We were looking forward to visiting Pakistan and experiencing the beautiful city of Lahore, but the visa not coming through did not hamper us in achieving our objective.”

“For the first time ever, directors from both the sides came together on one common platform, and not getting the visa, this time, should not take away from us achieving this feat. This hurdle was actually turned into a blessing in disguise,” said the Chief Creative – Special Projects, ZEEL.

Emotional upon her return to Mumbai after two glorious days in Amritsar, Shailja shared that everyone “spoke at length about our cultures and our similarities and laughed together so much that we almost cried”.

ZFU involved the 12 filmmakers to make movies touching upon different subjects, and they had the freedom to choose their own tales and formats.

Dhulia, known for films like “Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster” and “Paan Singh Tomar”, was happy that “rather being formal with each other in the short span of time we would have got in Lahore, we spent a wonderful time together in Amritsar and those memories will be with all of us forever”.

Tanuja Chandra, who directed “Sangharsh” and “Dushman”, said: “To me, not getting visas didn’t outrage or diminish me in any way. Government agencies will work how they will and they have their reasons which we don’t need to jump upon with emotional reactions immediately. I was looking forward to visiting Lahore because it’s a beautiful city and our Pakistani friends were very keen to host us.”

She said that at Amritsar “we had a fun evening exchanging stories, poetry, jokes and warmth. The affection only grew. We had an extraordinary time. This has been an unforgettable trip. I look forward to many more such interactions, to making films together and finally to peace.”

Nikkhil Advani, who has directed “Kal Ho Naa Ho” and “D-Day”, wasn’t going to Lahore in the first place and had cancelled his shoot to be with the Pakistani filmmakers for an extra day. For him, he said, it was worth it.

“The objective of the initiative, bringing Indian and Pakistani directors together, was met. Launching ‘Zeal to Unity’ at the Wagah border was an overwhelming feeling and nothing can take away from that… I happily extended by stay to be with everyone and I’d do that anytime again in the future without a moment’s hesitation, because I believe sometime all it takes is to extend a hand.”(IANS)

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

Next Story

Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)