Footage on partition goes up in smoke

Agence France Presse

Srinagar, March 12:

Original footage from Kashmir’s partition, including a film of a historic speech by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, were destroyed in a gunbattle with Islamic rebels, an official said today.

The entire film, video and audio archives kept at the government information department in Indian-administered Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar was reduced to ashes when the building caught fire during a rebel attack on Tuesday. “All the important events captured on camera and audiotapes after 1947 have been lost,” a senior official at the information department told.

He said the department would contact state-owned radio and television to see if they had copies of the destroyed footage.

Major losses include film from October 1947 of Indian troops arriving in Kashmir to repulse incursions by Pakistan-backed tribal fighters.

The troops arrived after Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu who ruled the Muslim-majority region, acceded to India due to the invasion, giving up hopes of remaining independent with the end of British rule of the subcontinent.

Also lost was film of Nehru addressing thousands in central Srinagar in March 1948 when he promised a fair deal for Kashmiris.

“If the people of Kashmir do not want to stay with India, we will not force them against their wishes,” Nehru had said. But Kashmir has remained divided between India and Pakistan since its partition and in 1989 a rebellion broke out on the Indian side which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Two guerrillas were killed in the attack on the information department on Tuesday, injuring six troops before huge flames surged from the three-storey building in central Srinagar.

The paramilitary Border Security Force, which fought the rebels with the help of police, said the militants set the fire.

Witnesses, however, said the blaze was sparked when troops launched a barrage of grenades at the building just minutes after rescuing civilians living in a nearby area where numerous journalists live and work.

“The irony is that the government never provided fire-proof lockers for these precious films and tapes,” the information department official said.