Sydney, 5 May, 2017
The news of IFFAA being cancelled doesn’t surprise me. Many felt for a while that it would either be cancelled a few days before the event or it would be a major flop.
Quite many members of Indian Australian community are however dismayed, disappointed and disgusted with claims of terror threats used as a reason for the cancellation of Indian Film Festival and Awards of Australia (IFFAA). The claim seems outlandish.
There is some confusion whether it was an “Indian” Film Festival and Awards or “International” Film Festival and Awards of Australia, because the organizers have used both Indian and International words as part of IFFAA.
“The inaugural edition of the Indian Film Festival and Awards of Australia, that was due to run next week in Sydney, has been cancelled, with organisers blaming the threat of terrorism.”
It is true that there was a significant backlash against the organizers of (IFFAA), which was going to run in Sydney between 7-13 May, with the Grand Finale on 13 May.
The root cause of the Indian Australian community’s backlash was the participation of these 3 Pakistani artists, especially Ali Azmat.
1. Ali Azmat: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tsvyNmw5Jqc
He had sung a very controversial and offensive song against India. The singer is shown to support violence in Kashmir, India. He appears to promote/support Khalistan and glorifies a Caliphate (ISIS) terrorist, Burhan Wani, who was killed last year in an encounter with Indian security forces. He glorifies violence in Kashmir.
2. Faysal Qureshi: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0ExbAV7sBl8
He dedicated his award in an event to the militants in Kashmir. He glorifies violence in Kashmir.
He exhorted Kashmiris to separate from India and join Pakistan. He glorifies violence in Kashmir.
With the recent beheading of 2 Indian soldiers by Pakistani army, there is a lot of anger in the Indian community. Indian Australian community did not think it is the right time to have Pakistani artists in an Indian festival. They are particularly incensed with the participation of above mentioned Pakistani artists. Organizers talking about harmony between two nations at this particular point of time is not logical. The relations between India and Pakistan are at the lowest point. IFFAA isn’t the right or appropriate forum to create harmony between India and Pakistan in the current circumstances. The problem is much bigger and well and truly out of scope for an event like IFFAA.
The backlash against IFFAA was wide spread in the Indian Australian community. It was not limited to just a group or two, and definitely not limited to any so-called Indian fundamentalist groups. Having affinity with or love for India, and expressing anguish or protesting peacefully, without any threats of violence, don’t make anyone wrong.
People shared their concerns with the organizers and their promoters. They used emails, Whatsapp and other social media platforms. The backlash was covered in Indian media in Australia and India. It was gathering some serious momentum. It’s likely to have reached Bollywood film stars too, causing a big question mark over their attendance. IFFAA was in real trouble.
As far as I know, no threats of any type were ever used or issued. When Dimple Hartaj Deez and I spoke with the main IFFAA organizer at 4.25pm on Wednesday, May 3, no such concerns were expressed or mentioned.
Terror threats seem to be outrageous and incredulous, and look like an overkill. Due to a variety of reasons, the ticket sale was sluggish. Sponsorships weren’t profuse or spectacular. If there were any threats against the IFFAA organizers, irrespective of whether they were from Indian community groups or Pakistani community groups or from anywhere, they (the organizers) should go to the Police immediately. Threats of violence, if true, should not be tolerated. Protesting peacefully is one thing, and people have rights to protest, but issuing threats, whether terror or otherwise, which I seriously doubt, is an entirely different thing.
Indian Australians are a peaceful community and do not believe in, or practise, threats as a mechanism to force anyone to do, or not do, any particular thing.
As far as I know, terror threats as stated in the article, appear to be difficult to understand and believe, but not impossible. If they are true, they must be reported and investigated. If they are not true, there should be action for alleging terror threats. Although it’s not clear as to who issued terror threats, but there are a few mentions of “anti” and “fundamental” groups, which were running a campaign against IFFAA. This is pointing a finger towards Indian Australian community. If there were no terror threats, our community should receive an apology because it doesn’t deserve this unwarranted and undeserved slur.
Our community did an honorable and justifiable job of telling the organizers in no uncertain way about the inappropriateness of some of their actions. They spoke effectively against something which they believed was wrong, at least in the current times and circumstances. It also remains a fact that organizers misjudged the extent of the community backlash and ignored it until their hands were forced with the looming and imminent major fiasco. Nobody can deny that the event was not properly managed logistically or financially. If it was not the case, the organizers should have been able to continue with the processes of hosting the event after they decided to not invite the Pakistani artists on 4th May. After all, it was an Indian Film Festival and participation of Bollywood stars would have guaranteed its success. The organizers unfortunately did not manage it proactively. Suggestions given to organizers to hold the meeting to understand the concerns were not given due importance and dismissed with “they have my number”, which smacks of arrogance. They were in a reactive mode and on the back foot, doing things as a reaction to what the campaigners were doing. This is not a smart strategy.
Finally, just like many, I am for a good neighborly relations between India and Pakistan, and there is no big issue to have Pakistani artists in events like IFFAA, but there must be a right time, place and atmosphere for this to happen. The current time is, unfortunately, and obviously, neither the right time nor the right atmosphere.
Dr Yadu Singh