The comments of the Israeli Filmmaker Nadav Lapid as a member of the Jury panel of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) on 'The Kashmir Files’ has brought the issue of Kashmiri Pandits again to the limelight. Yet their pain, injustice, and sufferings are much more than the current controversy surrounding the film. While questions on the merits of its nomination are being raised, we must ensure that we do not miss the larger picture— justice to Kashmiri Pandits.
The history and account of the cruelty against Kashmiri Pandits, the price they have paid over generations and their plight requires no reiteration. They were not only forcibly exiled from their homes three decades ago but also continue to live as refugees in their own country.
No amount of political correctness or euphemism is enough to justify their sufferings which may well go down as one of the darkest chapters of India’s post-independence history. The assault was not only on their ethnicity and rich culture but on India’s pluralist ethos as well.
Movie Row & Misplaced Plight of Kashmiri Pandits
Having said that, the film is no soother to their wounds either. The extremist reactions to what Nadav Lapid said in context to artistic judgment of the filmmaker are unwarranted as it got spun purely into a subject of politics. A gentle reminder to offence-takers, he critiqued a movie that was nominated at IFFI and not dismissed the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.
It is a shame that the extremists are reducing the saga of their ordeal for over three decades, involving violence and deaths, to a movie for mass consumption.
India is larger than its government, the Kashmiri Pandits' cause and their justice is much larger than a commercial movie that has capitalised on their raw, unfiltered emotions in the name of providing closure to their festering wounds.
Can Kashmiri Pandits Get a Political Status Quo?
The exodus, suffering, and plight of Kashmiri Pandits is undeniable. But the question before us as a nation is – whether our response to the dark chapter of history is a mere film. Will an overly protective attitude towards a film undo decades of injustice against the Kashmiri Pandits? Can we wash our hands off the responsibility of giving them a life of dignity in their ancestral homeland by simply making and nominating a movie? Have we done enough to help them return back to the valley?
The answer is no. Their plight is far greater than a politically influenced film and requires a more active policy action—an action to afford them justice not merely in lip-service. To accord them proper rehabilitation, to protect them against any threat from religious fundamentalists and terrorists so that they can live peacefully in the valley, or at least aspire to.
As we continue to engage in vehement Twitter wars over propaganda films, Kashmiri Pandits still await a dignified return to their motherland. The ones working in Kashmir await the Hon’ble Home Minister’s visit to have their safety concerns addressed. They await prioritisation of Kashmiri Pandits in rehabilitation. Most importantly, they await equal status in the region socially as well as politically.
The deeper issue is about the difference in the Government’s kathani and karni. The reference to Kashmiri Pandits by the Home Ministry as ‘migrant labourers’ highlights the apathetic attitude of the government on the issue which is only driven by political and mass-y considerations. Despite the hue and cry, we have failed to ensure any targeted budgetary allocation or special package for rehabilitation to the Kashmiri Pandits.
Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits Should Be Govt’s Key Priority
The response to my Parliamentary Question on the PM’s Development Package, 2015 by the Hon’ble Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs on the status of land acquisition was unfortunate, laughable, and yet, disheartening.
The Hon’ble Minister informed the Parliament that since the cost of acquisition of private land was high, the government chose to complete the process by providing government land. Is the current government so weak that it is incapable of returning the lands to their rightful owners?
My humble learning as a legislator during the visit to the residences of Rajni Bala and Rahul Bhat has been that the Kashmiri Pandits have suffered long enough. It is not propaganda, tall political speeches or promises that would bring them relief. It is the action for rehabilitation in their own valley, protection in other parts of the country, safety, security and opportunities that will bring them true closure.
Three decades ago, when thousands of Kashmiri Pandits had to flee their homeland, many came to Maharashtra. At that time, under the able guidance of Shri Balasaheb Thackeray, Maharashtra was the only state which opened its doors, hearts, wiped their tears and helped the Kashmiri Pandits grow new roots in this state by giving them a reservation in education. Such an approach needs to be adopted by other states as well.
Thus, while the comments of Nadav Lapid recapture the nation's attention on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits at an international stage, we must not misplace our priorities by losing sight of the actual issue under the garb of pointless politics and propaganda films but to introspect our success in truly providing them justice.
The choice is ours – motivated, divisive and propagandist narratives or Rehabilitation, Justice and Closure to their wounds in letter and spirit!
(Priyanka Chaturvedi is a member of the Shiv Sena. Prior to this, she was a member and one of the National Spokespersons of the Indian National Congress. She tweets @priyankac19. This is an Opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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