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The Kashmir Files: Is India Hiding Inconvenient Truths

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Kashmir Files Poster
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.

Domestic Violence

What Does Shraddha Walker’s Murder Mean for Love in India?

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What Shraddha Walker's Murder Means to Love in India?

Earlier this month, India was shocked by the news of the murder of 28-year-old Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawalla. Aftab had killed Shraddha merely three days after they moved into their new home in Delhi in May this year. Aftab had cut the body of Shraddha into 35 pieces and stored them in a fridge. He was gradually disposing of the body parts in a nearby forest area.

Interfaith Couple and Sensational Murder Trial

After the news of Shraddha’s murder broke in mid-November following the arrest of Aftab Poonawalla, it became a sensational murder trial. The murder was debated on prime-time debates on TV.

While the murder was chilling and one could expect it to cause a sensation, it became a sensational murder trial for very wrong reasons in India. The fact that Shraddha and Aftab were an interfaith couple made it a sensational murder.

Even though Aftab has claimed that he killed Shraddha in a fit of rage while they were fighting, the police are yet to establish the motive for the murder. The media trial, however, has given a religious colour to the murder.  Some people, including those on TV debates, have dressed the murder in the language of religion.

Love Jihad?

The religious colour given to the Shraddha murder and the transcending of the murder beyond its context is a result of the Love Jihad discourse adopted by the ruling right-wing party BJP.  BJP used Loved Jihad as an electoral issue in many state elections.

At present, eleven states where BJP is in power have passed legislation against Love Jihad. The argument by the Hindu nationalists is that Muslim men intentionally fall in love with Hindu women and then these men force the women to convert from Hinduism to Islam.

Also Read: Love Jihad: A Conspiracy or a Political Campaign?

Demonizing Muslims

There are also attempts to demonize Muslims after the murder of Shraddha. A man from the UP state recently went on TV to support the actions of Aftab. He claimed to be a Muslim, named Rashid Khan and justified the cutting of Shraddha into 35 pieces.

When the police arrested the said man, it was found that he is a Hindu, named Vikas Gupta.

Vikas Gupta’s statement went viral on social media and Muslims were called out and demonized for his statement.

Also Read: Bollywood’s portrayal of Kashmir- Journey Of Representation From Heaven To Hell

A Setback to the Freedom to Love in India?

Shraddha’s sensational murder trial has raised questions about love in India. It will hurt the hard-won right of freedom to love.

There are two aspects to be considered. First is the freedom of young people to love or live in live-in relationships. Since the news of the murder reached almost every home in India, it will scare people from getting into live-in relationships. Further, society will also be suspicious of these relationships. Live-in couples already face difficulty in negotiating the conservative society in India and the case will only exacerbate it. For instance, live-in couples in India find it difficult to find a house or rented accommodation. Aftab and Shraddha also lived in rented accommodation. More people than ever before will now hesitate to rent their accommodations to live-in couples.

Second, as discussed above Shraddha’s murder will make it worse for interfaith couples to negotiate everyday life in India. Even though India was never a safe place for interfaith couples, the case is going to make society hostile to interfaith love. Those who were already against interfaith love will use this case to further cement their position on Love Jihad.

Further, society in general parents of young people in particular will turn hostile against love.

Also Read: The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim Hindutva Pop in India 

A Difficult Task Ahead

The sensational murder trial and the media trial of Shraddha’s murder by Aftab have raised questions about love in India. Further, the discourse of Love Jihad is also back. Hindu nationalists will make sure that the case is exploited to its full to make a case for Love Jihad.

For those in India, who want to preserve the hard-won right of freedom to love, the task ahead is very difficult. Even though the case has already become sensational, they must make sure that it is restricted to its immediate context. If the case transcends its immediate context, hate will win against love. Love must triumph!

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Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives

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Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives

A proscribed militant outfit in Kashmir recently made anonymous online threats to over a dozen journalists belonging to several media organizations. The outfit published the threat on a website and people circulated it on social media. The Kashmiri journalists were accused of being “collaborators”. Five of the journalists who were threatened have already resigned.

Subsequently, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case under the anti-terrorist law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and launched an investigation. On November 19, police raids were underway at the residences of journalists Gowhar Geelani, Qazi Shibli, Rashid Maqbool, Khalid Gul, Waseem Raja, Sajad Kralyari & militant Momin Gulzar, Mukhtar Baba and advocate Abu Adil Pandit.

The police alleged that The Resistance Front (TRF), which is an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was behind the threat to journalists. The security agencies further found that journalist Mukhtar Baba was the mastermind behind putting out the list of journos accusing them of being informers for security forces. Baba, who is currently based in Turkey, is has worked as a journalist in Kashmir. He is familiar with the media environment in Kashmir. The police also revealed that Baba is very close to Pakistani intelligence agencies.

The police requested media houses “not to fall for sensationalism in discussing names of victims in reporting and also to behave responsibly and not endanger the safety and security of their fellow journalists”.

Battle of Narratives

The ongoing battle of narratives in Kashmir between pro-India and anti-India has created a false and dangerous binary in Kashmir. Journalists, who work for various media houses and newspapers in Kashmir, increasingly face themselves choosing sides between anti-India and pro-India narratives. Choosing sides has led journalists into a trap. If they report and support the pro-India narrative, militant groups accuse them of being collaborators. If they report anti-India narrative, the Indian security agencies accuse them of supporting terrorism in the region. In this vicious cycle, many journalists have lost their lives, and many are languishing in jails.

Also Read: Political Activities Resume in Kashmir after Three Years

Kashmiri Journalists Face Killings and Jail

The same Let killedpProminent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari in 2018 in Srinagar. The police alleged that Sheikh Sajad alias Sajjad Gul was responsible for his killing.

In February this year, the police booked and arrested Fahad Shah, the Editor-in-chief of the online news magazine, ‘The Kashmir Walla’, under anti-terrorism law and sedition for his reporting on Kashmir. He continues to be in jail. His online magazine faces several cases for reporting controversial news. The security agencies have alleged that Fahad was propagating fake news through his portal.

In August 2018, the police arrested Aasif Sultan, an assistant editor of the magazine Kashmir Narrator, under the anti-terror law. The police accused him of “harbouring known militants”.

There are several other stories of Kashmiri journalists being harassed by militants and police alike. While militants make death threats to journalists, the security agencies in Kashmir arrest and intimidate the journalists. There are several cases where chilling details of threat and intimidation of journalists by police have emerged. 

In October this year, Indian authorities prevented Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling to the US. Mattoo, a freelance photojournalist, was part of a Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. She was flying to the US to receive the award. Earlier in July this year, Indian authorities prevented Mattoo from travelling to Paris.

This was not the first time that Indian authorities prevented a Kashmiri journalist from flying abroad. Several other journalists were prohibited from flying.

Also Read: India Gags-up Media in Kashmir

Journalists in Dilemma

The threats by the militants and the harassment by the Indian agencies have put Kashmiri journalists in dilemma. They do not know when their reporting will invoke the wrath of Indian agencies or the militants. It is a huge risk to invoke the wrath of any one of them.

As a result, political reporting in Kashmir has become very difficult. Various news agencies, in order to evade the binary, do not cover political issues. They just restrict their reporting highlighting societal issues. 

Hence, in this battle of narratives, objective political reporting has become the real victim.

Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

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The Forgotten Jammu Massacre

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Jammu massacre during the partition of Indian subcontinent

In November 1947, thousands of Muslims were murdered in Jammu by paramilitaries under the command of Maharaja Hari Singh’s army, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. Although the precise number of victims in the killings that lasted for two months is unknown, estimates range from 20,000 to 237,000. Nearly half a million Muslims were compelled to flee across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan. These Muslims had to settle in the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s administration. The massacre of Muslims in Jammu and the forced migration of others set off a chain of events that included a war between India and Pakistan, two newly independent countries. These incidents also gave rise to the Kashmir issue. The massacres occurred as part of a British-designed strategy to divide the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, as millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs crossed the border from one side to the other.

An Orchestrated Massacre

Before the two-decade-long massacre against Jammu’s Muslim majority really began, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders from Amritsar met in secret with the Maharaja and his officials. They chose Poonch as the beginning place for the massacre of Muslims because of its record for fierce resistance. A two decade long and horrifying anti-Muslim pogrom began with the murder of a herdsman in the Panj Peer shrine and a Muslim labourer in the centre of Jammu city in the first week of September. Extremist Hindus and Sikhs committed the murders with the help and complicity of the Maharaja Hari Singh-led armies of the Dogra State. The RSS leaders and workers were complicit in organising and carrying out the atrocities.

Idrees Kanth, a fellow at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam who studied the history of Kashmir in the 1940s, told Al Jazeera that the immediate impact (of partition) was seen in Jammu. “The Muslim subjects from different parts of Jammu province were forcibly displaced by the Dogra Army in a programme of expulsion and murder carried out over three weeks between October-November 1947,”.

The Dogra Army personnel started evicting Muslim peasants from Jammu province in the middle of October. The majority of the refugees were housed in refugee camps in the districts of Sialkot, Jhelum, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi after being directed on foot toward West Punjab, which would eventually become a part of Pakistan.

On November 5, Kanth claimed about the Dogra Army forces’ planned evacuation of Muslims that  “Instead of sending them to Sialkot, as they had been promised, the trucks drove them to wooded hills of Rajouri districts of Jammu, where they were executed.”

Also Read: How Practical is the Secular Democracy of India? Curbing of Religious Freedom in Kashmir

Demographic Changes

After the deaths and expulsion, the Muslims, who made up more than 60% of the population in the Jammu region, became a minority. According to a story from The Times, London, dated August 10, 1948: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.”.

According to historians, the executions carried out by the Sikh and Hindu ruler’s armies were part of a “state sponsored genocide” to alter Jammu’s demographics, which had a predominately Muslim population.

Reports mention that Muslims who earlier were the majority (61 percent) in the Jammu region became a minority as a result of the Jammu massacre and subsequent migration.

According to PG Rasool, the author of a book The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute “The massacre of more than two lakh (two hundred thousands) Muslims was state-sponsored and state supported. The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS was brought to communalise the whole scenario and kill Muslims.”

Also Read: India Revives Controversial Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir

Covering up of the Jammu Massacre

While it is unknown how many people were killed during the two-month-long killing spree, Horace Alexander’s report from The Spectator on January 16, 1948, is frequently cited. Alexander claimed that 200,000 people had died and that nearly 500,000 people had been displaced across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan and the region of Kashmir that it controls.

India has ever since tried to free itself from the accountability of the past. The Jammu massacre has not only been left out of J&K’s historical narratives by the Indian state, but it has also been openly denied in its entirety.

Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir has its roots in 1947 massacre. “It is deliberately forgotten. Actually, the violence of that massacre in 1947 continues. Those who were forced to migrate to Pakistan have never been allowed to return,” he said.

Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

What Does the Jammu Massacre mean for Kashmir today?

The Jammu massacre gave India the opportunity to rewrite history, therefore relieving the Indian government from owning up to any responsibility for the atrocity. The Indian government is attempting to replicate this pattern in the Kashmir valley by systematically killing and exterminating Muslims and then covering it up. As more and more Indians obtain Kashmiri citizenship and are granted the ability to vote in state elections, this provides the necessary motive and encouragement for non-Kashmiris to relocate to Kashmir. While the right-wing BJP government has been milking the targeted killings of Kashmiri pandits in Kashmir. The communal violence against Muslims and the Jammu Massacre is the least talked about and written about in the history of the region.

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