The following is a review of the movie ‘The Kashmir Files’, written by Dr. Mohan Sapru, a Washington, DC-based Kashmiri Hindu who personally experienced the massacres and forced exodus of 1989-90.
The much-awaited movie The Kashmir Files is due for worldwide release on March 11, 2022. A diverse American audience got to watch a gut-wrenching pre-release premiere held in several major US cities a few months prior. Today, it is time for all victims of terrorism in Kashmir to tell their stories, especially the chief victims of Kashmir’s jihad: the Kashmiri Hindus (commonly known as Kashmiri Pandits because of their scholarly heritage). It is no secret that Kashmir’s radical Islamic terrorism resulted in genocide and forced exodus (1989-1990) of the minority Kashmiri Hindu community. Kashmiri Hindus, the original inhabitants of Kashmir, became refugees in their own country and were forced to fend for themselves in squalid refugee camps for decades while the world stayed stone silent.
While the radical Islamic terrorists openly killed, raped, and terrorized the “kafirs” (infidels), the terrorist-friendly local police and state machinery looked the other way. Quickly, the shrieking pitch of terror and religious fanaticism unleashed by Pakistan-trained terrorists and aided by a large section of the local Kashmiri Muslim population changed Kashmir forever.
In response, India’s ineffective and indifferent central government, judiciary, myopic political leadership, ideologically imprisoned intellectuals, journalists, selective outrage-prone Bollywood stars, writers, and artists maintained a deafening silence and paralytic stupor. No one dared or even cared to tell the world about the worst human rights violation experienced by the original inhabitants of Kashmir or about the colossal failure of Indian secular democracy to protect the Hindu minority of Kashmir.
Little wonder, then, that outside of Kashmir, the general Indian masses and the world community know very little about the Kashmiri Hindu genocide and the collateral damage of terrorism on Kashmir’s economy and lives of the general Muslim population. It is only now that more and more Muslim women from Kashmir are coming forward with their heartbreaking stories of sexual exploitation by terrorist networks. Therefore, an eye-opening movie like The Kashmir Files needed to be made to put the spotlight on why and how terrorism triggered targeted killings and an exodus that resulted in over 99 percent of the Kashmiri Hindu community losing their homeland, roots, and faith in so-called “Kashmiriyat”.
Oblivious to the tragedy and human cost of terrorism in Kashmir that resulted in the loss of Kashmiri Hindu, Sikh and Muslim lives, Bollywood movies, with undue impact on public perceptions, somehow managed to romanticize, glorify, sanitize, and even justify Kashmir’s radical Islamic terrorism, often falsely depicting the well-trained, well-armed Kashmiri Hindu-targeting terrorists and rapists as well-meaning innocent “victims of police excesses.” It never dawned on the writers and directors of these movies that despite being killed, raped, terrorized, and hounded out of their homes by armed terrorists, not a single Kashmiri Hindu became a terrorist, or indulged in revenge killing or stone pelting. It is thus heartening that The Kashmir Files, a feature film (not a documentary) written and directed by 2021 National Award winner Vivek Agnihotri, shuns away from the generally in vogue Bollywood movie plots by hitting you with brutal honesty about the Kashmiri Hindu genocide and forced exodus.
Made within the constraints of a limited budget, The Kashmir Files is a brilliantly directed movie, which takes no artistic liberties with the truth. Equally brilliant is the skillfully interwoven screenplay conceived from well-documented and meticulously researched evidence, including hundreds of videotaped interviews from Kashmiri Hindu victims, who are currently scattered across various parts of India and the world. The actors have brilliantly portrayed the pain, horror, and helplessness of the innocent victims, the indifference of authorities in-charge, the skillful ideological brainwashing of youth who often hear opposing viewpoints, and the different versions and interpretations of the Kashmir problem. In a broader context The Kashmir Files is a poignant human story with a vividly painful reminder that terrorism is a blot on the conscience of humanity.
In the US, an audience from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including the larger Indian diaspora, were shell-shocked when they watched The Kashmir Files. Many non-Indian American audience members asked why the world was not aware about the Kashmiri Hindu genocide and why the government of India and its so-called secular democracy let it happen. As captured in video clips now available on social media, many in the audience wept openly, giving vent to a long-suppressed trauma, while others tried in vain to hide their tears. For Kashmiri Hindus attending the premiere, it was a chilling experience leaving them emotionally numb. Some experienced emotional breakdowns, while others experienced moments of catharsis. Given that The Kashmir Files put such an honest spotlight on the personal stories, pain, and anguish of Kashmiri Hindu victims of terrorism, it appeared as if the movie had been written and directed by the victims themselves. Seldom do Bollywood movies affect the audience so profoundly.
In today’s world of manufactured narratives and propaganda, unverified reportage, agenda-tainted journalism, and social media, it is a daunting task to intelligently differentiate between fact and fiction. Just as a Jewish holocaust survivor can tell you the authentic truth about the Jewish holocaust because it is based on personal experience, a Kashmiri Hindu survivor can distinguish fact from fiction about Kashmir’s Islamic terrorism due to his or her own experience and the experience of family, relatives, and immediate neighbors. The 1989-90 massacres and forced exodus was the seventh round in a series of even more horrifying genocides, pogroms and ethnic cleansing beginning in the 14th century CE, none of which find any mention in Indian history textbooks – not even state syllabus textbooks in J&K.
Finally, it must be said that any criticism of the movie within India, whether genuine or armchair criticism, based on personal or political reasons should be welcomed. If the movie elicits visceral reactions, initiates debates and soul-searching by all, then the movie has achieved its loftier and bigger purpose far beyond any box-office returns. We, as a progressive society, all owe the truth to be told about the Kashmiri Hindu genocide and terrorism to the current and future generations, without feeling vengeful, so that all Kashmiris learn the bitter lesson of history and collectively evolve to a mindset that transcends religious intolerance and truly values the precious lives of every Kashmiri Hindu, Sikh and Muslim for tomorrow’s progressive Kashmir.
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.