It is a shame that the heinous acts were kept under the carpet, and we, the Indians, were kept in the dark. We feel ashamed and disturbed that we had no clue of the atrocities on our own Kashmiri Hindus that too in our own backyard.
During the Oscar award ceremony, Stephen Spielberg, the director of Schindler’s List had implored the educators to teach Holocaust in schools. Schindler’s List was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture and Best Director in 1994. This was a movie on the Holocaust–the genocide of some six million European Jews during World War II.
Similar to the Holocaust, we know about the Cambodian genocide, which was the systematic persecution and killing of 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979 by the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of the Communist Party of Kampuchea general secretary Pol Pot. Any tourist who visits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum today will be educated about the torture and extermination meted to Cambodians.
Alas, did we get educated about the mass exodus and barbaric killing of Kashmiri Hindus by Islam extremists right in our country? That too, as recently as in the 1990s? The answer is NO. Now we have started realising the Kashmir genocide. On March 23, 2003, 24 Hindu Kashmiri Pandits in the village of Nadimarg in Pulwama District of Jammu and Kashmir were killed by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists. The armed militants came dressed in counterfeit military uniforms and dragged the Hindus out from their homes, lined them, and shot them with automatic weapons. Over five lakh Kashmiri Pandits were persecuted, forced out of their homeland, and hundreds of them were murdered for many years. The Kashmir Files attempts to show that dark history to the masses. It was an eye-opener for all those who watched the movie with pin-drop silence on the second day at DRC (it was a packed house, though).
It is a shame that the heinous acts were kept under the carpet, and we, the Indians, were kept in the dark. We feel ashamed and disturbed that we had no clue of the atrocities on our own Kashmiri Hindus that too in our own backyard. We should apologise to the community for being a part of this indifference for a long period. The Kashmir Files pricks one’s conscience.
Further, whoever was at the top level of administration during atrocities on Kashmiri Pandits, be it in then Jammu and Kashmir state or in the union government or the agencies like NHRC, who kept the deadly truth of genocide and atrocities a secret to please a section of the ‘minority’ community and circulated false information should be brought to books. Separatist leaders like Yasin Malik or Bitta Karate, the masterminds behind the brutal mass killing of Kashmir Pandits, were roaming freely in the Valley! For them, slogans like Azadi or asi gachi Pakistan, Bata ros ta batanev san (we want Pakistan, with Kashmiri Hindu women and without their men-folk) were music to their ears and motivation to kill innocent Hindus! They had the ‘blessings’ of politicians and pseudo-intellectuals. The Islamist militancy in the valley grew unabated.
When I was doing my master’s at IIT-Kanpur during 1986-88, some of my north Indian friends used to mention such atrocities on Hindus in Kashmir. But we used to discuss the assassination of Indira Gandhi and atrocities on Sikhs more than the massacre of Kashmir Hindus. Since this unfortunate incident happened in October 1984, it was quite a ‘recent’ topic for our discussion. We were indifferent to or ignorant of Kashmir issues. I still remember, one day my M. Tech thesis supervisor, a Kashmiri (not sure whether he was a Pandit), was in depression. His relatives were having a tough time in their hometowns in Kashmir and were planning to shift their base either to Delhi or Kanpur. This was in the year 1987!
After seeing The Kashmir Files, I called my good friend Prakash Belvadi to express my anguish and, of course, to congratulate him for his touchy acting. Even before I could build conversation, he said, “Shekar, this movie is very disturbing”. Prakash, who has played the role of a doctor in The Kashmir Files, was quite emotional while saying that every Indian should apologise for his/her silence on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. He frankly admitted that though he was a journalist in the 1990s, he chose to be indifferent to the fate meted out to them. “When I read the script, I was shocked because until then I did not have details of the horrors and exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley in the 1990s”.
Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, the film, set in the 1990s during the Kashmir insurgency, was not an easy film to bring to the big screen. It wasn’t easy to watch the film either. Actress-producer Pallavi Joshi (Vivek’s wife) recently revealed that a fatwa was issued against the duo on the last day of shoot in Kashmir, and they had to quickly pack off. They spent four years to make the film, with such extensive detailed research of close to 700 hard-hitting interviews that are testimonials from first-generation victims of the genocide of the Kashmiri Hindus. They have stitched the gathered authentic information together to give a clear overview of a period as bewildering as it was brutal. It is a heart-wrenching narrative of the pain, struggle and depressing account of Kashmiri Hindus.
Chaiti Narula, in her review in India Today, aptly writes, “These are stories that need to be told and, for many soft separatists, it may be a hard pill to swallow. Think about it for a second. If there have been such brutal atrocities that the Kashmiri Hindus have gone through, would you not keep your political leanings aside for the sake of humanity and hope for some closure for the first generation victims in their right to justice?’. It is true that the history books, academics alike have skipped pressing on the excruciating and extensive details of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. It was a monumental failure on the part of the state in its obligation to protect the minority Hindu Pandits in the valley”.
The enthusiastic audiences are heavily impressed with the film. Kudos to Vivek Agnihotri and Pallavi Joshi, who have shown the courage and commitment to bring this brutal truth to the world after 31 years of suppression. Kashmiri Pandits have the right to justice, and the land rightly belongs to them. We should look at the true history, understand the dark chapter that has been revisited, and honestly promote human rights. Henceforth, the whole nation is with Kashmiri Hindus, and they are no longer alone in the battle.
After watching many debates on The Kashmir Files on TV channels for the past 2-3 days, let me recall what the legendary novelist Dr S. L. Bhyrappa has said many times. “We cannot truly comprehend the history of our nation or the world, unless we unshackle ourselves from the bonds of false knowledge, desire and action. If learning lessons from history is a mark of enlightenment, so is breaking free from it. This applies equally to every religion, caste, creed and group.”
(The writer is the former Principal of NIE and an educational consultant)