Gurpreet Singh: The Kashmir Files is nothing but an attempt to silence voices of dissent

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      A recent Indian movie on Kashmir can best be described as a propaganda tool for apologists of 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 were forced to flee their homes during the 1990s due to fear of Islamic extremists.

      Agnihotri has not only shown a one-sided picture of the true events, but he 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, which is the only Muslim-dominated state in India, was stripped of its special status in 2019 by the BJP government. This was done to polarize 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 an armed insurgency in the region with an aim to merge it into its own nation.

      The Kashmir Files tries to validate the BJP narrative on the issue and shows Kashmiri Muslims in a poor light. They are portrayed as treacherous, seditious, and pro-Pakistan, with no representation of any moderate or liberal Muslim voice in the story.  

      Even the reasonable Muslim leadership of Kashmir that has been water carriers for the Indian state has been painted as villainous. Leave aside military repression of Kashmiri civilians or those fighting for the right to self-determination, the film paints all Muslim Kashmiris with same brush as puppets of Pakistan who eyeball Hindu women with an intention of converting them to Islam.

      So much so that the historical facts have been twisted to the extent of even vilifying Sufis, who’ve spread Islam in Kashmir through love.

      As if this were not enough, scholars, the liberal media, and secularists—who have been questioning the Indian establishment for its highhandedness in Kashmir for all these years—have been depicted as manipulative and cunning. They are presented as being in bed with Kashmiri separatists and out to brainwash Indian youth.

      It all fits into the template of the BJP’s mandate for Kashmir. Kashmiri Hindu characters mostly speak their language and likewise, 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 helps veryify this. Their constant bashing of the left in New Delhi and the activists associated with reputed Jawaharlal Nehru University, where anti-BJP forces have a strong base, is well documented.

      Agnihotri cleverly twists the facts related to the opposition of BJP government’s policies to justify state violence in Kashmir.   

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

      Being a journalist, I am more offended with the film for accusing the media of looking away when it comes to Kashmiri Hindus. It is nothing but a blatant lie. When I was a reporter in India, I covered the plight of Kashmiri Hindus. On one occasion, visited their refugee camp in New Delhi.

      So I can safely say that the media has given its due to the story of Kashmiri Hindus. On the contrary, very less has been said about the sufferings of Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Indian forces.  

      It’s a shame that the BJP government has given tax rebates to such a hateful film, but won’t ever do so if someone were to make a movie on Kashmiri women who have been raped by the army.

      The same can be said if a filmmaker ever wanted to depict the mysterious killing of 36 Sikhs in Kashmir in March 2000 during former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s visit to India. The Kashmir Files hit the theatres close to the anniversary of this unsolved massacre, which was suspected to have been engineered by Indian agents since day one.

      On March 20, 2000, the 36 Sikhs in Chittisinghpura were lined up and killed by people wearing Indian army uniforms. Eyewitnesses maintain that they did not appear to be Kashmiri Muslims. However, the Indian army blamed this mass murder on Pakistanis. Following a public outcry, five local Kashmiris were killed by Indian forces who accused them of being involved in the murders. This led to a protest in which nine Kashmiris were killed in the firing.

      Watch a trailer for The Kashmir Files.

      Former U.S. 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 to embarrass Pakistan during his visit. Incidentally, it was a BJP government in power back then when it happened, and it pressured the publishers to alter the facts related to Chittisinghpura episode.

      The Kashmir Files claims to be a comment on an “untold story” of Kashmiri Hindus in which their exodus from Kashmir has been dubbed as “Genocide”. In fact, 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 such tragedies cannot be allowed to be used to malign any single community.

      That said, the violence by political extremists who operate outside the framework of the 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 Sikhs and Muslims 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 and used them as a counterweight to Kashmiri militants, besides applying every tool in their tool box to suppress insurgency brutally. Sikhs and Muslims, on the other hand, continue to fight for justice and closure for what happened to them.  

      In a nutshell, The Kashmir Files is not an honest piece of art intended to muster genuine sympathy for victims. Rather, it appears designed 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”—as 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 a wave of hate to terrorize minorities and silence critics.