The Kashmir Files: Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and the battle for India’s soul

New Delhi, March 15:
Polarisation between the political Right and Left has grown phenomenal in India particularly after a high-octane demonstrate at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to commemorate the execution of the once JKLF activist and the alleged Jaish-e-Mohammad operative Afzal Guru in February 2016. Notwithstanding the JNU’s in-house inquiry, coupled with an investigation by the Delhi Police, the identities of the participants are still shrouded in a mystery.
None of the male or female characters in the choreography, whose faces were clearly captured by scores of the cameras, figures in the Delhi Police charge-sheet. On that occasion, the BJP leadership at the Centre reportedly believed that the identification would lead to the arrest of a number of young men and women from Kashmir. This, as per the BJP’s apprehension, would queer the pitch for continuation of the ruling coalition with the PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti.
Mehbooba’s father, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had died a month back and she was in fresh negotiations with the BJP for continuation of the PDP-BJP alliance during the JNU controversy.
Guru had been executed at Delhi’s Tihar Jail on 9 February 2013 after he was convicted by court for his alleged participation in the JeM’s fidayeen attack on the Indian Parliament. Six heavily-armed terrorists and three CRPF personnel died in the attack on Parliament.
The slogans at the demonstration were brazenly anti-national: ‘Bharat tere tukde honge Inshallah Inshaallah’, ‘Burhan wali azaadi’, ‘Geelani wali azaadi’, ‘Tum kitne Afzal maroge, har ghar se Afzal niklega’ et al. The new high in the ideological war brought home to India’s population that a section of the JNU was a veritable madrasa for jihad and azaadi.
Vivek Agnihotri, the maker of The Tashkent Files, has at the most opportune time chosen this background of the ideological clash as the centre stage of his latest film ‘The Kashmir Files’. He has given the stellar role of Prof. Radhika Menon, the Leftist ideologue at the JNU, to wife Pallavi Joshi. Radhika brainwashes Krishna, a Kashmiri Pandit student, into a consummate Leftist.
Pushkar Nath, an erudite Kashmiri Pandit, unfolds a collective version of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in 1990 and generates a reverse conflict within Krishna. Krishna learns how a JKLF terrorist Farooq Ahmad Dar aka Bitta Karate killed dozens of the Pandits mercilessly, resulting into the minority community’s en masse migration from Kashmir. He is told how helpless Pandit women like Girja Tikoo were shot dead; how another woman of the community was forced to eat the rice soaked with her slain husband’s blood; and, how 23 Pandits-men, women and children-were massacred at Nadimarg, Pulwama, in March 2003.
Bitta Karate, currently in Delhi’s Tihar Jail for his alleged involvement in a case of terror funding being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), is known for his custodial admission of having killed 20-25 Pandits in the beginning of 1990. He was arrested and subjected to a trial but the judge set him free as the prosecution failed to prove charges against him. Enjoying freedom, he married an officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Administrative Service before he landed into a fresh trouble after the death of 40 paramilitaries in a car bomb explosion in February 2019.
The explosion also forced the authorities to arrest and jail the JKLF’s chairman and former ‘commander-in-chief’ Yasin Malik, involved in killing of four Indian Air Force personnel in January 1990 and kidnapping of the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter, Rubaiya, in December 1989. Slain squadron leader Ravi Khanna’s wife in Jammu has, however, objected to ‘wrong depiction’ of her husband and got a brief clip stayed by a court.
Agnihotri claims to have interviewed 700 Pandits and taken the stories of violence straight from the families of the victims of terror, making his project more of a documentary than a routine Bollywood film.
Contrary to the common perception, Agnihotri’s film is not essentially on the killings and resultant displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits. It is rather a docudrama in the backdrop of India’s ideological clash in the polarised intelligentsia, particularly the academia, which has been successfully capitalised by the Right wing, winning Lok Sabha and Assembly elections without break since 2014. The film being declared tax-free in some BJP-ruled States and the core team-Agnihotri, Pallavi and co-producer Abhishek Agarwal-being granted a photo op with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is understandable.
Agnihotri-also perhaps the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)-seems to have taken care that the movie does not ignite hatred and anger against the valley’s majority Muslim community which has every potential of being exploited by Pakistan at a politically crucial time. Since the number of the militants’ victims runs into thousands of the Muslims as compared to only hundreds of the Pandits in the first 13 years, any attempt to villainise the perpetual bigger victim would only reduce Agnihotri’s film to a travesty of history and cheap propaganda. This is why we hear most of the people returning from the theatres vomit their ire on “Congressis” and “sickularists”, not on the Kashmiris or the Muslims.
Despite the fact that the BJP was a constituent of Prime Minister VP Singh’s coalition government for about 11 months in 1989-90, Agnihotri’s film has built a narrative that the Congress party was singularly responsible for the Kashmiri Pandits’ ‘genocide’ and exodus from their home and hearth.
TKF’s domestic box office collection was Rs 3.55 crore on 11 March which shot up to Rs 8.50 crore, earning Rs 12.05 crore on the first two days. It is now running at 2000 theatres across India. Paradoxically TFK would be watched everywhere in the world except on the ground zero Kashmir where cinema has been permanently shut under a militant diktat since 1 January 1990. It would be available for the Kashmiris only through OTT which is unlikely in the next 3-4 months.

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