Rajat Sharma

The Kashmir Files: The dark truth of atrocities on Kashmiri Pandits

AKB‘The Kashmir Files’, a 170-minute movie on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley 32 years ago, has not only caught the imagination of millions of cinegoers across India, but has also made top politicians sit up and take notice. It is about how a dark, bitter truth was sought to be hushed up the powers-that-be at that time. The movie, written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri, features Anupam Kher, Pallavi Joshi and Mithun Chakraborty, among others.

On Tuesday, while addressing the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the film makers for ‘revealing the truth’. He said, “My concern is not only about the film, I believe it will benefit the nation if the truth is brought out before the people in the right manner. It can have many aspects, some may see one side, and others may see something else.”

Modi then lashed out at critics of this movie. He said, “the negative reactions to this film are coming from those who deliberately tried to hide the truth for many years. ..The entire ‘jamaat’ (gang) that has been raising the flag of freedom of expression is furious since the last five to six days. Instead of reviewing this film based on true facts, and from artistic point of view, there is a conspiracy to discredit this movie by attributing motives.”

The Prime Minister said, “Let those who think that this film is not correct, make their own film. Who is stopping them? But they are surprised that the truth that they had kept hidden for so many years, is now coming out. Those why live by truth, must bear the responsibility to stand by the truth at such a time.”

Tough words by the Prime Minister. What is this film all about?

This movie depicts the horrible manner in which lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits fled from the Valley after systematic, brutal killings of innocent Kashmiri Pandits by Pakistan-backed terrorists. The movie also depicts how some sections of Kashmiri Muslims connived with killers and rapists, in creating an atmosphere of terror in the Valley during those dark days.

Till 1990, there were 75,343 Kashmiri Pandit families living in the Valley, but after the exodus that continued for two years, more than 70,000 Kashmiri Pandit families were forced to leave the Valley. Their homes were vandalized and burnt, their shops were looted and their landed properties were forcibly occupied by local people.

Government statistics say, 399 Kashmiri Pandits were killed during the exodus, but the hard fact is: only some 9,000 Kashmiri Pandits are now left in the Valley. More than 1.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits are still living in camps. They are living like refugees in their own country.

There are two generations left among Kashmiri Pandits, who know about their original roots in the Valley. The younger ones, who have been away from their homeland for 32 long years, are not aware about their roots. The younger ones visit the Valley occasionally to see what has been left of their ancestral properties. These buildings once belonged to their grandparents and there were apple orchards which have now been occupied by others.

The movie “The Kashmir Files” weaves a storyline in which Krishna Pandit, played by Darshan Kumar, a student leader of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, was told by his grandfather Pushkar Nath Pandit, played by Anupam Kher, that his parents were killed in an accident, but the bitter truth was something else.

In the movie, director Vivek Agnihotri and actor Anupam Kher have skilfully linked the ‘tukde tukde’ JNU gang slogans, “Bharat tere tukde hongey, le key rahengey azaadi” with Krishna Pandit’s character. Being a Kashmiri, Krishna starts believing the Left and separatist propaganda that Kashmiris have been victims of state excesses for decades, but the actual stories of atrocities committed on Kashmiri Pandits were hidden from him.

Krishna is under the influence of a JNU professor Radhika Menon, played by Pallavi Joshi, who believes in the “Kashmir cause” (read independence of Kashmir). When Krishna takes the ashes of his dead grandfather to the Valley for immersion, he learns that his parents did not die in an accident, but were brutally killed by terrorists. The killings of his parents, is based on the true life incident of B. K. Ganjoo, who was killed by terrorists in 1990. Krishna then comes to know how his grandfather fled the Valley and kept the truth about his parents hidden from him.

The story about the agony of Kashmiri Pandits is the innate strength of this movie. It was released in theatres on March 11. There were scenes of cinegoers coming out of theatres with many shouting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Scores of people outside cinema halls were seen shouting slogans demanding justice for Kashmiri Pandits.

Vivek Agnihotri revealed, how cinegoers applauded when they saw him and Anupam Kher among the audience. There were emotional scenes of people hugging Anupam Kher and Agnihotri, and weeping. In states like Kerala, where even Bollywood superstars hardly get top billing, cinegoers were seen sitting on dharna, demanding that ‘The Kashmir Files’ be screened. There were scenes of people coming out of theatres with tears in their eyes.

Within three days of this movie hitting the theatres, it has become the talk of the town, right from the Prime Minister to Chief Ministers and leaders of political parties to the common man in the street.

The viewer inside the theatre sits terrified watching how loudspeakers from mosques in the Valley on January 19, 1990, blared, asking all Pandits to leave the Valley immediately or face the consequences. One is shaken on seeing visuals of women and kids being slaughtered on screen.

For the first time, the agony of Kashmiri Pandits has hit the big screen. Kashmiri Pandits who have seen this movie, insist, this movie is not fiction, but an account of what actually happened to their lives. It’s the dark truth, which they and their family members have experienced for more than three decades.

For the first time in India, the common man on the street has realized that the dark truth about the atrocities on Kashmiri Pandits was deliberately hidden by the powers-that-be, and he has started demanding that Kashmiri Pandits must get justice.

‘The Kashmir Files’ explains how Justice Neelkanth Ganjoo was assassinated by JKLF terrorists on November 4, 1989, at a market near the High Court in Srinagar in broad daylight, to avenge the death sentence to terrorist Maqbool Bhat.

This movie also mentions how a telecom engineer B K Ganjoo was ditched by his own Muslim neighbours, when he was hiding inside a rice bin. The killers dragged him out of the bin, pumped bullets into his body and left him bleeding on rice. Ganjoo’s wife was forced to eat blood-soaked rice on which her husband’s body had fallen.

There is also the true life story of Girija Tickoo, a university librarian, who had gone to collect her salary cheque, and on her way back, she was dragged out from a bus, thrown into a taxi, by five men, including one of her colleagues, tortured, raped and finally her body was cut into pieces by using a carpenter’s saw.

The ruthless pogrom of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley has not been recorded in a proper manner in the last three decades. I was witness to those dark days in Kashmir when slogans like “Kashmir mey agar rehna hai, Allahu Akbar kehna hai”, “Kashmir me agar rehna hai, toh azaadi ke liye marna hai” used to be chanted in the streets of Srinagar. Kashmiri Pandits were brutally murdered, women were raped and cut into pieces, but such incidents were hushed up by the powers-that-be during that time.

Jagannath Pandit was killed and his body was hanged from a pole in public. His son, Ravindra Pandit, who now lives in Ghaziabad, describes how, along with his three brothers, he fled from Srinagar to Jammu in 1990. But his father Jagannath Pandit, a tehsildar, chose to stay back in Handwara. Five terrorists came, dragged him to a field, tied his body with barbed wire, tortured him and then his body was hanged from a tree. For three days, the body remained hanging from the tree, says his son. Later, the body was taken to another village for last rites.

The killings of Kashmiri Pandits had begun way back in 1989, when a popular BJP leader Tika Lal Taploo was shot dead outside his home in Srinagar. Taploo, after getting threats from jihadists, had sent his family to Delhi, but he chose to return to Srinagar. Kashmiri Pandits still celebrate September 14 as Martyrs’ Day.

Kashmiri Pandits know the agony of living like a refugee in one’s own country. They know how families suffer, while living the life of a homeless, subsisting on government doles. One must realize that the Kashmiri Pandit issue is not a political one, it is an emotional, humanitarian issue. Every Indian citizen wants to relate with the sufferings of Kashmiri Pandits.

Even after 32 years, with 1.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits still living in camps, one can easily gauge the emotions and sufferings of this community. Their children can only go to the Valley and watch the properties of their parents and grandparents silently, and return. They cannot exert pressure to get back the properties that have been forcibly grabbed by others.

Think about the emotions of young men and women, who know that their parents or grandparents were either brutally killed or burnt to death. Since the common people in India have, for the first time, seen the dark, hidden truth on screen, this movie is getting support from all sections of Indians. Eight state governments, including UP, MP, Gujarat, Karnataka, Goa, Tripura and Uttarakhand have declared this movie as entertainment tax free.

I, however, feel sad when some leaders from the Congress try to make it a Hindu-Muslim issue. On Monday, the Congress in Kerala, after an uproar in social media, deleted a series of tweets which were posted to counter the facts narrated in this movie.

What were the tweets that were deleted? The deleted tweets attempted to project a statistical perspective to the issue of the killings and exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, arguing that 15,000 Muslims were killed during 1990-2007 against 399 Pandits in Kashmir.

In another tweet, part of a series, it was claimed that over one lakh Muslims were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the communal riots (1948) after the partition of India, while no Pandits were killed in retaliation.

In the tweet that was withdrawn, it was stated that after the terrorist attacks, instead of providing security to Kashmiri Pandits, the then Governor and BJP-RSS supporter Jagmohan directed that the Pandits should leave the Valley. However, In the evening, the Congress in Kerala tweeted: “We stand by every single fact in yesterday’s tweet thread about Kashmiri Pandits issue. However, we’ve removed a part of the thread, seeing BJP hate factory taking it out of context and using it for their communal propaganda. We’ll continue to speak out the truth”.

I want to mention two points here.

One, while the brutal atrocities committed on Kashmiri Pandits were indeed painful, the manner in which these facts were hushed up for more than 32 years, were more painful. Two, the truth was prevented from reaching people across India.

Nowadays, we watch visuals of women and kids, fleeing Ukraine, and these visuals leave a permanent imprint on our memory. But, when lakhs of Kashmiri men, women and children fled the Valley in 1990, there were no cameras to record the exodus. There were no smart phones with cameras those days, nor were there cameras from TV news channels, to record the migration of Pandits.

When the makers of the movie ‘The Kashmir Files’ dug up the dark truth that had been covered up for three decades, people sat up and took notice in horror. The common man wept on seeing such horrific visuals on the wide screen. A colleague of mine said, how a local chemist in Delhi asked her whether she has seen this movie. The chemist told her that he had paid money to his staff to go and watch the film.

There was another type of reaction. When a cinegoer said, this was a good movie, Kashmiri Pandits sitting around him said loudly, ‘do not say this is a movie, it is the truth of our life, it has been documented.’

There are some other people, who say that there had been atrocities on Muslims and other communities too, in the past. I think, we will be doing injustice to the agony of Kashmiri Pandits, by drawing comparisons. We must refrain from comparing the plight of Kashmiri Pandits with those of other communities. Thousands of them lost their homes, hearth, orchards and properties, and had to live the life of refugees in their own homeland. Many of them are still living inside tents.

For the first time, I am noticing that the issue of homeless Kashmiri Pandits is being raised in social media, on news channels, and on the wide theatre screen. Indians living abroad have also become aware of the agony of Kashmiri Pandits. We must never forget their agony and must now allow others to forget.

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