The Kashmir Files: A Poignant Tale Of An Exodus Susceptible To Weaponization

Graphic by Aarathi K G

Some have called it devastating; some distressing; some genocidal; some a rightwing propaganda; and those who endured the agony in reality, the Kashmiri Pandits, found an emotional deliverance in it, a catharsis, a depiction of the pain that was under censorship hitherto. Muzzled voices have found a loudspeaker. The Kashmir Files has hit the theatres like a bullet and pierced millions of hearts, especially in the Hindi heartland. But now, when the story has finally found a narration of sorts, will the ripples stop right there? Or, are we to witness the infliction of fresh wounds in healing the past?

The Kashmir Files is a film shot in a documentary format that derives all of its content from over 500,000 chronicled anecdotes and first-hand accounts of the ordeal of innocent Kashmiri Pandits who bore the brunt of the separatist movement despite having nothing to do with the regional politics of the period. And their only fault had been their identity, which could have probably obstructed the formation of another Pakistan.

In the complete three-hour movie, the story wholly revolves around Krishna Pandit, the protagonist of the film and his transformation from Aazadi Supporter to the champion of the cause of Kashmiri Pandits. His journey of acquainting with the other side of the story involves a lot of soul-searching and mind war between the hard-etched leftist mindset and the ultimate truth that was kept miles far from him by his grandfather.

Oscillating between modern time and the horrendous past of Kashmir of the early 90s, The Kashmir Files is a grim tale that scratches the scabs and brings back to the memory the times when Jammu and Kashmir were drunk on the wine of separatism. Times when terrorism shot its gun off Islam’s shoulders. Times when Kashmir had almost fallen to the secessionist forces backed by Pakistani proxy militia. The movie has spilled the grief of pandits in the bluntest manner we could imagine without keeping anything back, just like the movie Haider – also a narrative involving Kashmir – did a few years back.

The release of The Kashmir Files has, in a manner, relieved the Kashmiri Pandits of the burden that they had carried stoically over their chests for three long decades. Many victims of the inhumane and avoidable tragedy of Kashmir, who still live with the scars of the violence wreaked on them, cried their hearts out publicly for the first time, and the world listened. And the world not only heeded but also wept and resonated with their pain. Vivek Agnihotri, the director and the father of the film, succeeded in the sense that he could connect Kashmiri Pandits with the rest of India.

But the kind of attention and welcoming The Kashmir Files has garnered since its release worldwide, apart from being overwhelming, is a debatable matter, one to be looked after very sensitively. And I am saying this based on hundreds of reasons, one of which is the heavy involvement of unnecessary parties. For example, the states governed by rightwing parties of India have declared the movie tax-free; and some governments even went to the extent of granting a holiday to employees wanting to watch the movie. Shops, hotels, and professionals have offered discounts on their products and services for the movie’s audience.

The love, commendations, and ratings that the movie and the entire crew are gathering are understandable and praiseworthy as they have lent a platform to the unheard, suppressed voices of Indians. But don’t you think the hype is a bit too exaggerated? In saying that, I am seriously not contesting the love and their hearts people are pouring out on The Kashmir Files, but what I am questioning is the commercialization and hijacking of the movie whose sole motive is to deliver justice to the victims of terrorism.

There are hotels and restaurants hardly known outside of their localities presenting discounts and obscure professionals offering to serve pro bono to the audiences of this movie through striking advertisements in evening newspapers. I would call these PR stunts not only a disservice to the cause of Kashmiri Pandits but also a cunning utilisation of the opportunity to gain popularity. But who can question such unethical marketing campaigns running under the banner of patriotism when the fervour around something is so high, especially when the government officials and citizens themselves surf that wave?

And what is more worrisome of all is the latest trend on all social media platforms, especially on Twitter, the capital of the virtual world. Not hundreds, not thousands but tens of thousands of hashtags have been driving the popularity of The Kashmir Files for almost a week on all social media platforms. While it’s not the pace at which people are trending the movie on Twitter that concerns me, it is the direction of the narrative that bothers me.

On the one hand, where the rightwing twitterers have made it a Raliv Galiv Ya Chaliv versus Jai Shree Ram contest, the separatist elements, on the other hand, are endeavouring their best to justify the pogroms as a means of achieving independence. These attempts to hijack or nosedive The Kashmir Files could jeopardise the already strained brotherhood in India if left unchecked.

The Kashmir Files is not just any other concocted movie that will go into hibernation and settle down eventually after an aggressive four-week rally but a movie that will stay with us for decades to come as a grim reminder. Its story involves the real suffering of people who still live amongst us silently as victims, awaiting a fitting justice and hoping to return to their original homes someday. Apart from being a narration of a tormenting past, The Kashmir Files is also an imploring plea to the citizens of India to never again fall prey to any zealous call that asks to butcher fellow beings and engage in fratricidal slaughtering. And I believe it is for this reason that The Kashmir Files itself is not Islamophobic but a mirror for observers.

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