Mohammed Arif Urfi is a journalist, photographer and filmmaker based in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir. He often works along the Line of Control (LoC), reporting on events taking place there. He has also worked on joint films with filmmakers on the other side of Kashmir. He participated in a peacebuilding fellowship in 2013, which focused on filmmaking.
When I go to cover an area as a journalist, it is important to spend time with people – people who are living on the LoC as well as people living in cities away from the LoC.
How has undertaking this fellowship impacted you personally?
I am living in a conflict situation, in an area with a heavy military presence. I felt inspired after my visit to the UK, particularly to Northern Ireland. People were working in difficult conditions, like in Kashmir, with the conflict between the two communities. We met people trying to encourage individuals to communicate about the conflict through performing art. They managed to persuade people to talk about the issues instead of shouting at each other.
This experience motivated me to talk more with people close to the LoC. Before the fellowship, it was difficult for me to discuss sensitive topics, for example, religious issues with them.
What specifically did you gain from this fellowship?
I practiced lots of things when I returned and there were lots of differences in my work after the fellowship. With the third film [exploring cross-LoC trade], it was difficult to discuss ideas with people engaged in the trade. However, I learnt on the fellowship that two different ideologies can exist at the same time. I realised when speaking to people about the film that there were two schools of thought – people who were against trade and those who were for trade. I met some ex-combatants from Muzaffarrabad who were involved in trade. It reminded me of people who I met in Northern Ireland – ex-combatants and ordinary people, who encouraged me to speak with them.
Also in Northern Ireland I learnt how we can work with ex-combatants and bring them into the community, to be active members of society. This inspired me to encourage ex-combatants in Kashmir to create their own network and platform. I collected data about people who were previously engaged in militancy and then connected these people to the traders and encouraged them to start their own businesses. I was able to relink people from divided Kashmir, and enhance the trade. It was due to the filmmaking that I was able to make connections and interact with all these people
How have you applied what you gained to your work?
I also thought about the things I learnt while producing our latest film on disaster management. The joint cross-LoC filmmaking that we’re doing is totally different from traditional filmmaking methodologies, as you have to work ‘blind’ with no direct contact with each other. We have to message each other via a third party and produce content independently, which is very difficult for filmmakers and poses unique challenges.
This film is not actually a film about disaster management but a film about collaboration across the LoC. We want to make the governments and people aware of the issues and prevent social unrest. You cannot separate what happens in one part of Kashmir from the other, for example people living in the danger areas are living in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, while the situation originates in Indian-administered Kashmir, and vice versa. We need communication between people living up and down stream.