Mohd. Tahir Ganie reviews Shah Ifat Gazia’s Documentary entitled Long Ago I Died (2011) about the killing of 8-year-old Sameer Rah by CRPF men in the summer of 2010. The film is embedded herein along with relevant links.
“I am not wounded, yet in pain…I am the witness”
When the case of Sameer Rah’s brutal murder seemed to be systematically obfuscated, Ifat Gazia, a young bio-chemistry student from Kashmir, decided to follow her personal calling and, borrowing a small DV camera from her teacher, ventured out to search for the truth. She put together a team by posting on Facebook for “the right kind of people” who shared her conviction to speak truth to the power. Their daring joint endeavour took the shape of a moving 20-minute-long documentary titled Long Ago I died.
“…in our home, no questions have ever been answered”
Long Ago I died is the film that seeks answers; it is an attempt at tearing down the thick screen of mystery that has been deftly weaved around the death of 8-year-old Sameer Rah by the state’s armed enforcers. It tells the tale of “the youngest victim of the  uprising” by taking us to the site where it all happened, bringing out on camera for the first time the testimonies of those who witnessed the ruthless murder of an 8-year-old Kashmiri kid.
The film opens with the iconic scenes of 2008 and 2010 Kashmir uprisings — with masses of people converging on thoroughfares and every big and small street, waving flags and chanting pro-independence slogans — thus contextualising the incident and the situation in which it had taken place.
In one of the scenes, Sameer’s friend in brownish stripped pheran leads us to Sameer’s house through a winding narrow street. He holds a Kanger within the attire. When Ifat asks him whether he used to play with Sameer, he replies in brief, “Cricket.” Ifat and the young lad walk briskly between the brick and mortar walls of the empty street in the inner Batamaloo area of Srinagar; sound of their marching feet echo around and one wonders how intensely horrifying it would have been when young Sameer, in a yellow T-shirt, had walked the same path on that fateful curfew day of August 2nd, 2010.
What Sameer’s murder brought to his family is poignantly captured; his inconsolable father tries to feel his presence holding onto his schoolbooks. It is hard for him to recount how his beloved son was brutally murdered. It is even harder to conjure up the horrible image of his frail young body being trampled under the large jackboots of armed men, with the child’s kidneys being crushed to the point of killing him.
“Somewhere our history is at war with our Truth.”
Around the middle, the film may seem to drift away, as the director has padded the narrative with brief appearances of some young Kashmiris. But that in no way hinders the progress of the film, and rather compliments the theme.
This film does not only reveal the strong belief among the people that justice has not been served in the case of Sameer Rah’s murder, but it also subtly exhibits, at the larger plane, the archetypical mindset of the Kashmiri youth—showing us in the nature and the tone of the film how daily exposure to violence, death and perennial clouds of uncertainly loom large over Kashmiri life, shaping their outlook on life and their response to such an extraordinary situation.
If studied comprehensively, the film has elements of post-modern ingenuity; it does not follow conventional linear patterns of narrative. What it does, instead, is that it touches upon the different aspects of the experience of Kashmiri youth and links these disparate strands through powerful poetic narration that gives it a smooth flow. There are minor flaws here and there, but all those technicalities and nuances can be overlooked for the humanistic content and the powerful eloquence of the film. The expressive verses of H. Kirmani just flow through the film and heighten the impact of the visuals presented: “Our journey is yet unaccomplished. But we know one thing. The travellers have changed. They have changed. The hermit is now the warrior. We are still walking. Let the caravan grow.”
Maryam Shamas’s script is rather well-crafted. Juxtaposition of eloquent words with equally suggestive visuals has lent the film the required ambiance of poignancy and pathos.
“Disappeared into the darkness that has engulfed the thousands”
Ifat Gazia and her team deserve all praise for their brave effort to highlight the murder of Sameer Rah, that was largely ignored by the Indian media. By visually documenting the case and the accounts of the witnesses of the murder, they have tried to counter the denial of the murder by the state and, more importantly, not let it slip away from the memory of the people.
The last visual of the film comes with a message that can hardly be ignored: a fallen chinar leaf is resting on rusty parched land and on the foreground is a quotation speaking out the restrained anger of young Kashmiri hearts:
Where a bullet is unasked, death becomes a dignity…and…where oppression is called peace, violence becomes a virtue…
Written in September 2011.
Long Ago I Died (2011)
Director: Shah Ifat Gazia
Script: Maryam Shamas
The deathly silence which descends after the passing of a bloody storm is an alltoo-familiar occurrence for residents of the Kashmir Valley. Last summer, teenagers in the Valley picked up stones to express their rage and resentment against police atrocities. This summer, a few of them held a camera in their hand to express their discontent.