There is a huge media hype in India on the movie Kashmir Files, which depicts the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits during the insurgency in that region. The movie is being hailed as a box office success in India. However, some are concerned that the movie ignores the persecution of Muslims and paints them all as terrorists. Others are concerned about the Islamophobia it would stoke, which was evident from the anti-Muslim hate speech witnessed in some theatres. Indeed, mobs in the Indian Subcontinent are not exactly known for their rational comport but rather their emotional outbursts and derisive, sneering and dismissive behaviour.
The issue is that the right-wing BJP government is directly fanning Hindu-Muslim sectarianism, and their support for this movie is but the latest manifestation of their politics. Which direction the BJP wants to steer India is for them to decide. Time will tell how long they continue to promote themselves as the “largest democracy” while increasingly becoming a Hindutva-driven state where authorities remain silent on calls for Muslim genocide. Eventually, something’s got to give. Maybe, India will declare itself as a Hindu Republic and all the BJP politics will come to fruition. And Pakistan cannot be opposed to that. After all, Pakistan itself is an Islamic Republic. Generally, minorities are pummelled in religious states. The condition of religious minorities in these two South Asian countries is for everyone to witness.
It is often found that people who have suffered tremendously at the hands of terrorists or organised armies don’t really dwell on vengeance
Returning to the plight of Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, both of them are used as pawns by political parties to advance their respective agendas. This means just as the plight of Kashmiri Muslims is generally sidelined in BJP’s India, so too has Pakistan not informed its people of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. What such a state – of touting one’s grievances and sidelining those of others – leads to is perpetual victimhood. Indeed, BJP’s India continues to nurture grievances from the age of empires when Persian, Afghan and Central Asian Muslims would invade and plunder India. Similarly, Pakistan continues to play victim despite initiating wars with a country seven times its size in 1948, 1965 and 1999, all for Kashmir.
I think the Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, who played Saladin in the Kingdom of Heaven had an apt response to Orlando Bloom’s character Balian of Ibelin. When Balian states that he would burn Jerusalem with its Muslim and Christian holy places down, Saladin retorts, “I wonder if it would not be better if you did.” Indeed, just as Jerusalem has been the focal point for a lot of suffering in the Middle East, so too has Kashmir been in the Indian Subcontinent.
However, it is often found that people who have suffered tremendously at the hands of terrorists or organised armies don’t really dwell on vengeance. Indeed, there are Palestinian and Israeli mothers who are drawn together in their common suffering despite those on the outside who egg on their youth to more mayhem and violence. Similarly, Nishita Trisal, a Kashmiri Pandit wrote eloquently:
“For decades, the loss and suffering of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims has been treated as a zero-sum game. Now, more than ever, young Kashmiris need to chart a path toward reconciliation, solidarity and allyship with one another. We can begin by actively seeking out one another’s truths and stories; resisting statist manipulations of our suffering; reading deeply and widely into Kashmir’s complex history; calling out bigotry and hate in our families; denouncing Indian atrocities in Kashmir; and imagining a Kashmiri political community that accommodates and celebrates difference without simply being reduced to competing identity claims.”
This, I believe, is the path ahead.
India needs to transparently work on its systemic human rights violations, just as Pakistan needs to end its support for the many militant groups it has instigated. Whatever India decides is their concern. Pakistan needs to indulge less in the problems of the world including Palestine and Kashmir and focus more on its myriad internal issues including the abysmally poor education, healthcare, and the economy.
So, does Kashmir Files require a response? That question is best addressed by the ingenuity and humanity of Kashmiri Muslims and the Kashmiri Pandits. What those of us can do on the outside is to resist propaganda and stand by the oppressed irrespective of their religion.