After the outbreak of the Coronavirus in December 2019, the process of the gradual reopening of the Indian economy through various forums has begun. With lockdown now easing, content creation and distribution appear to be restarting, albeit with small steps. With the reopening of public events and cinemas in India, the Indian public has been enthusiastic and welcoming for Bollywood releases to hit the cinemas. An unsurprisingly huge amount of dangerous optimism by the Indian audience was seen in a recently released movie by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri called “The Kashmir Files”. A recent film on the exodus of minority Hindus from Kashmir in the 1990s has kicked up a storm in India, with even the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) weighing in on its behalf. While the BJP including the Prime minister has openly endorsed the movie with several states ruled by the party giving the film tax exemptions, the movie has been recently banned in Singapore over its “potential to cause enmity between different communities”. The official statement of the Singapore government also stated: “The film will be refused classification for its provocative and one-sided portrayal of Muslims and the depictions of Hindus being persecuted in the ongoing conflict in Kashmir,”.
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As the name suggests, Agnihotri claims to have depicted the “real story” behind the exodus of the Kashmiri pandits in 1990 during the emergence of pro-freedom militancy in Kashmir. Kashmir has been internationally known for being conflict-ridden between the countries of India and Pakistan which control parts of it. Since the formation of the two countries in 1947, Kashmir has continued to be a political dispute between them since India and Pakistan both claim the entirety of the formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and have fought several wars over the same. While the narrative of the Kashmiris continued to get trampled in the tug between two nuclear powers, pro-freedom militancy emerged in Indian administered Kashmir in the 90s. It was during this time that the Kashmiri pandits, also the religious minority in Kashmir faced threats, persecution, and ultimate exodus at the hands of the Muslim militants. However, the real number of pandit deaths and migration is largely contested to date. In fact, there are conspiracy theories about who the actual perpetrators of the communal violence against the pandits were and some of them hint toward the then government’s possible involvement in it.
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Agnihotri claims to have depicted in his movie what he calls the genocide of the Hindu minority in Kashmir in the 1990s during the emergence of what he claims to be the beginning of Islamic terrorism. The film is clearly a graphic one that revisits the horrors of communal violence against the Kashmiri pandits (KP). The film makes a radical stance that what happened with the Kashmiri Pandits wasn’t just an exodus, but a horrific genocide that all the previous governments refuse to talk about for vested political reasons. The movie displays how the Kashmiri Pandits live in exile for nearly 30 years, while their homes and shops are being encroached on by the Muslim locals. While they continue to seek justice their home in Kashmir is being turned from a paradise to hell by bigoted Kashmiri Muslims who cannot tolerate the Hindu presence of the pandits.
While the film claims to base itself on documented reports, the way in which Agnihotri, a Kashmiri Pandit himself, has directed this movie clearly speaks of his own political and personal opportunism. He promotes his personal viewpoint on the Kashmir conflict by exploiting a few facts, developing half-truths, and endorsing and presenting serious lies in order to not just provoke but blatantly instigate. The film portrays the tragic exodus as a full-scale genocide, akin to the Jewish Holocaust, which the leftist lobby, the media, and the government kept hidden. While the talk of the film was intensely in the mainstream media and the conversations about it have been dominant on social media ever since, during the debate, a photograph of an RTI answered with the assertion that only 89 Kashmiri Pandits were slain by militants in Jammu and Kashmir has gone viral on social media. According to the information, “Apart from the 89 Kashmiri Pandits, 1,635 people of other faiths were also killed during the same period.”. The query was raised by PP Kapoor, an RTI activist from Haryana. According to Kapoor, who reviewed the information obtained through RTI, Kashmiri Pandits account for roughly 5% of those killed by the militants in Kashmir. Kapoor also claimed, however, that the authorities have not supplied information on the number of Kashmiri Pandits who have been rehabilitated so far.
This report was later used by a parliamentarian of the Indian parliament to call out the hypocrisy of the Indian media that has not only promoted a biased version of communal violence in Kashmir but has also failed to report the violence and killings of the Kashmiri Muslims. Taking an indirect dig at the recent popularity of “The Kashmir Files” owing to the intense media campaign and overt support from the government, he also highlighted the ruthless opportunism of people who cash on the plight of the Kashmiri pandits.
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The Indian media’s incessant reportage of the movie included the movie promotions and interviews being broadcasted not so much on the entertainment media as much as it was on the mainstream media which is the group of authentic and trusted news conglomerates that is ideally dedicated to reporting on matters of public interest. The mainstream media not only failed to report on the incorrect factual information on which the movie bases itself and the misinformation that it fosters but also the subsequent spread of hateful sentiments between Hindus and Muslims in the entire country. There was also little to no reporting of violence, hate speech, and anti-Muslim sloganeering in the cinemas where the movie was screened. However, the audience ratings on the Indian Express, one of the prominent Indian daily newspapers, is 4.8 stars out of 5.