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Why Only The Kashmir Files?

By Shekhar Gupta
April 16, 2022 10:24 IST
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From the many large communal riots across decades to the six-hour mass cull of Muslims in Nellie, 1983; Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere, 1984; Kashmiri Pandits, 1990; selective massacres of Hindus in Punjab, 1983-1993; and Gujarat, 2002, we have failed to bring perpetrators of our biggest tragedies to account, asserts Shekhar Gupta.

IMAGE: A Kashmiri Pandit at a rally to mark World Refugee Day in New Delhi, June 20, 2010.
Three decades after they were forced to flee Kashmir, thousands of Hindu Pandits seek to return to their ancestral homeland. Photograph: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

What Vivek Agnihotri's latest film The Kashmir Files wants to convey is correct in essence.

There is zero doubt or question that between around November 1989 and May 1990 almost all of the native Hindus from the Kashmir Valley, mostly Kashmiri Pandits, had been brutally forced out by Islamist forces in an Indian equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

Many were killed, beginning with old social activist and advocate Tika Lal Taploo in September 1989.

Unattributed advertisements appeared in local Urdu newspapers, asking Hindus to leave. It's all a reality that should be well known to two generations of Indians.

Historians, story-tellers, film-makers most of all, will each find their own version of the truth.

In a polarised and traumatised environment, they will also focus on what affects them the most.

As Clint Eastwood showed us, Iwo Jima had two versions of the truth (Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima).

But nobody can question the ferocity of the battle there, and the heroism of professional soldiers.

It is ridiculous and tragic, therefore, that The Kashmir Files debate has become trapped in questions like 'How many Kashmiri Pandits were actually killed?' Was the number in two figures, three, four, five, six, or, in some claims, seven? Was it an ethnic cleansing, forced exodus, genocide, another holocaust?

This argument will yield nothing. What matters 32 years after that great national tragedy is that we are still reducing it to an argument over the scorecard of the killings.

The numbers, any which way, will not lighten or deepen the tragedy.

And the national shame involved in a large community, minority in its home state, being bullied out of it, in a democratic republic with armed forces, police and intelligence agencies that rank among the most formidable in the world.

That one side feels free to add zeros to the toll in a manner so cavalier, and the other would shed tears over the awful atrocities on the Rohingyas in Myanmar, on the one hand, but asks that we treat the Kashmiri Pandit issue with a light touch, in a spirit of let bygones be bygones or worse are two sides of the same coin of irony.

Nothing I am saying here means that I endorse or denounce the film.

I haven't seen it yet. For the same reason that I haven't seen the Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt-starred '83 and Gangubai Kathiawadi, respectively.

I am still too Covid-scarred to step into a cinema hall.

The film's positive contribution is that it has exposed a lacerating wound which had never healed.

The downside is the scary and shameful bigoted response by audiences in cinema halls: The demonising of the entire community and calls for reprisals on ordinary Muslim families.

Brilliant journalist and author Rahul Pandita, who wrote the landmark account of the atrocity in his Our Moon has Blood Clots but is now also attacked viciously on social media for raising some arguments over facts and treatment with the film-maker, says it is a kind of catharsis for Kashmiri Pandits and they must have it.

That's an important point, and worth exploring further.

In 75 years since Independence, India has endured several sizeable tragedies.

Nor is India unique in having lived through violent evolution.

One common and unfortunate trait among us Indians, in fact across the subcontinent, is our inability to look the truth in the eye, accept if not confess what we've done wrong, find closure for both the victims and the perpetrators, and probably move on.

Our culture and civilisations take a circular view of issues.

Our arguments go on, and on, and on.

The shameful fact is, as a nation and a system of laws, we have failed to bring perpetrators of our biggest tragedies to account.

From the many large communal riots across decades to the six-hour mass cull of Muslims in Nellie, 1983; Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere, 1984; Kashmiri Pandits, 1990; selective massacres of Hindus in Punjab, 1983-93; and Gujarat, 2002.

What is settled by law doesn't necessarily bring closure to an issue. But it helps.

In our system, on the other hand, every self-inflicted calamity becomes an eternal, partisan argument.

In some cases, it pretends to fade away, as with Nellie.

The reason I said 'pretends to' is that a mass injustice pushed under the carpet may be temporarily forgotten, but is never forgiven.

It goes into oral history and becomes a never-ending blood feud. That is our bane.

Such grievances never go away. Be prepared for a The Kashmir Files like film on the Partition bloodshed in the east one of these days, and the consequences it unleashes.

Societies and communities don't forget their saddest moments, but they can forgive.

No truth is too bitter or inconvenient to be put aside.

Once you accept the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits and apologise for the fact that their nation failed to give them due protection under the law and the Constitution, you can take the argument further -- that the same mass criminality by terrorists invited the wrath of the entire might of India's army, police, and intelligence agencies; that since then nearly 20,000, mostly Kashmiri Muslims, have been killed by the armed forces, many by Pakistan-controlled Muslim terrorists; that there will be no durable peace in the Valley until the Pandits can go back and forth as they wish and feel safer there, as fellow Kashmiris, not in West Bank-style Jewish enclaves.

India's handling of Kashmir has been knee-jerk, seeking cynical quick-fixes personified best by Yasin Malik.

On January 25, 1990, he was alleged to have led a terror squad that assassinated four unarmed IAF officers waiting to board a bus in Srinagar, and two civilian women in the same queue.

The case came up for trial only 30 years later, in 2020 and charges were framed. Why?

It isn't as if Malik had absconded to Pakistan.

He was here all the time, most of which was spent in comfort under the lavish care of the 'agencies' who thought they could now repackage him as a terrorist-turned-man of peace.

This, when he never even denied unequivocally that he had killed those IAF officers.

In a full interview on the BBC's Hard Talk, he repeatedly asserted: 'I was then in armed struggle, they were Indian soldiers and a fair target.'

For many spells he had also been the darling of the peacemakers.

Almost 25 years ago, while I was still a relatively new editor of The Indian Express, a widely respected activist (I'm not naming her because her own position has changed radically since) called me to persuade me to join a delegation led by the late Kuldip Nayar to Srinagar to 'save this young boy who's so invaluable for peace ... that agar yeh bachcha mar gaya toh bahut tragedy ho jayegi'.

It was easy for me to get out of it by simply stating the fact that The Indian Express code of ethics barred all its journalists from participating in any advocacy except on media freedom issues.

But I so wished I had spoken the truth.

That I found the idea of sucking up to a mass killer of innocent civilians and unarmed IAF officers revolting.

And that if this was the way they were searching for peace, they will only make India angrier.

How much angrier, we now see in theatres playing The Kashmir Files.

For any catharsis of our mass injustices, the Yasin Maliks of any faith must be made to pay.

The Germans converted old Nazi concentration camps into solemn memorials without airbrushing so future generations would learn never to fall into the same trap.

But that was only after the key Nazi mass killers were hunted down and brought to justice.

To live in denial is to live with a vicious circle of injustice.

As Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said, 'If we forget, the dead will be killed a second time.'

This applies to all mass injustice. There's no point arguing whether any of these was an exodus, ethnic cleansing, pogrom, genocide or holocaust.

By Special Arrangement with The Print

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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