The College of William and Mary hosted award-winning filmmaker Iffat Fatima on campus last Wednesday for a screening of her new documentary, “Blood Leaves Its Trail,” which investigates the forced abductions of thousands of young men in Kashmir since the early 1990s. The film is a culmination of nine years of research and development, and has been screened in venues throughout Southeast Asia and the internationally.
Fatima’s filmography has received several professional accolades. After earning her master’s degree in mass communication, she received a Asia Fellowship in 2001 and received a fellowship through Brandeis University in 2004. Fatima has pursued several projects throughout Southeast Asia, most recently in Sri Lanka and Kashmir.
Kashmir, which lies between India and Pakistan, is currently under Indian administrative control. Views on political autonomy among the Kashmiri people are varied; some Kashmiris seek complete independence from India and the creation of a sovereign state, while other groups advocate for unification with Pakistan. These disparate political perspectives have caused tension in the region, and the Indian Army has often used violence to maintain control.
Blood Leaves Its Trail” aims to expose the army’s practice of forced disappearances, in which Indian Armed Forces abduct Kashmiri men suspected of insurgency. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 men have disappeared since the army initiated abductions two decades ago, and very few have returned home alive. People are often picked up at random and are taken from their towns with little public awareness or warning.
“Blood Leaves Its Trail” aims to expose the army’s practice of forced disappearances, in which Indian Armed Forces abduct Kashmiri men suspected of insurgency. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 men have disappeared since the army initiated abductions two decades ago, and very few have returned home alive. People are often picked up at random and are taken from their towns with little public awareness or warning.
“There is no concern for citizens [in Kashmir],” Fatima said in a discussion after the film’s screening.
Her documentary includes several interviews with Kashmiri women whose husbands and sons have disappeared, aiming to provide intimate and personal perspectives on the humanitarian crisis. Since the 1990s, these women have become the foremost leaders of several political campaigns created to pressure the Indian government into prosecuting guards suspected of abduction.
Women organize rallies throughout Kashmir nearly every month to protest the Indian government’s lack of transparency regarding their loved ones’ disappearances. These protests often attract thousands of marchers, who chant against the brutality of the state.
“India claims to be a democracy, but there is neither justice nor democracy for Kashmiris,” one woman said during a march included in Fatima’s documentary. Similar sentiments concerning the lack of public information regarding their family members were expressed by several of the women featured in the documentary.
In filming “Blood Leaves Its Trail,” Fatima said she traveled to several of these marches, sometimes jeopardizing her safety — on multiple occasions, her footage was damaged or destroyed by security guards. However, resistance to her filming was of lesser importance to Fatima than the in-person communication she had with affected women.
Gypsy McMillian ’20 introduced Fatima before the screening of “Blood Leaves Its Trail” and provided expositional information about Fatima’s career and background. In her brief introduction, McMillian said she admires Fatima’s work.
“[The film] was incredible,” McMillian said. “ … To hear the voices of [Kashmiri] people was very important.”
McMillian said she viewed the documentary as effective in combatting the lack of international awareness regarding humanitarian crises in Kashmir, and she appreciated Fatima’s work with other humanitarian conflicts in Southeast Asia.
The screening attracted students from a variety of social classes. Faculty and staff were also invited to view the documentary and participate in the discussion that followed.
I thought [the film] was very eye-opening, especially to an issue that a lot of people don’t know about,” Christina Durham ’21 said.
“I thought [the film] was very eye-opening, especially to an issue that a lot of people don’t know about,” Christina Durham ’21 said.
Durham added that presenting the topic from the perspectives of the women directly affected by the disappearances made the documentary more compelling than if it were made up of facts and figures.
Moving forward, Fatima said she hopes that her film will inspire students at the College to resist moral and legal injustices, whether in Kashmir or in Williamsburg. She urged those present at the screening to keep fighting for justice and human rights both in their personal and professional lives.
“Whether you’re a writer or an artist, take [your cause] forward,” Fatima said.