By Imtiaz Ahmad
After the abrogation of article 370, PM Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP launched several projects (employment/packages/curriculum) to facilitate pandits in IIOJ&K, against the aspirations of Muslim, ‘The Kashmir Files’ movie is one of them comprises – a half truth.
The Kashmir Files is a 2022 Indian film written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri. The Kashmir Files stars are Mithun Chakraborty, Anupam Kher, Darshan Kumar, and Pallavi Joshi. The film presents an illusory story concentrated on the exodus of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits in IIOJ&K. It depicts the early 1980s-1990s exodus to be genocide, a notion that is widely considered inaccurate and associated with conspiracy theories.
The plot follows a Kashmiri Hindu college student, raised by his exiled grandfather and shielded from the facts of the circumstances of the death of his parents. After his grandfather’s death, the student, who had come to believe at college that the exodus was benign, becomes driven to uncover the facts of his family’s deaths. The plot substitutes between the student’s pursuit in the present time 2020, and his family’s efforts of 30 years before. The film has been a commercial success, seemingly benefitting of promotion by India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP.
The story is attracting criticism for attempting to recast established history and propagating Islamophobia. Supporters have praised the film for showing what they say is an overlooked aspect of Kashmir’s history.
Indian Censor Board of Film Classification (ICBFC) gave ‘The Kashmir Files’ a certificate, which is restricted to adults (aged 18 and above). The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) found the film to contain “strong bloody violence” and certified the film as suitable only for viewers aged 15 years and over. Australian censors gave the film an 18+ plus rating.
In New Zealand, the censorship clearance was hindered in controversy. The film had originally received an R16 classification from New Zealand Classification Office. However, with Muslim community raising concerns about potential incitement of Islamophobia, the rating was raised to R18; David Shanks, the Chief Censor of New Zealand, highlighted “the nature and intensity of the violence and cruelty depicted” and defended the new age restriction to be in consistence with Australia and India. Leader of right-wing New Zealand First party Winston Peters accused the Classification office of censoring the film based on its political content.
In Singapore, the film was banned by the censor authority after a consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the Ministry of Home Affairs; the film’s “provocative and one-sided portrayal of Muslims” was held to have the potential of disrupting “social cohesion and religious harmony”.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Bombay High Court by Intezar Hussain Sayed, an Uttar Pradesh resident which sought a stay on the film’s release on grounds that the film may portray the Muslims as killers of the Kashmiri Pandits, presenting what it described as a one-sided view that would hurt the sentiments of Muslims and could trigger violence against Muslims by igniting the emotions of the Hindu Community.
Another lawsuit was filed in IIOJ&K by Nirmal Khanna, the widow of IAF Squadron Leader Ravi Kanna saying the film portrayed a false depiction of events related to her husband and sought a stay on its release. Accordingly, the court restrained the makers from showing the relevant scenes.
The ruling BJP has endorsed and promoted the film in explicit terms, which has led to significant audience at theatres making it a runaway commercial success. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attacked critics in response to negative reviews, claiming that there is a conspiracy to discredit the film, which according to him reveals the truth. The film was declared tax-free in multiple BJP governed states—Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh—with calls by several Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament for “everyone to watch the movie”.
Debasish Roy Chowdhury, co-author of ‘To Kill a Democracy: India’s Passage to Despotism’, found the film to be a prominent marker of India’s “descent into darkness”, rather than offering genuine closure for the Pandits, Agnihotri inflamed hatred against Muslims, secular parties and liberal media in pursuance of a Hindu Supremacist cause.
Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit academic, reviewing for The News Minute, held the work to be a communal and masculinist propaganda that collapsed the complex politics of Kashmir into a one-sided moral tale palatable to the current Hindutva dispensation in India; Agnihotri appropriated Pandit sufferings to portray all Kashmiri Muslims as barbarian invaders, undeserving of any solidarity.
Sanjay Tikoo, the head of Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, says, “that was not like that; no massacre of Kashmiri Pandits took place before the eyes of Kashmiri Muslims”.
All above assessments by experts are portraying that The Kashmir Files movie is just a piece of propaganda campaign by hardcore Hindu extremists under the umbrella of BJP which only aims to undermine the minority rights and want to curb the human rights voices under PM Modi’s fascist regime. The film’s exclusive focus on violence of Muslims on Hindus—with limited attention given to the overall of human rights abuses in India and especially, the painting of all Muslims as active or passive participants in the exodus has been seen to promote Islamophobia and highlight Hindu Nationalist cause in an optimistic manner.
Imtiaz Ahmad is an Islamabad based freelance and social activist.