Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Video editor: Mohd. Irshad Alam
The Kashmir Files is a movie that weaponises the pain and suffering of Kashmiri Pandits to create an environment of disaffection against Muslims, against Muslims from Kashmir and Muslims from the rest of India, against universities like JNU, against professors and against journalists.
All the anti-Muslim hate you’re seeing in cinema halls in different parts of the country during and after people watching the film are not the unlikely but rather the seemingly intended consequence of the movie, but before we get into how and why The Kashmir Files achieves all of this, let’s make something abundantly clear.
Look, it is definitely important to highlight the pain and suffering of Kashmiri Pandits who fled the valley in 1990 and to talk about the violence and atrocities that led to their exodus. But The Kashmir Files does so with a lens of inciting hatred against Muslims, journalists and the like - more than filling you with empathy for the Kashmiri Pandits who lost their homes and loved ones, it implores you to hate these “others”.
For example, anyone who is critical of internet being disconnected in Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370, or children being unfairly detained by law enforcement, is painted with the same brush - either they are a terrorist or a terrorist sympathiser working against India.
And this is a ‘masterstroke’ by director Vivek Agnihotri in the movie, from a propaganda POV at least. Agnihotri gets the villains of the movie - terrorist Bitta Karate and professor Radhika Menon - to articulate several legitimate concerns affecting the people of Kashmir, and indeed of India.
But because these two are villains who are shown to be working against India, and they are the only people who are shown speaking about these issues, the logical connection that Agnihotri wants the audience to make is very clear.
That anyone speaking up about these issues, such as on the plight of ordinary Kashmiris in the post-370 crackdown, or the enforced disappearances that have plagued the region for decades, or the systematic infringement of political rights and the widespread detentions of leaders opposed to the BJP, anyone talking about ANY of these issues is to been as an anti-India agent working with Pakistan-backed terrorists.
Along with nuance, the first thing Agnihotri leaves the film devoid of is the space for legitimate disagreement, dissent and critical thought pertaining to Kashmir.
The film is replete with grave factual errors too, but we have other articles on The Quint that go into that. Let’s now get to the calls to violence in the movie.
Clear Incitement to Civilians to Take Up Violence
The film openly advocates for violence against those you disagree with.
At one point in The Kashmir Files, for example, one of the sensible and favoured protagonists of the movie proudly proclaims that one day, when the people of this country become wise, they will drag journalists onto the streets and thrash them in public view.
That’s a clear and direct incitement to violence, right?
If an individual were to make that statement publicly, say at a political event, to a whole crowd of people in attendance, it would amount to breaking the law. It would violate sections of the Indian Penal Code like Section 505 - statements conducing to public mischief.
Sure, Vivek Agnihotri wishes to criticise journalists and the ills of the media through his film - but to call for publicly dragging and thrashing journalists on the streets?
At another point, while talking about what justice really is, a former IAS officer is shown dreaming about picking up a gun and killing a Kashmiri militant.
Just pause and underscore that - a civilian, and one of the key protagonists of the movie, is shown considering picking up arms to achieve his idea of justice.
It’s even referred to as prayaschit - the Hindi word for atonement, or the action of making amends for a wrong or injury. Through that scene, the film overtly suggests violence by civilians as a method for that atonement - or as the film describes it, as “justice”.
How the Target Shifts From Kashmiri Militants to Indian Muslims At Large
There is a dialogue in the film that explicitly raises fears of the whole of India facing a situation like what happened in Kashmir.
Now, it doesn’t take much to realise that the film isn’t referring to Kashmiri Muslim militants taking over the entire country, but is instead spreading the familiar Hindutva conspiracy theory that Muslims in India wish to make the whole country Muslim-dominated, Muslim-majority, and what not.
There’s a dialogue in the movie about how all Kashmiris were Hindus earlier and then Muslims began forcibly converting them. And then the monologue at the end of the film laments how Kashmir was a cradle of civilisation earlier but has deteriorated since.
Again, it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together as to what the film is pointing towards - that Kashmir being a Muslim-majority state (now Union Territory) and Kashmir’s civilisational deterioration are supposed to have gone hand-in-hand, like cause and effect.
A Target on JNU And Its Professors
The character of university Professor Radhika Menon (played by Pallavi Joshi) is shown as unidimensionally evil and acting against the Indian state. Throughout the film, we don’t even get clarity about her motivations for doing so, but she’s decidedly ‘anti-national’ according to the lens of the movie.
The university campus shown is a clear attempt to deride JNU and its campus politics. Given that Kashmir Files has been touted and promoted as a film based on true events, this demonisation of JNU and its academics is part of Agnihotri’s attempt to malign the university for having students and professors that continue to question and be critical of the current regime.
Radhika Menon’s dialogue in the movie “Sarkar toh unki hai, par system toh abhi bhi humara hai” is also one broad-brush dialogue that paints the professor as part of some nefarious deep-state conspiracy - but neither the film nor anything in the public domain provide any evidence to support that claim.
Again, this is a real university and its academics that this movie is clearly maligning, amplifying them as an even greater target for the Hindutva ecosystem as well. Needless to say, in our current political climate, that is enough reason for worry, and fear.
The Hate is On Full Display, But The Filmmakers Are Silent About It
We’ve seen one viral video after another of anti-Muslim hate speeches being made in movie theatres during and after the screening. Several of these videos feature regular Hindutva ecosystem hate-mongers like Deepak Singh Hindu and Vinod Sharma.
But has director Vivek Agnihotri or any of his star cast and crew condemned these explicit calls for violence against Muslims?
Not that we’ve heard or seen of so far. If anything, that silence speaks volumes.
The anti-Muslim hate on display might be made by the Hindutva ecosystem’s usual suspects, but the film undoubtedly fuels that same environment and furthers the same cause.
By the end of the movie, when audiences cheer and hoot after watching a movie on human tragedy and suffering, happiness and jubilation seem to be a surprising reaction to have. But when you look at it as an expression of the seeming vindication of anti-Muslim sentiment, you realise that that jubilation in itself explains what is wrong with the movie.
That the Kashmir Files foregrounds the plight of Kashmiri Pandits since 1990, but it does so with a lens that pushes audiences towards hating Muslims, journalists, and academics in JNU for it.
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