Since its launch at The Houses of Commons and Lords in January 2003, The Heart of Kashmir has won considerable international journalistic and political acclaim. And rightly so, for it is successfully, perhaps more so than any previous work, bringing European attention to the plight of those living under the brutality of military occupation.
Unsatisfied as a commercial photographer, Torsello left for India in 1994 with the aims of experiencing village life, finding a spiritual master and visiting an area ravaged by war. The first two of these aims were to be fulfilled in southern India and it was whilst here that he first heard about the story of Kashmir. Armed with his camera and little else, this Italian reporter set forth on the long-track north to divided Kashmir.
Most of the very few words in this book are dedicated to chronicling the train journey Â– which was to last for five days and four nights Â– and, in particular, noting how he was consistently cautioned by fellow passengers and railway staff about the dangers of travelling to a land full of terrorists Â– a place from where he was unlikely to return.
His response is, in true journalistic spirit, critical and indicative of his resolve to get to the heart of the story:
`Always the same warnings never any explanations. I read all the articles I can about Kashmir in the national newspapers but all I know is the official story. Nothing about the Kashmiris who live and die there.'
With the aid of his lens, and often at considerable risk to his own life, Torsello manages vividly to capture the pain of occupied Kashmir. Through so doing he single-handedly fatally undermines the official Indian government line (and that of the UK government which has supported it) about occupation being necessary to counteract Kashmiri terrorism.
The beautifully presented sombre black and white prints speak volumes about the complete impunity of the occupying forces and their utter disregard for the sanctity of human life. There is a particularly harrowing sequence of eight photos entitled 'Gun Law' which cannot but fail to move. The accompanying text gives some insight into this one too many final Kashmiri journey's:
`A greengrocer is spotted by an Indian army patrol 10 yards from his house, 20 minutes after the start of the curfew. He is outside because his house has no toilet.
Just before sunrise the following day his battered and tortured corpse is found dumped in front of his house.
Permission for a proper funeral is refused because the army also occupies the local cemetery.
Arrangements are made for burial in a local park.
Women stand at the entrance to the park protesting at the killing and blocking the path of Indian soldiers trying to stop the ceremony...'
These images are contrasted later in the book with those of children studying the Qur'an, adolescents playing cricket in the streets and, above all, people filled with a sense of hope Â– these are photos taken from just across the Line of Control Â– images of a people who are free.
Whilst world powers may have forgotten the UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949 Â– promises that guaranteed to the Kashmiri people the right to determine their own future Â– we as peoples of the world must not. Poignantly, Torsello concludes by communicating an invitation from the Kashmiri people to anyone and everyone who is in any way committed to the pursuit of freedom and human rights.
`International observers and human rights organisations should come and visit us in our Land Â– Kashmir Â– well know as Paradise on Earth.'
Professor Aziz Sheikh
Research & Documentation Committee, MCB
Kash Gabriele Torsello. The Heart of Kashmir. Published by Kash GT, London 2002
Hardback. ISBN: 0-9542245-0-7. Price Â£29.