Image provided by ZeeStudios_ on Twitter. Top: Kashmir files poster.
The India-Pakistan conflict over the rightful ownership of the state of Jammu & Kashmir has been going on ever since the Partition of India in 1947. Consequently, civil unrest in the Muslim-majority valley in the 1980s built up until Kashmiri separatist militants eventually forced the Hindu Pandits out of their lands, screaming “Ralive Tsalive ya Galive,” meaning “convert to Islam, leave or die.” Making its way into theaters worldwide, Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files follows the story of sheltered Kashmiri Hindu college student Krishna, who toils to discover what actually happened to his family during the late 1980s. While the movie is a masterpiece from an artistic standpoint, it is very controversial as it depicts the exodus as though all Muslims—the moderates and the militants—perpetrated the Kashmiri “genocide.”
Throughout the film, Agnihotri’s graphic visuals make for a spine-chilling tale: every gory violent murder and every wailing scream of fear is etched into our memories even after the three-hour experience is over. The ruthless detail within each scene, along with the actors’ strong commitment to their roles, evoked reactions of sadness, anger, and disgust from audiences, almost taking them back 30 years ago into the burning houses of the Kashmiri Pandits. However, it is the incitement of these emotions that has spurred debate on whether this movie, rather than honoring the victims, has set in motion an Islamophobic narrative that will only lead to more tension between the religious communities. For instance, early scenes in the movie show a Muslim boy beating up a Hindu boy for supporting an Indian cricketer, followed by repulsive images of Kashmiri militant Farooq Bitta forcing a woman to eat rice soaked with her dead husband’s blood to save the rest of her family. Agnihotri implicitly portrays the average Muslim as inhumane and villainous as they are seen either betraying their Hindu neighbors to the militants, or are the perpetrators themselves. In only one place throughout the entire movie does it suggest that some of the victims of this genocide were also the numerous Muslim moderates who opposed this exodus. Moreover, it almost seems natural for the average Hindu viewer to come out of watching this film believing in immediate and violent retribution against the Muslim community due to all the gruesome crimes wrongfully committed against them, further polarizing the nation.
Agnihotri’s graphic visuals make for a spine-chilling tale: every gory violent murder and every wailing scream of fear is etched into our memories even after the three-hour experience is over.
In addition to its graphic content, multiple facets of the film steal from its credibility as historically-accurate media. According to most sources, the estimates of the victims of this exodus are 650 deaths since 1989 and roughly 500,000 people fleeing the valley, but Agnihotri’s movie claims that nearly 4,000 people were killed and above 700,000 people fled the valley. These statistical discrepancies in the movie’s plot play a role in worsening tensions. Narendra Modi, India’s current prime minister and member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has repeatedly endorsed the movie on the national stage to the extent where it is even tax-free in numerous Indian states. Because the movie aligns with the BJP agenda of promoting Hindutva, “an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life,” the politicalization of the film and moreover, religion itself, makes it seem like pro-Hindu political propaganda. To exemplify these rising tensions, there have been reports of people coming out of theaters yelling anti-Muslim slogans.
The historical significance and cinematography makes the film one to watch. However, the average viewer should refrain from getting swayed by the biases presented in the movie.