The Kashmir Files is a 2022 Indian film based on the real-life experiences of Kashmiri Pandits during their exodus from Kashmir in 1990. Vivek Agnihotri and company have made and released this film when the nation is amidst a growing communal divide. Nevertheless, it is also necessary to know the tragic history of Kashmiri Pandits since it is a topic generally overpowered by a plethora of conflicting discourses.
As the film itself acknowledges, much of what we see or hear is the consequence of a war of narratives. The question remains: what does The Kashmir Files offer? The whole truth or just another narrative?
The truth behind the scenes
Vivek Agnihotri calls his production nothing but the “truth of Kashmir”. The Kashmir Files presents the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits as a “genocide.” It claims that academics and journalists have always left this “fact” out of our written history.
Most of the known scholarly theories attribute the exodus to genuine political panic resulting from communal violence, notably the killings of Kashmiri Pandits officials. Political scientist and researcher Christopher Snedden writes in his book Independent Kashmir: An Incomplete Aspiration that some slogans were “clearly directed against pro-India Kashmiri Pandits. … by the end of January 1990, loudspeakers in Srinagar mosques were broadcasting slogans like “Kafiron Kashmir chhod do” [Infidels, leave our Kashmir]. This uproar was, in all probability, due to the polarized political positions of both groups regarding Kashmir’s independence from India.
There exists a general belief that the fanatical religious zeal of some radical insurgent Islamic groups instilled fear among the Hindus of the valley. According to estimates, by March 1990, more than forty thousand Kashmiri Pandits had to flee to the comparative safety of Jammu. The exodus is a real thing that happened, and so is the fact that there were killings.
Depictions Vs History
The film does manage to portray the grief of the displaced Pandits. Pushkar Nath, played by Anupam Kher, witnesses his entire family being torn apart by the violence of certain insurgents. Later in the film, it is shown that he has post-traumatic stress disorder. Through these characters, the dialogue, and the gory scenes, the director relays these inescapable fear to the audience.
However, none of this certifies that the film is historically accurate in depicting what happened. We must recognize and admit that there was bloodshed. Further, a large section of a community, a religious minority in the given area, was displaced. We must also recognize that this ensuing violence is a part of Kashmir’s brutal history, especially concerning the Indian state, and not some religious vendetta against Hindus.
Where is the line between perspective and propaganda?
This brings us to the leading cause of controversy surrounding The Kashmir Files. It is a film that primarily appeals to right-wing Hindus. The film depicts the Kashmiri Muslims in a very stereotypical and derogatory light. Agnihotri has villainized not just the insurgents but also the local Muslims of Kashmir. The film contains scenes where inhumane Muslim neighbours point out hiding places of their long-time Hindu friends.
There also exist scenes wherein terrorists, and even locals, say they wish to do nikah (marriage) with the Kashmiri Pandit women to convert them into Islam. This portrayal aligns with the problematic understanding of love jihad, which, as per Hindu extremists, is a conspiracy to lure Hindu women into conversion, thereby slowly reducing the Hindu population.
There were indeed acts of sexual violence against Hindu women. However, such actions did not aim to achieve socially-sanctioned marriage contracts but to prove dominance in a war-like situation. This is a practice that occurs in almost every war or political conflict.
Role of patriarchy
Patriarchy comes into play here. Sexual violence in such cases is not merely about sexual urges. It is about seeing the enemy’s women, or just women, break down completely. It is simple, if sadistic, means to achieve a kind of victory. Agnihotri has not even touched upon these gendered nuances or any nuances for that matter.
A biased story
The film does not care about multiple points of view. It does not even care to explain the conditions of Kashmir which led to the unfortunate events presented here. An outsider with no grasp of Kashmir’s history will not only learn anything of factual history but will also leave the film with an intense feeling of anger building up from within. This might be precisely what the film wanted to accomplish–the emergence of anger.
Showing the truth of the Kashmiri Pandits is not propaganda, but The Kashmir Files does not stop at that. Its main takeaway boils down to how it uses the tragedy of 1990 to justify the removal of article 370 from Kashmir. The film is transparent in its message–Kashmir is and should always remain a part of India. Mithun Chakraborty’s character, IAS Brahma Dutt, verbally equates azaadi or freedom with terrorism.
‘Leftist’ professors and the brainwashed youth
Krishna Pandit, the protagonist and grandson of Pushkar Pandit, is a student of ANU, meant to symbolize the famous JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University). A professor at the University, Radhika Menon, forces Krishna to chant “Azaadi” against his will. Later she “brainwashed” him into believing there were no massive killings of Kashmiri Pandits. She represents a typical liberal academic with secret “propaganda” to kill India’s “rich” history with petty social issues.
The film goes so far as to show that the professor in question has intimate relations with the main terrorist villain, Farooq Malik Bitta. The character of Radhika Menon is likely to be based on the real-life JNU Professor Nivedita Menon, who in 2016 was accused of anti-national activities by right-wing groups. This portrayal, particularly the implied relationship with a “terrorist,” is not something we should easily brush aside. It is questionable and dangerous, even if the inspiration for the character is not explicitly known.
Krishna surprisingly knows nothing about the history of his own family or place of birth. He is the most gullible person who can exist and represents what the filmmakers consider today’s youth to be. The conversations between Radhika and Krishna, and then between Pushkar’s friends and Krishna, are repetitive to an irritating extent.
The result is that right-wing Hindu nationalists love the film. They are keen on calling it a cinematic masterpiece despite its one-dimensional characters, with only enough emotional depth to stroke embers of Hindu anger and a mediocre screenplay.
Meanwhile, public reaction in theatres has been troubling. People are screaming communal slogans after watching the film. This outburst is not by political activists but by the regular majority.
It is imperative to talk about the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits. However, it should not be in a way that demonizes a community of people.
The movie portrays even the people truly struggling for their basic needs as terrorists in the making. The film is propaganda, not because it provides a platform for the suffering of a group of people, but because it uses that suffering to justify a political ideology.
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About the Author
Vaishnavi Singh is a lover of poetry and literature. She is currently pursuing a major in English along with a minor in sociology. Vaishnavi has always been passionate about improving the world around her, one step at a time, and she hopes her time with The International Prism will contribute to that goal.