Anupam Kher as Pushkar Nath Pandit in The Kashmir Files
THE EXTRAORDINARY box-office success of Vivek Agnihotri’s film The Kashmir Files, on the genocidal exile of Kashmiri Pandits, unpeels many uncomfortable truths. A generation has grown up since the forced exodus of the Hindus from the Valley began in 1989.
Over 4,00,000 Kashmiri Hindus, threatened with violence by Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists and radicalised locals in the Valley, were driven from their homes. The film tells this story in raw, uncompromising detail.
The 1989-91 period, when the bulk of the genocidal exile took place, was a turbulent period in Indian politics. The country had four prime ministers between November 1989 and July 1991: Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar and PV Narasimha Rao.
Private satellite television did not exist. Doordarshan ignored the Pandits’ plight. More Indians tuned into the 1990-91 Gulf War prosecuted by the US-led coalition against Iraq than on the targeted communal violence against the Hindus that was taking place in Kashmir.
The Kashmir Valley was a favourite location among Indian filmmakers for its scenic beauty. But few filmmakers ventured to make significant movies on the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from the Valley. Instead, they made movies like Haider (2014), which gave a free pass to Islamist terrorism in Kashmir.
Bollywood’s Khan triumvirate was part of the silence. Aamir Khan, a genuine seeker of the truth (Satyamev Jayate) with unlimited financial resources, could not bring himself to make a film on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.
Salman Khan, another actor with impeccable secular credentials who celebrates Diwali, Holi and Ganesh Chaturthi with the same passion he does Eid, shot many times in the Kashmir Valley, but never on the Pandits’ ethnic cleansing. Perhaps it didn’t strike him, hidden as it was from plain sight in a Valley increasingly under the influence of Wahhabi Islam in the 2000s, with the Hurriyat in charge of recruiting local militants and terrorism flourishing.
Shah Rukh Khan, an actor who has reigned over popular Indian cinema for nearly three decades, gave the Kashmiri Pandit genocidal exile story a miss as well. For someone with cerebral aspirations, that was odd.
The rest of India’s film industry fell docilely into line. Even as stories of the horrific violence inflicted by the Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists and locals on peaceful, scholarly Pandits emerged in the media and literature, big film production houses turned away.
The Kashmir Valley was a favourite location among Indian filmmakers for its scenic beauty. But few filmmakers ventured to make significant movies on the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from the Valley. Instead, they made movies like Haider, which gave a free pass to Islamist terrorism in Kashmir
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As the wall of silence continued, several lakh exiled Pandits settled in Delhi, Jammu and elsewhere, started life afresh, often with just a trunkload of belongings they had managed to gather before fleeing the violence.
A new breed of television journalists had by now emerged. And yet the true story of the Kashmir exodus remained untold. Instead, the complicity of silence was broken by the complicity of engineered narratives.
According to one particularly noxious version, the Pandits had only themselves to blame. They had ‘monopolised’ plum postings in Kashmir’s bureaucracy, academia and the professions.
The narrative was as dark as it was disingenuous. It harked back to labelling Jews in Germany in the 1930s. The Pandits, like the Jews, were an educated community. They were given responsibilities commensurate with their abilities. This isn’t monopolisation; it’s called meritocracy.
Political power still lay in the hands of one family: the Abdullahs. That more appropriately fits the description of monopolisation of power. The Abdullahs’ monopoly would be broken only several years later by the Muftis, creating a political duopoly in the Valley.
I travelled to Srinagar when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was chief minister. Pakistan-sponsored terrorism had peaked. The Hurriyat separatists were spreading toxicity and violence across the Valley.
During my interview with the chief minister, the Mufti said his government was doing its best to bring a sense of normalcy back to the Valley. He died before he could. The biggest mistake the Bharatiya Janata Party made was forming an alliance government with Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party. The error still rankles.
Pakistan’s gameplan has always been to make Kashmir a majoritarian Islamist state. It has achieved that demographically.
But after Article 370 and delimitation, the strategy has unravelled.
The Kashmir Files has lifted the 30-year veil over the shame of the Valley. The shame belongs to Pakistan’s Islamist terrorists and radicalised Kashmiri Muslims who threatened an entire community of peaceful Pandits, driving them out of their homes into exile.
The shame also belongs to a breed of journalists, academics, activists, lawyers, filmmakers and politicians who continue to be complicit in propagating a fraudulent narrative of a community’s ethnic cleansing.
About The Author
Minhaz Merchant is an author, editor and publisher
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