Truth cannot be suppressed for ever!

‘The Kashmir Files’ is that truth based on indisputable facts about the Kashmiri Pandits that needed to be told to the whole world, just as the holocaust of the Jews by Hitler and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovinia

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

‘The Kashmir Files’, a film made by well-known filmmaker Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, has been released in India, the UK and the US in the past few days, and there is no stopping the crowds that are filling up the theatres to watch the film.Anupam Kher on ‘The Kashmir Files’: ‘I have cried on-screen in every scene in the film’. Pic – TFIPOST

Over three decades before this film was produced, however, there is ample documentation of the rise of militancy and systematic killings in Kashmir starting in the 1980s. They led to that horrible night of 19th January 1990 when the most brutal mass assault of Kashmiri Pandits peaked. Hundreds of men, women and children were killed, girls and women raped and murdered or forcibly taken away. Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley to become internal refugees in their own country, and Sikhs also were not spared.A Sikh girl who was my student at the SSR Medical College and who was then in school, told me about how many times she had to hide under the staircase or elsewhere in their house in Srinagar when the shouts of militants roaming nearby were heard.

Francois Gautier wrote in 2002 that ‘as a journalist for the largest French political daily (Le Figaro) I covered Kashmir in the worst of its unrest, from the late eighties till the Kargil war. It is there without any doubt that I went through some of the most dangerous incidents of my life. There were 400,000 Hindus in Kashmir in 1947 — and only a few hundreds today. All the rest have been made to flee through terror in the late 80s and early 90s. I remember when militants would stop buses all over Kashmir and kill all the Hindus — men, women and children — none of the foreign correspondents and diplomats protested about human rights… There are 400,000 Hindus who are refugees in their own land, an ethnic cleansing without parallel in the world. Why are none of us interested in highlighting this fact?’

Anupam Kher, renowned actor and Kashmiri Pandit himself who incarnates the role of his father Pushkarnath in the movie, in an interview on Times Now Indian TV channel, said that this was nothing less than ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide. In fact, he said that he wasn’t an actor playing a role, he was living out his family’s life story, and this was heart-wrenching. No less so was the role that actress Pallavi Joshi had to play, the negative one of a ‘Kashmir azaadi’ (free Kashmir) militant.

Vivek Agnihotri and Pallavi Joshi travelled the world for four years conducting hundreds of interviews with displaced Kashmiri Pandits who were the direct victims of this holocaust, and their film is based on these live accounts. The film therefore exposes the blunt truth about the plight of these hapless victims mercilessly vandalized and forcibly chased from their houses, offices, businesses and other properties.

As I wrote in my article of last week, ‘Of truths, fake truths and selected narratives’: ‘Truths are based on facts for which there is verifiable and consistent evidence, and in principle there is only one version. This is the kind of truth that needs to be spoken to power.’

‘The Kashmir Files’ is that truth based on indisputable facts about the Kashmiri Pandits that needed to be told to the whole world, just as the holocaust of the Jews by Hitler and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovinia have been broadcast to the world, and ‘Schindler’s List’ about the former exposed an unknown truth, and received Oscars for so doing.

There is more evidence: Rahul Pandita, author of several books who has reported extensively from war zones in Iraq and Sri Lanka, and winner of the International Red Cross Award for conflict reporting, was born in the Kashmir Valley. He was fourteen years old when his family was forced into exile in a Delhi in suburb. His 2013 book Our moon has no blood clots, a title taken from a line by Pablo Neruda (‘Oh, My Lost City’) that he cites:

‘…and an earlier time when the flowers were not stained with blood, the moon with blood clots!’, is a bone chilling account of the events of that night as well incidents before and after.

‘Loudspeakers blared across the valley exhorting the Kashmiri Pandits to ‘convert, leave, or die!’ As mobs of rioters ‘descended upon Hindu settlements… battle cries flew at us from every direction.’ One of the slogans was ‘Assigacchipanu’nuy Pakistan, batavrostuy, bateneinsaan’ which meant that ‘the crowd wanted to turn Kashmir into Pakistan, without the Pandit men, but with their women.’

A short extract from his book will be enough to depict the barbarity that the minorities were subjected to: A man called Sapru found himself pushed into a crowd of nearly ten thousand by about one hundred tribal invaders armed with rifles, wearing belts of bullets across their shoulders and around their waists. One raider put a piece of green cloth around Sapru’s neck and asked him to say Pakisan zindabad.

Sapru managed to get out of the crowd but was shot at and got injured in his shoulders. He ran toa house which he thought abandoned, but when he went upstairs, he came into a room where there were seven men, all armed. He recognized a friend with whom he had studied in college and they were on very good terms. When he called out his friend, the latter hurled abuses at him saying ‘You have sucked our blood.’ He was assaulted and shot at, losing consciousness. Taking him for dead, after some time the men left. When Sapru regained consciousness, he peeped out through a window, and found himself looking at the same procession he had been in going on the bridge across the Kishanganga River. This is what he saw:

‘The men among the Sikhs were segregated, shot, and then pushed into the river. The women were bundled into buses – Sapru counted more than thirty buses – and taken away. Children were snatched from their arms and thrown on the road. He saw many women jumping to their deaths from the bridge, to save their honour.’

It took courage to go through this book replete with similar harrowing incidents that sent chills down my spine, made my hairs stand on end and jolted my soul. How much more courage these Kashmiri Pandits needed to live under the constant fear of attack, and then to endure the pain of running away and live as destitutes: unlike the Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries, they did not have to luxury of warm welcomes and prompt resettlements. To this day, thousands of them are still in refugee camps.

Why? Because there was a conspiracy of an absent state which was indifferent to their sufferings, and a conspiracy of silence by the media, including the film industry. The result was a suppression of the truth all these thirty-two years, and a similar ecosystem conspired again when the film was released.

Prime Minister Modi raised the debate to another level, quite in line with his lofty approach to things. He said that only when a Westerner made a film about Gandhi did the latter became known to the world. Why, he asked, hadn’t the Indian film industry produced such a film in all these years after independence? For the sake of history, he added, the truth must be told. Was the ecosystem boycotting and objecting to the film’s release because it was made by a son of the soil?

This is not just a film. It is the truth that needed to be told. It is an awakening. But it’s not the only one – there are many more files that need to be exposed through films. It is only through the exposing of such truths that we can hope to achieve reconciliation and to learn from the past so that we do not repeat such barbarity. As the war in Ukraine shows, this is not guaranteed. But at least we will be better prepared, hopefully.

Next file (s), please, Vivekji… and kotikotibadhaiyanto you and your team.

* Published ePaper on 18 March 2022

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