The Inconvenient Truth of “The Kashmir Files.”
Why did the exodus happen and what is the way forward?
“They are coming to kill us.”
It was a frozen Saturday night and we were all sitting in the cozy comfort of the “Layef”, a thick quilt, watching the weekly prime time movie on Doordarshan. My feet were firmly planted on a Kangri as I soaked in the heat. Suddenly we heard a noise outside, a mob perhaps. This was followed by a banging on our bedroom door. My mother opened the door only to find my elder cousin sister in a state of panic.
“ They are coming to kill us!!” she was hysterical
Outside there were chants of “Naare Taqbeer Allaha hu Akbar” and “Dil me khuda ka khauf hai, Haath me Kalshinkov hai”
This was followed by “ Aey Kaafiro Kashmir haamara chood do” (Oh Infidels leave our Kashmir)
The entire family huddled in the “Wot” or the Living room trying to process what was happening. It seemed that everyone was out on the street chanting slogans of death. A sudden frenzy had overtaken downtown Srinagar.
The men of my family appeared bewildered. After all, they always thought that the Indian army at Badami Bagh cantonment would save us if something untoward happened.
Suddenly a barrage of rocks was hurled on the windows of the Ganju House, a massive C-shaped five-storied structure. Shattered glass flew in the air as we raised our arms to cover our heads and ducked for safety. Before we could recuperate from the initial assault a petrol bomb was catapulted over the stone fence and fell right under the Main wooden door of the house. We covered our ears anticipating a big blast. There was silence. After a while, my younger uncle gathered the courage to peep through the window. The petrol bomb hadn’t exploded but the wick was still carrying the flame. My younger uncle leaped into action as he picked up a bucket of water, opened the main door, and doused the flames.
In another room, my aunt was instructing my 18-year-old cousin sister. She plucked out an emerald from her wedding ring and handed it over to my cousin. “Swallow it in case the mob enters the house.” She said in a firm tone. The toddlers including my sister were told to hide in the attic if there was a breach.
The endless night of fear meandered into the dawn but not an eye was shut. 19 Jan 1990 was a night to reckon with. It was a night that marked the beginning of the mass exodus of my community from our homeland.
It has taken 32 years for India to recount the tale of every Kashmiri Pandit. The Kashmir Files is an accumulation of the collective suffering of a whole culture that has been uprooted. The Kashmir Files have slowly burned in the hearts of every Kashmiri who has been thrown out of his homeland.
“Truth with a dash of Spielberg and Tarantino”
Kashmir Files is a watershed moment in the history of Indian cinema and I am not saying this, because it is my story. I am not here to review the film either. The movie however does haunt you as the camera floats over a numb and frigid Kashmir. Tears flow as the camera continues over the snow-covered rooftops and the Jhelum river which snakes through downtown Srinagar. This used to be home.
The filmmaker has done justice to every aspect of the exodus and genocide of Kashmiri Hindus in the early 1990s, by Islamic terrorists. He has shown the real nature of the conflict in Kashmir. The struggle was to carve out a pan-Islamic state, from India and it wasn't some freedom movement.
The failed Indian state, the press, and the administration have been portrayed through debates and arguments that occur in the film. The portrayal of the Marxist cabal of academicians who have made a living out of sugarcoating a Jihadi Islamist struggle is outstanding. I see shades of Quentin Tarantino in the long discourses and monologues, that keep you gripped to the narrative.
The Director has unapologetically shown the truth as it is. The characterization may seem gory but the truth is sometimes ugly. No one can challenge the movie on facts so people are coming up with all kinds of things. There is one Bollywood actor who says that truth should be told tenderly otherwise it loses its beauty. Did this actor criticize Schindler’s List?
We all know that Spielberg portrayed the holocaust in a direct manner. He showed scores of Jews being paraded naked. There were Jews who were shot dead as a sport or at the whims of German officers. Jewish kids hid in pools of feces. Spielberg showed thousands of Jewish corpses being dumped in massive pits dug by Jews before being incinerated. All this while a German Officer, roams like a mad man and gloatingly compares the mass funeral of Jews to Vallahala, the Hall of Fame.
Spielberg was acknowledged not criticized.
Kashmir Files is like The Schindlers List. Kashmir Files is our Schindlers List. Hard-hitting, ghastly, spine-chilling, and direct.
There has been no attempt by the Director to create a drama in the film or to impress the audience, says Ram Gopal Verma. It is just as if those characters were existing and the camera just happened to be there moving at its own pace. He goes on to say that film is recasting all conventions of Bollywood.
“The roots of the Genocide”
Some years back we went for a holiday to Dubai. I had an ex-colleague of mine, a Muslim from Bangalore, who lived in Dubai. I always liked the guy but my family was pleasantly surprised when he went all the way to show us the place. Drove us down to Abu Dhabi. Hosted dinners for us. He was just fabulous. And he always has been like that. A brilliant guy whom I could always bank upon. When I had first come to Bangalore he was always there for me and I felt a strong bond with him.
I have a lot of Muslim friends and personally like Muslims. They are great people as individuals, warm and hospitable.
What happened then in the early 1990s when our Muslim friends and neighbors in the valley turned against us. I have done a lot of fact-finding on this and have come to the conclusion that the overbearing influence of religion and the dogmatic adherence to the religious scriptures are the culprits.
Muslims are good Individually but transform Collectively into the Umma. The Umma often doesn't recognize nonbelievers.
As a young boy, I had a friend in Kashmir who once told me out of concern that I would burn in hell. He implored that I become a Muslim as soon as possible if I was to avoid this fate. I got to know that he had started taking lessons from a Maulvi. In the 1980s Maulvis from Deoband and other parts of UP had descended on Kashmir. They played a vital part in radicalizing the population.
Later on in my life, I found that there was a verse in the Holy Quran, that he would have misinterpreted.
“Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses — We will drive them into a fire. Every time their skins are roasted through, We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.”
Surah 4:56 (An-Nisa)
Now with all due respect, the Holy Quran has a lot of verses. Many of them emphasize humanity and peace. Verses like the one mentioned above may have been said in a certain context but radical groups take these by the letter and spirit. It is because of this a narrative of “The Others” is created. You are either a Believer or a Kafir.
Kashmir is not the first place where the exodus of an entire community has happened because of Islamic radicalism. The 23% Hindus and Sikhs in West Pakistan and 29% in Bangladesh in 1947 are reduced to 2% and 8% respectively. A population project by the Shlama Foundation has estimated that there are about 150,000 Assyrian Christians remaining in Iraq as of July 2020. This is down from about 1,500,000 in the year 2003. An entire community of Yazidis was thrown out, killed, raped, and converted in the Middle East. Lebanon used to be the only Christian dominant country in the Middle East. Today Christians have been reduced to a minority.
Many People might confuse this narrative with being Islamophobic. But these are the facts. Not every terrorist is a Muslim but a vast majority of terrorists are Muslims. It is easy to blame it on oppression. Kashmiri Hindus were also oppressed but they didn’t pick up the gun. They instead focussed on Education, stopped playing the victim, and today many of them have prospered and are contributing to `society in India and abroad.
Muslim societies need to introspect. Why does someone have to make a film called “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist?”
Societies and communities start improving when they start accepting that there is something wrong within instead of blaming it on external elements like the Jewish conspiracy or RAW agents.
Also, many Indians are getting emotional after watching this film. We need anger but we also need control. We need to channel the anger and take up the cause of resettling the Kashmiri Pandits. In no way should we use this anger to inflame communal passions against Muslims in general and Kashmiri Muslims in particular.
“What do we do about Kashmiri Pandits?”
So what do we do about Kashmiri Pandits?
First and foremost. Let us stop brushing this issue under the carpet.
There are two things that we need to do
Govt needs to Act
The current BJP dispensation has always been projecting itself as the champion of Kashmiri Pandits. Yet 8 years of Modi rule and we haven’t seen any marked progress in the settlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. We haven’t seen any representation given to them in the political dispensation. There is already a feeling in the community that their plight is just being used as an election tool. The government has to take concrete steps and the time is now. The removal of Article 370 was a landmark step towards integrating Kashmir with India, but a road map for safe and honorable resettlement is required. The government also needs to declare the mass killings of the Kashmiri Pandit community as genocide and a truth and reconciliation commission needs to be set up. The Killers need to be punished and justice needs to be delivered.
Need to accept the Genocide
Kashmiri Muslims need to accept that genocide happened instead of blaming it on Jagmohan. There are already voices in the Kashmiri Muslim community who are accepting that genocide happened. These voices like Javed Baigh and Hina Khan need to be applauded. The Germans accepted the holocaust and today it is a crime to deny it if you are in Germany. We need to follow a similar approach,
They say that Art and Cinema are the mirrors of society.
Kashmir Files is a watershed movement in the cinematic history of the country. Today we have stopped being diplomatic and a direct, hard-hitting discourse is in place. I am sure that beyond these tough deliberations we will find the answers to the most troubling questions that confront this nation. I am sure we will emerge as Gold emerges through the fires of the furnace.