The Kashmir Files has taken propaganda further to a genocidal level as it stirs Hindu nationalist fervor, radicalizes the Hindu youth against Muslims, and accelerates Islamophobia in India.
Background and Plot of the Movie
While propaganda has engulfed every platform of information dissemination, cinema-movies is no exception as well. When the anti-Muslim sentiments are already touching genocidal level in BJP-RSS led India, the release of The Kashmir Files – a cinematographic propaganda only brews more hatred against Muslim minority. A narrative based movie that recalls the alleged atrocities against Kashmiri Pandits at the hands of Muslims is talk of the town all over India. The movie depicts two distinct timelines – 1990 and 2016 onwards – and labels Muslims as terrorists. The film propagates explicitly that the Kashmiri Muslims are terrorists. Even the Muslim children and youth have been demonized. In an already highly polarized and radicalized Hindu society, the movie has further paved the way towards a genocide of Muslims of India.
India's Cinema Has Dangerous Parallels with Nazi German Cinema
Nazi Germany produced a film, Truimph of the Will, personally commissioned by Adolf Hitler. German Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will was directed, produced, edited and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl in 1935. The writer of the movie in response to the criticism said, “Not a single scene is staged. Everything is genuine. And there is no tendentious commentary for the simple reason that there is no commentary at all. It is history, pure history.” Similarly, the producer of the propaganda movie The Kashmir Files, Vivek Agnihotri, insisted that “every frame, every word in my film is truth”.
In an already highly polarized and radicalized Hindu society, the movie has further paved the way towards a genocide of Muslims of India.
While Vivek Agnihotri and Leni Reifenstahl are separated by both decades and critical acclaim, they find common ground in the propagandist’s most insidious tool, a lie carefully layered upon a kernel of truth.
The lie that Agnihotri bases his film on is that all Muslims must be collectively punished for the Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus, and any violence inflicted upon them is justly deserved.
According to a 2011 study that analysed the content of 50 Bollywood movies, around two-thirds gave an “unfavourable” representation of Muslims. The findings referenced a number of films in the late 1980s and 1990s in which Muslims were inevitably shown as villains or terrorists.
During the Nazi era, one of the critical pillars of propaganda was Volksgemeinschaft, or a national, unified community, dissolving social barriers to create a harmonious whole. In this film, Agnihotri uses the Kashmiri Pandit as a stand-in for the everyman Hindu, and doubles down on myths of fear essential to the Hindutva supremacy project, depicting Muslims as villains.
Where extremists such as those in the Haridwar hate assembly have spouted venomous bile on how the Hindu community must take up arms to protect against the encroaching, rapacious Muslim population, Agnihotri accentuates the hatred against Muslims in India by releasing this movie.
Distorted Facts in the Movie
In the movie, the plot presents government of a Muslim governor in Kashmir during the 1989 crisis. But, according to the factual record, the state of Jammu and Kashmir at that time was ruled by the coalition government with BJP as the second largest party that maliciously planned a genocide against Muslims and asked the Pandits to leave the state.
K. L. Koul, one among the Kashmiri Pandits wrote this in the Daily Alsafa on September 18, 1990, “In January 1990 the day when Jagmohan Malothra was appointed as governor of IIOJK, the sitting Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah resigned and IIOJK was run by a BJP governor.”
The Kashmir Files writer and director Agnihotri not only claims that 4,000 were killed but repeatedly emphasizes throughout the film that it was a “genocide, not an exodus.”1
According to the District Police Headquarter Srinagar, the number of Hindu Pandits who died during the 1989 crisis was 89, while, the number of people who died belonging from other religions with a majority of Muslims was 1635. This number is in clear contradiction to what was depicted in the movie.2
Since 1989, the total number of Hindus who died are 219 while more than 96,000 Muslims have lost their lives in IIOJK. As per the Human Rights Commission in India, 157 people were killed in early 1990s out of which only 37 were Hindus while the rest (120) were Muslims.
According to an article in India Today titled “More Muslims killed by terrorists in 17 years than Kashmiri Pandits, tweets Congress; deletes it later” mentions that:
• The Kerala unit of the Congress, at first, tried to equate the number of Kashmiri Pandit fatalities with those of Muslims in a tweet, saying: “It was the terrorists who targeted the Pandits. In 17 years (1990-2007), 399 Kashmiri Pandits were killed in terrorist attacks. The number of Muslims killed by terrorists in the same period was 15,000.”
• In the 1948 communal riots, after partition, over 1,00,000 Kashmiri Muslims were killed in Jammu, but there were no retaliatory killings of Pandits. Pandits were victimized at the hands of Hindutva BJP like Kashmiris.
• To reveal more, the article claimed that there were more “facts about Kashmiri Pandits”, and blamed the RSS and BJP for the exodus. It also blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party for creating a Hindu Muslim divide in the country.3
Kashmiri Pandit organisation claimed that at least 399 Pandits have been killed since the eruption of militancy in IIOJK. Sanjay Tickoo (a Kashmiri Pandit who was 20-years-old in 1989-90, when he witnessed what came to be known as the “Kashmiri Pandits Exodus”) dismissed the claims by migrant Pandit organisations that more than 3000 members of the community were killed in the last 20 years.4
Furthermore, Farooq Abdullah in an interview to India Today said, “A truth commission of some kind should be put in place to investigate not just what happened to the Kashmiri Pandits but also to the Sikhs and the Muslims in Kashmir in the 1990s”. He further said that, "My MLAs, my workers, my ministers, we had to pick their meat flesh from tree-tops. That was the situation."
According to a 2011 study that analysed the content of 50 Bollywood movies, around two-thirds gave an “unfavourable” representation of Muslims.
Criticism on the Movie
After the release of movie, Ex-Kashmiri CM Dr Farooq Abdullah in an interview said that “The tragedy itself not only affected the Kashmiri Pandits but also the Muslim majority living in Kashmir. At that time there were parties that were interested in ethnic cleansing and some people played that part.”5
The movie is set to aggravate Hindu extremism in India by reproducing history in a destructive manner. Ather Zia, an anthropologist, said, “You open wounds for several things. You open wounds for healing or you open wounds for further wounding. And I think this is the opening of a wound for further wounding rather than healing. We have to really understand why this film is being deployed the way it is in the current moment. It really suits the government of India to have this kind of resolution”.
Since 1989, the total number of Hindus who died are 219 while more than 96,000 Muslims have lost their lives in IIOJK.
Sumati Thusoo in an article titled, The Kashmir Files: This Cathartic Film is not Without its Prejudices, published in The Quint writes, “The depiction of violence and suffering is overwhelming and can often prompt the audience to take sides.”
Rana Ayyub in her article titled, I tried watching ‘The Kashmir Files.’ I left the theater to screams of ‘Go to Pakistan, published in The Washington Post writes, “Hate in India now packs courts and movie theaters, and my despair is giving way to fear. The dark forces seem more invincible than ever. The film began, and within 20 minutes there were disturbing scenes of Muslims lusting after Hindu women and a Muslim neighbor betraying his Hindu friend to support terrorism. There were scenes of Muslim kids flaunting Kalashnikovs and insulting Hindu deities. At one point in the movie, a Muslim militant tells a Kashmiri Hindu who wore attire depicting a Hindu god that only those chanting “Allahu akbar” will be allowed to flourish in Kashmir. That’s when the audience started chanting “Jai Shri Ram” (Glory to Lord Ram). The teens in the front row whistled and started clapping at the slogans. Scenes of Muslims in skullcaps brutally murdering Hindus drew painful gasps from the audience.”
Endorsement of the Movie
As India is ruled by a right-wing RSS Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi, he recommended the movie to his nation. Indeed, Modi is not only encouraging Indians to watch the movie due to its impact on Hindu sentiment but he is radicalizing his Hindu nation to carry an anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Amit Shah and other leaders of the BJP government have lauded the film and exhorted all Indians to watch it. Apart from Modi’s personal endorsement, his government also exempted the movie from taxes, which enabled the audience to buy tickets at a cheaper price. Several states ruled by the BJP exempted entertainment tax and police was given special leave to watch the movie.6 It has been endlessly discussed and promoted in Indian media.
According to Zee News India, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat praised the movie and said it has created public awareness across the country and outside about the reality behind the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in 1990.7 “It won't take many days for the fulfilment of our pledge of returning to the valley. It will come true very soon and we have to continue making attempts in this direction.”
Social media is flooded with videos of members of the audience erupting in rousing hate speeches after seeing the film, with calls for the slaughter of Muslims and a boycott of Muslim businesses. Often, these speeches are staged by Hindu vigilante organizations ideologically allied with Modi’s government. In a climate of growing intolerance, where exclusion and marginalization of Muslims has become mainstream political discourse, the movie is making Indian Muslims even more fearful.
Fallout of the Movie
After the movie was released, videos started circulating on social media which showed audiences shouting profanities at Muslims, calling them traitors, asking Hindus to pick up arms, and calling for Muslims to be exterminated.
The movie is set to lit the fire of Hindu extremism in India by reproducing history in a destructive manner. Ather Zia, an anthropologist, said, “You open wounds for several things. You open wounds for healing or you open wounds for further wounding. And I think this is the opening of a wound for further wounding rather than healing.
IIOJK thus fits neatly into the BJP’s use of Muslims as the bogeyman to unite the vastly disparate Hindu voter base against the dangerous “other”. This mass radicalization is driven at various levels through social media, divisive political messaging, a craven mainstream news media (at times compared with Radio Rwanda), and historical revisionism, increasingly through cinema.
Apart from Modi’s personal endorsement, his government also exempted the movie from taxes, which enabled the audience to buy tickets at a cheaper price. Several states ruled by the BJP exempted entertainment tax and police was given special leave to watch the movie.
Slogans such as “Desh k ghadaron ko goli maro salon ko” (We must kill them) were chanted by the Hindus coming out of cinema after watching the movie.8
Lynching, humiliation, and degradation of Muslims have become the order of the day. Calls for genocide and social and economic boycotts of Muslims were already widespread but after the release of the movie, the hate-speech and resultant violence against Muslims has accelerated.
In a nutshell, The Kashmir Files is a cinematic propaganda that can be attributed to India’s nefarious agenda of further Hindu radicalization. The distorted depiction of historical events, labelling Muslims as terrorists and generating an environment of reclaiming the land of Kashmir from Muslims, it is a blatant attempt to engineer demographic changes in IIOJK. Despite the successive warnings of an impending threat of Muslim genocide in India, the continued fanning of hatred by RSS-BJP government amounts to crimes against humanity. The world must step up before the radicalization and the use of state machinery carries out the worst genocide of Muslims in the history in India. It will remain as a dark memory imprinted on the collective subconscious of the world, if not averted timely.
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