As a Muslim girl in Delhi, wherever I go The Kashmir Files follows. Whether I am drinking coffee with friends, travelling by the metro or simply going to college, The Kashmir Files is the baggage that invariably accompanies me. Everybody who is somebody to me – and even nobody – expects me to have an opinion about the film. It’s like the film has been marked as compulsory viewing as part of the syllabus for graduating student.
‘So, what do you feel about Kashmir Files? Esa hua thha na?’ is the oft repeated question. And I, who has never been a fan of Hindi cinema, is expected to nod in agreement. The question comes with a latent accusation: Weren’t Kashmiri Muslims, and by extension all Indian Muslims, responsible for the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits?
The Kashmiri Pandit exodus took place in 1990 when the National Front government, supported by the BJP, ruled the country and Jagmohan Malhotra, who later became a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, was the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
My father had just finished school, while my mother had not. Neither was anywhere near Kashmir. But I am expected to have an opinion on The Kashmir Files – never mind the fact that I was not to breathe in this world for another dozen years or so.
I remember the community elders criticising Narendra Modi and holding him responsible for the pogrom in Delhi in early 2020. Many lashed out at the BJP, but not one person blamed the majority community members living in NCR for the violence. There was a line of distinction between the government and the common man.
Now, in 2022, the line between Muslim militants in Kashmir and Muslim civilians in NCR stands diminished. Those who criticised Modi in 2002 are now silent and compliant to the kind of violence and hateful slogans being incited.
A Hindu girl could go out to watch Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania all alone. As a Muslim girl, I do not feel secure enough to watch The Kashmir Files alone. It saddens me to see the kind of hatred being spread on social media against Indian Muslims today.
What’s worse is the silence of people I regarded as my friends just a few short months ago.
As a Muslim, I never asked Hindus in the vicinity to denounce the perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat riots. I never brought up any politically-charged incident for that matter. Surprisingly enough, till today, nobody has come to me to ask for my viewpoint about 2002 – an event which did take place in my lifetime. Many of the saffronised citizens around me, masquerading as middle-class uncles and aunties living in flats and apartments, have not deemed it necessary to talk of nearly a thousand Muslims who were killed in Gujarat; their homes, shops, offices and mosques reduced to ashes. Thousands of children became orphans and lakhs ended up in relief camps.
Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, had referred to the same camps as “baby-producing factories“. He had started his Gaurav yatra from Naroda Patiya, the site of the gangrape and massacre of many Muslim women.
Five years after the pogrom, director Dholakia released Parzania. While it narrated the story of a Parsi boy, the film carried no disclaimer of it being a work of fiction loosely based on true events. Dholakia’s film exposed the state’s complicity in violence and the inaction of the government – which acted as a facilitator of death and destruction.
Parzania released in January 2007, but the Gujarat government did not allow its screening – just like it prevented the exhibition of Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution in 2004. In fact, as I recall, I could not watch Final Solution at any hall in NCR. My father got a DVD home as the screening had been disrupted at many places.
Interestingly, Anupam Kher was the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification at that time, and refused to clear the film without cuts. Now he is a lead actor in The Kashmir Files and sings a different tune. Many of the people watching Kashmir Files today are the ones who disrupted the screening of Final Solution. They judge a victim by her religion.
Thus, as a young Muslim girl in Delhi, I find everybody expecting me to denounce the Kashmir tragedy. But the very same people are guilty of remaining tight-lipped about the Gujarat pogrom. Nobody bothers about the fact that out of 1,724 people killed by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir at the time, most were Muslims. The home ministry, while replying to an RTI in November 2021, stated that 89 Kashmiri Pandits died in the Kashmir violence.
This is an equally important fact to remember considering how Kashmiri Pandits have – rightfully – been helped with rehabilitation and offered government jobs. In 2008, the government even announced a package of Rs 1,600 crore for rehabilitation.
On the other hand, the Gujarat government handed out – believe it or not – Rs 500 to those whose houses had been torched by mobs in 2002. To this day, there are thousands still suffering because of the massacre who have yet to be given their due.
All the same, one should not be into competitive figures of tragedies – a human being’s loss of life or property is immensely tragic and if caused by violence, unpardonable.
The Kashmir Files is a far cry from addressing the wounds of the victims and strengthening an already fragile social peace. Instead, it carries forward the disruptive agenda of the right-wing and uses militancy as an excuse to point the gun at contemporary Indian Muslims.
It is clear that director Vivek Agnihotri has succeeded in this mission. There have been videos on social media of the film’s screening at multiplexes being accompanied by violent slogans like ‘Desh ke gaddaro ko…’ There have also been calls to marry Muslim women so as to control the Muslim population. Such people consider women to be nothing more than child-producing machines.
It is for such a film that I, a young Muslim girl in the capital of India, am being asked to stand up and cheer. In comparison, very few people have asked me about the hijab ban, maybe most of them concluded in their mind that I must be against the ban. The same people believe I must be hurt by Kashmir Files and somehow or the other hold me responsible for the tragedy.
In group chats, people who never believed I had much political wisdom or the ability to evaluate films suddenly piped up to ask: ‘Don’t you think whatever happened was bad?’
Somewhere, in the dark recesses of their mind, they have been raised to believe that a Muslim will defend the displacement of Pandits. The BJP bhakts often regard that the fabric of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits’ tents were made of the secular threads of India when in fact it is the lack of implementation of this very secularity that causes most of the turmoil.
To view things from a utilitarian angle, how do you justify treating lives lost on the basis of religion differently? Is it that people are sensitised to political violence only when the lives lost are of the majority religion of the country? The greed of the fulfilment of a political agenda is beyond bloodshed, displacement, orphaning and mass killings. To give into the hunger of politically-charged violence is a regressive formula for a developing nation.
The crux now lies in the kind of impact such cinematic content creates. There is a certain responsibility of the crew curating an entertainment piece based on a political tragedy. The way I perceive the situation is, not only has this incited violence and freshened the wounds of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits but it has also generated a new cycle for Muslims in contemporary times who had nothing to do with what happened. It is a kind of consequential stereotyping and out grouping caused by The Kashmiri Files that might take another 20 years to mellow.
It reminds of what I often heard in my family circles. The elders used to whisper about how the local police call the Muslim-dominated areas ‘mini Pakistan’. I heard too about the kind of Tebbitt test Indian Muslims had to undertake every time there was an India-Pakistan cricket match. They told me the match was regarded as a test of patriotism. Every time, Pakistan defeated India – they were supposed to express their disappointment. Every time, India won, they were ridiculed: ‘Your team lost!’.
Again, no Hindus had to undergo a similar test. Being born a Hindu ensures a lifelong certificate of patriotism in new India. I, a Muslim girl of the new millennium, am expected to take the same test all over again.
I refuse with all the strength at my command.
Sayyeda Maryam Ziya is a freelance journalist and a student of political science at Delhi University.
Featured image: A still from the trailer of the film The Kashmir Files/Screenshot/YouTube via Zee Studios