“Peddling a lie is a sin but hiding the truth is a bigger sin,” is one of the dialogues in The Kashmir Files, and the makers of the movie have done both – peddled lies and hidden the complete truth.
Before going into the intricacies of the movie's storyline, which is filled with concoctions, constructions, and obvious exaggerations, it is pertinent to mention that the pain and suffering that Kashmiri Pandits endured in the 1990s and thereafter cannot be discounted.
Another important point that we all need to keep in mind is the critical approach to any content that we consume.
For instance, there was a recent web series named Narcos on Netflix, a biography of one of the most infamous Columbian drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar, where the cinematic narrative was so strong that by the end of the series, a viewer empathises with Pablo, who was clearly a big criminal.
Cinematic Liberties vs the Truth
Although The Kashmir Files is based on a true story, the makers have definitely used artistic liberty to make it more "dramatic" for cinematic consumption.
The movie is really long and slow, but what keeps one engaged is the wonderful and moving performances by Anupam Kher and Darshan Kumar, who plays the former’s grandson in the movie.
First, though the movie was supposed to document history, it has tried to construct it. And, instead of highlighting the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, it has vilified Kashmiri Muslims to a greater extent.
Now, this may not hurt the mainstream audiences from Indian metropolises, but it does create a wedge between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits, who have been trying to coexist peacefully despite attempts by vested interests to create hostility between the two communities.
Set in the 1990s, the movie starts with a procession of gun-wielding Kashmiri Muslim children, aged eight to 10. Though both international and national media have extensively documented Kashmir, the recruitment of children this young in armed groups has never been established.
The youngest militant reported from the Valley was Mudasir Parray, 15, killed in December 2018 in Srinagar. Apart from this, there have been no reports of mass recruitments of children as young as eight or nine in the history of the Kashmir conflict.
The portrayal of children being involved in armed rebellion isn’t just deeply unsettling but somewhere, it also wrongly shows that the Muslim community sought the massacre of Pandits by arming their children.
Secondly, throughout the movie, the contemporary slogans reported from Kashmir after the 2010 shrine board agitation have been shown as graffiti painted on Pandit houses in the1990s. I come from a town in south Kashmir that shelters hundreds of Pandit families who never left, including my tutor’s family. This literature has not been painted by Kashmiri Muslims on any Pandit house here.
Burhan Wani, Iran and other Lies
Thirdly, there is a funnier tragedy – the makers openly reveal their Islamophobia. In the beginning, a protest is shown with militants addressing a crowd. A militant is shown holding a photo of Ayatullah Khomeini, who is a Shia leader from Iran. Khomeini barely spoke about the Kashmir conflict. Yet, Agnihotri has distorted history and shown him as a figure revered by militants.
Further, the plot also runs parallel to current times, wherein it vilifies India’s left-leaning student organisations. From creating the character of professor Nivedita Menon and using the AISA flag by rebranding it as AIFA, Agnihotri attempts to denigrate the intellectual discourse in universities.
He has shown Jawaharlal Nehru University, which he calls “ANU” in the movie, as a "seat of seditious elements". In the movie, he shows professor Nivedita Menon, whom he has named Radhika Menon, shouting the slogans of “Burhan Wani Zindabad”. Wani was a commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen who had risen to fame after he took the internet by storm.
There isn't a single speech of Menon's where she legitimised armed rebellion in Kashmir or promoted a militant, or, as Agnihotri has shown, compared Burhan Wani with the Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh.
While Pandit groups, such as the Kashmiri Sangarsh Samiti put the death toll of the Kashmiri Pandit’s killings to 400, the official records of the Jammu and Kashmir government put the figure at 289. The movie, on the contrary, claims that at least one lakh pandits were drowned and killed in Dal Lake.
Kashmir's Sufi Tradition
There are no reports of mass killings, except for the fateful Nadimarg massacre where 23 Pandits were killed by militants who were donning army clothes.
Now, if this counts as “genocide”, the term, if not gatekept, can include incidents like the Gawkadal massacre (1990), the Bijbehara massacre (1993), the Sopore massacre (1993), the Kupwara massacre (1994), and more, when thousands of Kashmiri Muslims were targeted and killed. The makers have filtered all of this.
But this is about Pandits and we should stick to the same. Comparing a bigger tragedy to a smaller one won’t ease the pain of either.
The movie also shows Kashmiri Muslims entering a Srinagar hospital and firing indiscriminately at Hindu patients. As per the movie, they were admitted there when blasts rocked their houses, specifically in Srinagar. Though no such spree of blasts has ever been reported from Kashmir, even the hospital, Lal Ded, which is shown as an emergency ward, has been a gynaecology clinic since the 1970s.
The movie also shows Pandits being forcibly converted to Islam since medieval times in Kashmir. This can be easily debunked. Kashmir has had a rich Sufi tradition. Shahi-Hamdan, an Iranian merchant, came to Kashmir to spread the message of Islam as well as taught the locals the art of embroidery. His teachings have been so cohesive that Masjids of Kashmir reverberate to tunes similar to Bhajans. Like many Pandits, Muslim households here desist from consuming meat on specific days, and many of the Muslim saints here are shakaharis (vegetarians).
Last but not the least, historically, Kashmiri Muslims are seen as descendants of Pandits, and conversely, Pandits hold faith in Sufi shrines, too. My father’s friend, Bhushan Lal Sidha, would always swear in the name of “Reshimoal Sahab”, a local Sufi saint.
(Umar Sofi is a Kashmir-based journalist. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)