The Kashmir Files: When a Movie Shocks, Shakes and Awakens a Nation
The very act of watching the film has become a statement of solidarity, even a protest, against a genocide and has instilled a resolve of ‘never again’.
Let me confess, I still haven’t seen The Kashmir Files (TKF), just wasn’t able to get the tickets. But it is a movie I will definitely see, and make my kids see. I know it will tear them, and me, up. I know it will be a searing experience for us. Even so, they must know what happened and the conspiracy of silence that has surrounded a crime against humanity. When the genocide and ethnic cleansing – it is a travesty to call it an exodus or migration – of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) took place, I was in college. We all knew what was happening in Kashmir. And yet, the sheer brutality and savagery that visited the tiny KP community never received the salience or invited the outrage it should have.
The media – back then it was all what is today called Lutyens’ media – reported on Kashmir, but in a very sanitised manner. The gate keepers in media clearly felt that to give the graphic details of the atrocities that were visited on the hapless Kashmiri Pandits would endanger ‘secularism’. This was, after all, a time when top editors would not feel an iota of shame, or even irony, in saying that “yes JKLF is a terrorist organisation, but it is secular”. I kid you not. A terror organisation which targeted KPs only because of their religion was a secular organisation as per these luminaries of the media. Any surprise that secularism, which became a euphemism for appeasement and apologism of minority fanaticism and rank communalism, is today a four-letter word?
The late 1980s and early 1990s were years of tectonic changes and great tumult, not just in India but around the world. In Afghanistan, the jihadists had forced out the Soviet Union. Islamist terrorism or jihadism had become a thing, inspiring and enthusing Muslim communities around the world. The Berlin Wall had collapsed and the might of the Soviet empire was unravelling. The Cold War was ending. India was perhaps facing the most critical time in her history since Independence. Punjab was in the throes of a murderous insurgency by Khalistani terrorists. The country was virtually bankrupt. We had the worst possible prime minister in V.P. Singh who tore apart the society by clumsily, surreptitiously and cynically implementing the Mandal Commission report. Meanwhile, the Babri Masjid issue had erupted on the scene. It was against this backdrop that Kashmir, which was already on the boil since at least the mid 1980s, erupted.
With so much happening, the ethnic cleansing of the KPs became something of a side story. India was on the verge of losing Kashmir. The Indian state had virtually ceased to exist in the Valley. Kashmir was saved by the skin of our teeth and that too after enormous sacrifices by the security forces – the Indian Army, the J&K Police (especially SOG), the CRPF, the BSF. The focus, therefore, was more on getting a handle over the Islamist insurgency than worrying about the genocide of KPs. In any case, for the editors of the time, these were Hindus, a tiny community from the Kashmir Valley, and therefore an expendable community not worth bothering about.
The politicians were also least interested in the trials and tribulations of the KPs. After all, how many votes did they bring? The attitude was ‘bad things happens, deal with it’. The politicians and bureaucrats were not only callous but also complicit in the sufferings of the KPs. So much so that they were not even ready to call them internally displaced people. The KPs were labelled migrants even though it was as clear as daylight that they were victims of religious persecution by Islamist mobs running amok, murdering, raping, pillaging this community. The babus in Delhi might not have been directly responsible for what the KPs suffered – this is a really debatable point – but they were responsible for what they suffered after being forcibly displaced from their homes.
For the human rights lobby and the un-civil society, there was little purchase in agitating over KPs – no funds, no junkets, no positions, so why bother. Adding insult to injury, there was the entire liberal ecosystem that blamed the victim, or sought alibis to blame the outrage on someone – governor Jagmohan (who saved Kashmir for India) became the favourite whipping boy of not just the terrorists and their overground supporters, advocates and apologists, but also of the left-liberal lobby in Delhi. It was almost like what my friend Dr Anand Ranganathan said in a recent TV debate: ‘if Hitler had gassed and murdered 6 million Hindus and not Jews, these people would have denied the Holocaust. Even today we see denial, rationalisation, justification and even trivialising of a genocide by the leftist-liberal ecosystem. False equivalences are drawn to dilute the enormity of what happened.’
The story of the KPs would have been long forgotten in a country like India where people have the memory of a goldfish and the attitude of “forget what happened and move on”. But it is to the credit of the Kashmiri Pandits, one of the most educated and erudite communities in India, that over the last three decades they kept alive the memories of those terrible times. Even so, most people either didn’t know what happened, or didn’t care, or even used it as a debating point. But all of that has changed with just one honest film, which shows the unvarnished, if also, ugly truth without any kind of monkey balancing.
The Kashmir Files is no longer a film, it is a phenomenon, a catharsis of a nation. It has struck a chord like few other films have. It has shocked, shaken and stirred a nation which was somnolent when the tragedy that visited the KPs was unfolding, and even after. The millennials who had no idea of the genocide are asking how something like this could happen in Independent India. It is a film that people own and have made it their own; a film in which they have developed a stake to make it a stupendous success; a film whose box office success is being celebrated by people who have no monetary benefit to gain from it; a film whose entire publicity is word of mouth and social media, and far more effective than what any PR agency could have managed with a multi-crore budget.
The very act of watching the film has become a statement of solidarity, even a protest, against a genocide and has instilled a resolve of ‘never again’. It has caused such an awakening that people are now clamouring for more movies be made on what is best described as a ‘genocide genre’. The Kashmir Files has also rattled Bollywood. Big budget, fluffy and flashy films are biting the dust in front of a low-budget and deeply disturbing, gut-wrenching, heartrending film that is based on testimonies of victims and has recreated the horrors that descended on KPs. No one among established Bollywood big-wigs ever imagined such a film would be a commercial blockbuster. But it has.
The usual suspects are of course doing what they do best – picking holes in the script, questioning the motives of the filmmaker, making allegations that this film is part of the Hindutva project of the government, and even that the film is made with an eye on the forthcoming elections. There are also accusations that the movie promotes hate. Each of these charges is easily rebutted. But it would be a waste of time because the detractors are not interested in facts. Their only interest is in limiting the damage caused by the film to the fake, fraudulent history and a political narrative based on half-truths and complete lies that the left-liberal lobby has peddled for decades in India. The critics of the film, especially the political parties, are only exposing that they don’t possess any political instinct, they have no idea what moves the people of this country and they are completely tone deaf to public sentiment. No surprise then that a once grand old party is in a state of terminal decline.
Movies like The Kashmir Files are important because crimes against humanity should not have a shelf life. Just because something horrible happened some decades ago, doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. There can be no time bar on seeking justice against an atrocity. Without justice there can be no closure. But seeking justice is very different from seeking revenge. The purpose of confronting the horrors of history is to ensure these are never repeated. Brushing a genocide under the carpet keeps the wounds festering. Worse, it is an invitation to another genocide. The Kashmir Files has ensured that at least one such atrocity will not be forgotten.
Source Credit: news18.com