The not-so-famous-director Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri is in the news for his movie ‘The Kashmir Files’ which has become a box office blockbuster across the country. After the announcement of the Assembly polls verdict on March 10, ‘The Kashmir Files’ film hit the screens the very next day, on March 11, ‘and since then has been in the news. The movie has once again touched the wounds of the Kashmiri Pandit community by narrating their story of exodus in1990. The message of the movie has gone wrong. Although it’s a fictional story depicting a Kashmiri Pandit student whose parents were killed by militants, the film has created a storm, with reactions ranging from support to criticism and allegations of diversionary tactics.
This is not all; even political circles are buzzing as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have openly praised ‘The Kashmir Files’. The BJP-ruled state governments have come out in its defence by waiving tax on it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lent support to the ‘The Kashmir Files’ and recently at the BJP Parliamentary Party meet he said, “people who always raise the flag of freedom of expression are restless. Instead of reviewing facts, a campaign is being run to discredit it.” Besides, the filmmakers of the ‘Kashmir Files’ also got to meet PM Modi. Such projection of film didn’t go well with local Congress leaders in J&K, and Jammu Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee Chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said, “The government of the day which was supported by BJP at the centre, can’t absolve itself of the sin of the sufferings and killings of the displaced Kashmiri community. Unfortunately, the present government in office for over seven years, has also failed to take any major initiative for their return and rehabilitation and of their children. Only the ongoing projects, schemes & packages of Dr. Manmohan Singh led UPA are being carried forward, at a very slow pace only and there is nothing new for them except crocodile tears for gaining sympathy of crores of countrymen with an eye towards votes”. “The government can’t absolve itself of the continued violence and targeted killings of minority communities and pro-India forces in Kashmir and elsewhere and should take firm result oriented steps for their return, rehabilitation and settlement in an atmosphere of security and harmony by bridging the gaps in communities and not by further vitiating the atmosphere by promoting hatred and division”, he added.
A special screening of this movie was held in Jammu and later while addressing the press Vivek Agnihotri was confronted by a local journalist who asked him, “Why haven’t you shown about Muslims who helped Kashmiri Pandit families in those days?”. He evaded this sharp question by replying, “the concept of this movie was different”. It didn’t end here, as this movie talks about one of the chapters of the history of Kashmir and everything relating to Kashmir always raises high interest in Jammu’s social circles. And it happened this time also, when an incident erupted through a video on Twitter stating that after the release of the movie, screening for the film was stopped in Wave Mall of Jammu. This matter further escalated when Vivek Agnihotri, the director of ‘The Kashmir Files’, quoted one complaint and tweeted, “This is absolutely illegal and undemocratic. Pl don’t surrender to arm twisting and political pressures. And I request the audience to demand the manager of @wavecinemas on what basis they have done it. Ask them to show the written orders from any competent authority”.
The weaponization of the film has deepened the societal divide. The Kashmiri Pandit families in J&K appear also divided. “The ‘Kashmir Files” has stirred a controversy. But the real fact is that the exodus of nearly 3 lakh Hindus, Sikhs and pro-India Muslims was mainly due to targeted killings carried out by Pakistan supported militants since 1987. Main targets were Pandits who were hunted down by militants. Nearly 5 massacres were carried out by terrorists. For 30-years the narrative was being pushed that Pandits left due to the conspiracy and Governor Jagmohan was responsible, but that is not a fact. The theory was forwarded to hide the brutal killings and put blame on the victims themselves and absolve the separatists and militant groups from the crimes committed. ‘Kashmir files’ has depicted some incidents, and those who oppose it should demand an independent probe and investigation of the cases and talk to surviving family members of victims. It should cover all 30 years of Kashmir conflict. However the issue should not be turned into a political game. It will hurt everybody, said Arvind Dhar, a migrant Pandit living in Jammu. Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, a group of the residents living in Kashmir, has tweeted saying that “The Kashmir Files” makes resident Kashmiri Pandits, living in Kashmir, feel unsafe. “As many of us have seen the movie “The Kashmir Files”, it depicts the lives of Kashmiri Pandits and their sufferings. But it fails to shed light on the whole truth behind the Kashmir exodus, along with Kashmiri Pandits many civilians also lost their lives. It blinds us from the entire truth. For telling this generation about the Kashmir exodus is a fantastic job but to portray the Kashmiri Pandits as bait in a political propaganda is very dangerous for different communities as it is causing communal disharmony” said Afaq Hussain Kazmi who is Vice president of Anjuman-e-Imamia in Jammu.
All communities in Kashmir were affected but this movie portrays only that Kashmiri Pandits were affected. Now the Hindu Dogras and members of the Sikhs community have raised their voice openly on social media against Vivek Agnihotri. They are constantly reminding him of the mass killings, rapes, suicides, abduction of women of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) refugees in 1947. Moreover, he is being reminded by many people on various social media platforms that killings in 1947 were the ‘first genocide’ in J&K. They are also demanding that Vivek Agnihotri should now make a movie ‘The Jammu Files’ to appear clean. In the past, ‘The Tashkent Files,’ another film by Agnihotri, was also highly criticized. It would be the happiest moment for all when films help in bringing peace in Jammu and Kashmir.
Dr. Satwant Singh Rissam, PhD
Satwant Singh Rissam is a Jammu-based journalist and columnist.