Kashmir Files: A Propaganda Film to fan Islamophobia in India

Asad Tahir Jappa

The Kashmir Files is a propaganda film designed to spread Islamophobia in India. Produced by Zee Studios, the film is based on the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus during the Kashmir Insurgency. Critics have accused the film of being a work of historical revisionism and consider it to be propaganda aimed at fostering prejudice against Kashmiri Muslims. It is also widely believed that the film has BJP/ RSS government’s patronage and support.

The plot is centered on the journey to Kashmir of a young student of JNU named Krishna Pundit, who was led to believe that his parents were killed in an accident, as told by his grandfather Pushkar Nath. He was also under the influence of a JNU professor Radhika Menon who believes in the “Kashmir cause”. After the death of his grandfather, he takes the ashes of his body to Kashmir when he learns about the true circumstances of his parents’ death. The film portrays the events surrounding the exodus as a “genocide”, in which thousands of Kashmiri Hindus were said to have been massacred, women raped and children shot. The displaced families are shown living as refugees till today.

The film’s producer Vivek Agnihotri promoted the film as depicting the “truth of Kashmir”. Its key message is that what is known as the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits is actually a “genocide”. The film is seen depicting the Jawaharlal Nehru University as an anti-national, terror-friendly institution. The Article 370 of the Constitution that granted a nominally autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, is named as one of the reasons for the displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits. Blame is also attached to the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and the Kashmiri-origin central home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, while the serving prime minister V. P. Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party that supported his government are absolved of responsibility. The central character Krishna Pundit is shown as turning against the present day Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a cosmetic way to afford the film an unbiased narration of facts, due to the influence of terrorists. The former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is also subtly derided for attempting to win the hearts of Kashmiris. The film focuses exclusively on the killings of Kashmiri Hindus in 1990 and afterwards, whereas Kashmiri Muslims were also killed during the insurgency, in much greater numbers in fact.

The exclusive focus on violence of Muslims on Hindus is seen to be promoting Islamophobia. A Kashmiri terrorist is depicted in the movie, fashioned after Farooq Ahmed Dar (“Bitta Karate”). He is also shown as being involved in the 2003 Nadimarg massacre. Krishna’s mother, fashioned after Mrs. Ganjoo, is shown to have been killed in this massacre, which was not the case in real life. Neither are the facts of Bitta Karate’s conviction and long years of incarceration mentioned.

Overall, many experts described the film as disturbing; a work of concocted and agenda driven historical revisionism, created with “no facts, lies, and plenty of distortions” aimed at inciting hatred against Muslims. Shubhra Gupta is an acclaimed and established Indian film critic and columnist for The Indian Express from New Delhi, India. She has been a member of the Central Board of Film Certification from 2012-2015 and is a recipient of Ramnath Goenka Excellence Award in Journalism. In her dispassionate review for ‘The Indian Express’ Shubhra Gupta gave the film a 1.5 out of 5 stars; for the sole reason that, the film was held to be a work of propaganda aligned with the ruling party’s discourse that only aimed to stoke the “deep-seated anger” of pundits.

Likewise, Rahul Desai is a film critic formerly of Mumbai Mirror, Catch News and columnist ‘The Hindu’. While reviewing the Kashmir Files for Film Companion, he found the work to be a “fantasy-revisionist” lacking in clarity, craft, and sense where every Muslim was a Nazi and every Hindu, a Jew. He graded the film in following words, “totally unconvincing screenplay with weak characters, it is a propaganda that strove only to tune in with the Hindu nationalist mood of the nation rather than offer genuine empathy to the displaced victims”.

Rahul Desai’s under mentioned strong worded description of the film tells a lot about the propaganda machinery of Bollywood. “A poor appropriation of the famous Schindler’s List theme aside, the film reimagines the exodus as a full-scale genocide – where every Hindu is a tragic Jew, every Muslim is a murderous Nazi, where then-CM Farooq Abdullah is a playboy with a golf and Bollywood-actress habit, and where JNU is a university of pseudo-intellectual clowns with sinister connections to the separatist movement. Dramatizing a story of persecution and oppression is not a problem; the lesser-known Children of War comes to mind. Designing it solely to provoke and prey on the insecurities of today is a problem. This is less of an education and more of a defensive political statement and living-room debate parading as a movie”.

Due to dubious nature of the story, Kashmir Files has seen litigations by the educated and enlighten segments of society. A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by an Uttar Pradesh resident which sought a stay on the film’s release on grounds that the film may portray the Muslims as killers of the Kashmiri pundits, presenting what it described as a one sided view that would hurt the sentiments of Muslims and could trigger violence against Muslims. The PIL was dismissed by a Bombay High Court on technical grounds. Another lawsuit was filed by the widow of an Indian Armed Forces squadron leader who died during the Kashmir Insurgency. The widow’s lawsuit said that the film portrayed a false depiction of events vis-a-vis the husband and sought a stay on its release. Accordingly, the court restrained the makers from showing relevant scenes.

It is pertinent to mention that the U.N. General Assembly has recently approved a resolution, setting March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Adopted by consensus by the 193-member world body and cosponsored by 55 mainly Muslim countries, it emphasizes the right to freedom of religion and belief and recalls a 1981 resolution calling for “the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief.” It is such a perturbing coincidence that while the UN is finding ways to curb Islamophobia and promote interfaith harmony, India has chosen to look the other way by releasing a drama film which only fans the flames of hatred against Muslims and is being viewed as yet another malicious attempt to foster Islamophobia. Daily Times

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