The Kashmir Files opens with an innocuous scene of kids playing cricket in an icy landscape.
But what follows quickly leaves the viewer chilled.
Innocent, ordinary people going about their lives shot at point blank range simply for being the “wrong” religion; a kid brutally beaten for barracking for the “wrong” cricket team; ordinary housewives threatened with rape, forced marriage and conversion.
The film follows the journey of a Kashmiri Pandit family, witnessing through their eyes the brutality, the slow dismantling of the state structure, the indifference of the Indian government, the fear, the murders, the rapes, that led to the peaceful Hindu minority community having to flee their homeland.
Most of the scenes in the film are based on real-life incidents, but they are so gruesome that your mind boggles that any human would be capable of it – that too on the basis of religion.
In an inspired move, the film juxtaposes the current international narrative on Kashmir’s “freedom fight” with the events of 1990, the genocide, the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Kashmir bringing a demographic change in the state.
Using a fictitious university, modelled no doubt on the infamous Jawaharlal Nehru University of New Delhi (India’s capital), the film’s writer presents the arguments of those who support separatism in Kashmir. Doing so raises the film above the propaganda and forces the viewer into an intellectual discussion where facts dismantle the current narrative of victimising the separatists- prevalent in the west and among a set of people in India.
Retold after a gap of about 30 years, the story of what happened to a minority Hindu community in India’s Jammu and Kashmir is all the more shocking in hindsight.
Questions come to mind:
How could such barbarity exist?
Why didn’t the then government of India do anything?
What will happen to Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits?
Will they ever be able to return home?
And could what happen in Kashmir happen elsewhere in India or the world – and what can we do to stop it?
I will leave you with these questions because you need to find or seek answers to them.
Here is what the new generation of Kashmiri Hindus in Australia are saying about the film:
Riya Raizada, 24-year-old Australian-Indian Juris Doctor candidate at Monash University:
The cultural genocide of Kashmir is something I never learnt about despite having a direct connection to a side of my family who experienced it firsthand, and that is my own fault.
As the daughter of a Kashmiri woman who lived through the events depicted in Kashmir Files, I had a deep sense that I was being let in on a secret – a hidden part of my mother’s life. The Kashmir Files is difficult to watch, but the most necessary teachings of the world’s history often are. It is a harrowing film, and in a sold-out screening in Melbourne, it is hard to forget that it is a reality that many of the audience members would have been eyewitnesses to.
When you hear the word ‘genocide’, you think of the Holocaust in the 1940s, but you don’t think of Kashmir in the 1990s. This is due to the systemic suppression of information, the corruption of key political players at the time, and the creation of false narratives designed to conflict with history itself. Agnihotri highlighted this in his film and did not hesitate in this attempt to show the world the brutal truth of what occurred in Kashmir, what happened to Kashmir, and what happened to my relatives.
As a Kashmiri who previously had not been exposed to the reality of my own history, I am grateful that Agnihotri provided a masterclass in exposition via media – a point raised in the film itself – eventuating in The Kashmir Files. As a daughter, I am heartbroken but proud. As a law student, I am motivated and refreshed in my passion for justice. As a human being, I am disappointed in the past but hopeful for the future.
During the film, I heard the phrase ‘bilkul aisa tha’ multiple times, and this is a testament to the triumph of The Kashmir Files.
Aditi Razdan, 25-year-old Australian-born Kashmiri Pandit lawyer in Melbourne:
The Kashmir Files is difficult for Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris alike to watch. At its core, the Kashmir Files bears witness to the atrocities that Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) experienced in 1990 when they were displaced and dispossessed from their homes in Kashmir.
For non-Kashmiris, it may be difficult to grasp the multiple intersecting stories at once unfolding on screen. The plotlines transcend generational divides, time frames and ideological dispositions. The film struggles to move smoothly between the present-day discourses on the ‘Kashmir problem’ and the historical events in 1990. It attempts to present a commentary on disinformation and misinformation, particularly in our current political climate. At times it is a coming-of-age film for its young Kashmiri Pandit protagonist, Krishna Pandit. And the film is also a brutally authentic, fictionalised account of one Pandit family’s trauma and destruction. The force of each scene required a depth of prior knowledge, which most non-Kashmiris do not have.
The film poses different difficulties for Kashmiri Pandits. We are familiar with every scene and story in the film. The characters and narratives that we watched on screen echoed the lullabies, vernacular and cries we hear in our homes. We have grown up with stories of exodus, of fleeing. We understand the helplessness and betrayal Anupam Kher masterfully conveys in his role as the elderly Pushkar Nath. Non-Kashmiri audience members were palpably shocked at the brutality on screen – massacres of entire Pandit families in villages, survivors being forced to watch their families be murdered, Pandit women being terrorised and sawed in half, a Pandit woman being forced to eat rice soaked in her dead husband’s blood. But for Pandits, these scenes were not dramatisations. They are part of our community’s memory archives – archives that outsiders have seldom engaged with.
The Kashmir Files is, at times, lacking in cohesion and storytelling. Entire historical moments, or contemporary political discourses, are ‘told’ rather than ‘showed.’ Pushkar Nath’s four non-Kashmiri Indian friends represent the multiple Indian institutions that failed, and continue to fail, Kashmiri Pandits. Pallavi Joshi, as Professor Menon, evokes the frustrating Indian intellectualism that on one hand advocates for human rights, while simultaneously silencing and erasing Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland and stories. Kashmiri Muslims are depicted mostly one-dimensionally as antagonists, a role that is shared by the negligent governments of the day. The film attempts to thread together a multitude of people and institutions who were complicit or actively involved in the trauma of Kashmiri Pandits. Evidently, the nuance behind certain characters and events cannot be adequately woven through without many more hours of footage.
But for Kashmiri Pandits, this is the first time such a powerful and graphic account of our history has been widely consumed. Of course, the ‘Kashmir problem’ is hypervisible in politics and media both within and outside India. But hypervisibility has also desensitised and distanced people from the set of unique horrors that Kashmiri Pandits saw and felt in 1990. This film goes some way in reformulating this dynamic.
Notably, the film briefly explores the rejection by judicial and institutional actors to hold an inquiry into the murders of Kashmiri Pandits and the collusion of state and violent actors in the breakdown of Kashmiri society in 1989-1990. These are two issues that should be considered by future filmmakers. More importantly, the Jammu and Kashmir and Indian governments must understand that an inquiry is a necessary first step towards healing for Kashmiris. Without this healing, the ‘Kashmir problem’ and how it affects all Kashmiris – not just Pandits – will be hypervisible and unsolved.
For my parents, who were directly affected by the exodus, their tears speak to the emotional potence of the movie more than any commentary levelled at its plot development and historicity will. I can only hope that the hours of footage and oral history interviews that
informed this film will be made available so that the personal memory archive of Kashmiri Pandits can serve as an impetus for political and institutional accountability.
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