Kashmir FIles

The recent Indian movie on the conflict zone of Kashmir can be best described as a propaganda tool of apologists for the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi.

Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, who is known for his pro-BJP stance, The Kashmir Files is not really a true and complete story of Kashmiri Hindus, who were forced to flee their homes during the 1990s due to the fear of Islamic extremists.

Agnihotri has not only shown a one-sided picture of the true events, but has exaggerated the facts to please those in power. After all, the BJP has been using the tragedy of internally displaced Kashmiri Hindus to create animosity against Muslims in the rest of the India.

Kashmir, the only Muslim dominated state in India, was stripped of the special status by the BJP government in 2019. This was done to polarize the Hindu majority in the country in the name of national security, and to curb an ongoing separatist movement in Kashmir, which shares a border with Pakistan. The Indian government has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring armed insurgency in the region, with an aim to merge it in their own nation.

The Kashmir Files tries to validate the BJP narrative on the issue. The film portrays Kashmiri Muslims as treacherous, seditious and pro-Pakistan, with no representation to any moderate or liberal Muslim voice in the story.

Even the reasonable Muslim leadership of Kashmir that carried the water of the Indian state has been painted as villains. Leaving aside the question of covering military repression of Kashmiri civilians or those fighting for the right to self-determination, all Kashmiris have been painted with the same brush, as puppets of Pakistan and eyeballing Hindu women with an intention to convert them to Islam.

Historical facts have even been twisted to the extent of vilifying Sufis, who had spread Islam in Kashmir through love.

As if this was not enough, the scholars, the liberal media and secularists who have questioned the Indian establishment for its highhandedness in Kashmir for all these years, are depicted as manipulative and cunning, in bed with the Kashmiri separatists and out there to brainwash the Indian youth.

It all fits into the template of the BJP’s mandate on Kashmir. The Kashmiri Hindu characters mostly speak their language, and likewise the Kashmiri Muslim characters are made to speak what the BJP wants to hear. A quick Google search of BJP leaders’ vicious statements on the Kashmir situation can help to verify this after watching the movie. Their constant bashing of the left in New Delhi, and the activists associated with Jawaharlal Nehru University (where anti-BJP forces have a strong base), is well documented. Agnihotri cleverly twists the facts related to opposition against the BJP government’s policies, to justify state violence in Kashmir.

We all need to feel and relate with the pain of Kashmiri Hindus, who had to spend years in refugee camps outside under brutal conditions within their own country. But we don’t need to see all that through the BJP lens.

Being a journalist, I am more offended that the film  accuses media of looking away when it comes to Kashmiri Hindus. It is nothing but a blatant lie. Being a reporter myself in India, I covered the plight of Kashmiri Hindus. On one occasion, I visited their refugee camp in New Delhi. So I can safely say that the media has given its dues to the story of Kashmiri Hindus. On the contrary, much less has been said about the sufferings of Kashmiri Muslims by the Indian forces.

It’s a shame that the BJP government has given tax rebates to such a hateful film, but would never do so if someone made a movie on Kashmiri women raped by the army, or the mysterious killings of 36 Sikhs in Kashmir in March 2000 during former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. The Kashmir Files hit the theatres close to the anniversary of the unsolved massacre, which from day one was suspected to be engineered by the Indian agents.

The Sikhs in Chittisinghpura were lined up and killed by people wearing Indian army uniforms. Eyewitnesses maintain that the killers did not appear to be Kashmiri Muslims. However, the Indian army blamed it on Pakistanis. Following a public outcry, five local Kashmiris were killed by the Indian forces that accused them of being involved in the murders. This led to a protest in which nine Kashmiris were killed in the firing.

Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who passed away on March 23, wrote in her book, The Mighty and the Almighty, that Clinton believed it was done by Hindu extremists, apparently to embarrass Pakistan during his visit. Incidentally, a BJP government in power when it happened, and pressured the publishers to alter the facts related to Chittisinghpura episode.

The Kashmir Files claims to be a comment on an “untold story” in which the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus  has been dubbed as “Genocide”, yet their story has been told to the world repeatedly. Certainly, we all must empathize with Kashmiri Hindus, or with any other minority community persecuted anywhere in the world, but we cannot allow such tragedies to be used to malign any single community. That said, the violence by political extremists who operate outside the framework of law cannot be equated with the violence of the custodians of law and order. In that sense, comparing the situation of Kashmiri Hindus with that of the Sikhs and Muslims, who were subjected to state sponsored massacres in 1984 or 1992 (which one of the characters in the film brings up) was the most inappropriate thing to do. The Indian state has mostly stood behind Kashmiri Hindus, using them as a counterweight to the Kashmiri militants, and applying every tool in their tool box to brutally suppress insurgency, while the Sikhs and Muslims continue to fight for justice and closure for what happened to them.

In a nutshell, the movie is not an honest piece of art intended to muster genuine sympathy for the victims, but to stir hatred against Muslims and those who have courage to stand up against the BJP’s misrule in India.

The reality is that attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims, and political dissidents have grown ever since the BJP came to power in 2014. Slogans such as “if you want to live in Kashmir, you will have to say Allah is great” attributed to Jihadi extremists in the film, are today being replaced with “if you want to live in India, you will have to hail Rama” by Hindu chauvinists all over India against Muslims. But will Agnihotri dare to show that?

With the BJP being desperate to come back to power in 2024, The Kashmir Files has set a precedent for more such films in the coming months. Let’s be prepared for another round of hate wave to terrorise minorities and silence critics.

Gurpreet Singh  is a journalist


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