Kashmir Files Poster
India Islamophobia

The Kashmir Files: Is India Hiding Inconvenient Truths

The Kashmir Files Poster
Poster – The Kashmir Files

The Kashmir Files is a recent Bollywood movie that has exposed some of India’s fragile religious fault lines. It depicts a dark timeline in Indian history. Due to rising militancy and attacks by separatist groups, Hindus living in Kashmir were forced to move.

This exodus of Kashmiri Hindus started in the 1980s. The year 2022 may be the right year to discuss this sensitive issue. But the Kashmir Files has neither the subtlety nor the complexity to discuss it. It merely depicts graphic violence and portrays Muslims in a negative light. It reinforces all the negative stereotypes that the right-wingers in India have been pushing.

After the movie was released, Several disturbing videos surfaced on social media. Audience members were making Islamophobic speeches after watching the movie. Similarly, right-wing activists have taken this as an opportunity to call for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses.

Also Read: Communalism and Economic Marginalisation of Muslims

The director Vivek Agnihotri has seemingly decided to prey on the insecurities of modern-day India rather than educate people about this issue. There were several missed opportunities to portray any sort of solidarity between the Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir.

Why is The Kashmir Files a convenient film for India?

At present, the government in New Delhi has been roundly criticized for its step-motherly treatment of minorities. This move comes as a way to scapegoat the Muslim community. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lent the film free promotion by bringing it up in parliament.  BJP lead governments in some states have given the movie tax rebates or exemptions. Members of right-wing organizations like the Sangh Parivar have been encouraging people to watch it.

Read Also: Why Is Indian PM Modi’s Silent About Attacks Against Muslims?

The endgame is to promote negative Muslim stereotypes. The movie helps in this by villainizing Kashmiri Muslims.  Now we have to acknowledge the fact that the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus was caused by extremist Muslim elements. However, every Muslim in India doesn’t deserve to get painted with the same brush.

Schindler’s List is a historical drama that depicts affairs in Nazi Germany and the plight of Jewish people during that time. It is a dramatization of a story of persecution and oppression. However, in Schindler’s List, one can see that the movie seeks to describe a state of affairs rather than serve as a vehicle for propaganda. The Kashmir Files, on the other hand, is just a revisionist rant that wants to inflame the Indian audience.  

What are the inconvenient truths about India?

Many people from the rightwing have stated that the movie brings attention to a part of Indian history that was forgotten. Though the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits is too recent to become a part of school history textbooks. Unless someone has lived their entire life watching videos on TikTok, they would know about this part of history.

Old Mistakes

What we also need to know are the events that lead to the insurgency and the growth of extremism in Kashmir. Right from the 1950s, the Central Government in New Delhi has had a complicated relationship with the various State Governments of Jammu and Kashmir.  It was a pretty common occurrence for democracy in Kashmir to go missing. Dismissing the State government or imposing President’s Rule was a common occurrence.  The interference by the Central Government contributed to people losing faith in democratic institutions.

New Mistakes

One can look at these events as mistakes of the past. However, the government continues to make the same mistakes. In 2018, the BJP government imposed President’s Rule in the state. After that, the state lost a significant degree of its autonomy when it was made a Union Territory. In India, a Union Territory is an administrative unit where the Central Government retains important portfolios like public order and police.

So basically, in 2018, the Central Government in New Delhi removed a democratically elected government in the State. Four years have passed and elections still have not taken place. To a person living in Kashmir, whether they be Hindu or Muslim, democracy is a distant dream.

There is no mention of the geopolitical situation or the role of Pakistan and Afghanistan in these events. Not to mention how the civil administration and the Central Government stood as relatively mute spectators.

Read Also: Indian Media’s Neglect of The Ruthless Opportunism in “The Kashmir Files”

Even if we look at the plight of Kashmiri Hindus, successive governments have not done anything to help them. The present Hindutva coalition has been in power for over 12 years in the last three decades. Yet they haven’t been able to bring about a reconciliation. All we see is a government promoting divisiveness using the movie as a sort of fulcrum.

What goes missing in all this noise created by The Kashmir Files?

Various Hindutva activists have used this movie to justify Islamophobia. The violence shown in the film lacks any context. The issue is that clips from this movie keep floating around Twitter and WhatsApp fueling the flames of communalism. So, it is just a graphic provocation for right-wing mobs on social media and on the streets.  

One has to consider that at present there are multiple reasons why Muslims in India are aggrieved. Everything from the persecution of Muslims to the lack of freedom of speech in Kashmir now has a unidimensional justification which is the actions of some extremist elements.   

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post Rana Ayyub, an Indian journalist, stated “I left the theatre, just 30 minutes into the movie, feeling humiliated and physically unsafe. A man yelled at me “Ja Pakistan!” (Go to Pakistan).” Rana Ayyub is not alone in this experience. Many Indians have remarked that sitting in the theatre was a harrowing experience because many members of the audience started yelling pro-Hindutva slogans.

Conclusion

The Kashmir Files comes with the disclaimer that it didn’t mean to disrespect any community or faith. This disclaimer is meaningless considering the way it exploits a tragedy and pushes a narrative. Now director Vivek Agnihotri has every right to make a movie like this. The Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression. But one has to wonder whether Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files was the right thing for India.