It does make one wonder how and why Vivek Agnihotri became the spokesperson for the Pandits, and the reason is not just altruistic.
The suffering of the Kashmiri Pandits should not be allowed to fade from public memory, but there need to be more voices speaking up, ideally from the community, asserts Deepa Gahlot.
When The Kashmir Files was screened at the International Film Festival of India last year, the jury chairman, Israeli film-maker Nadav Lapid had called it ‘vulgar propaganda‘ and sparked a controversy. By then, it had already become a blockbuster at the box office, and hardly mattered to the director, Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri. He just got more mileage.
The new docu-series, The Kashmir Files Unreported seems to be an answer to that and other criticism questioning the motives and methods behind making the film.
Over seven episodes, Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri (director) and his wife Pallavi Joshi (producer) interview many people, some recount the horrors they suffered and witnessed, as militants killed, looted, raped and terroriSed Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs — both minorities in Kashmir — and compelled them to flee.
They also interview academics, journalists and military men to give a detailed backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir that predates the 1990s forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their homes.
It is understood that the attempts to separate Kashmir from India is for geo-political gain, because of its strategic location, sharing borders with three countries.
The slip ups during the agreements signed with princely States to join India after Independence, the capturing of Kashmiri territory by Pakistan-funded tribal warriors and calling it Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is a thorn in the side of any party with the political will to tackle the complicated issue.
In Kashmir, where there are demands of azaadi by some locals, India is referred to as foreign and the region as India occupied Kashmir.
It was, according to the interviewees in the series, the blunders made by Jawaharal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, the intervention by the United Nations and even the CIA, that stoked the flames of unrest in Kashmir, which gradually built up and exploded into a violent separatist movement.
It is stated over and over again that what the Pandits suffered was genocide, sought to be watered down by using words like ‘migration’ and ‘exodus’, when they obviously left under threats of violence.
It is pointless to quibble over semantics.
As one of the experts points out, the Rwanda and Rohingya genocide is talked about, but the Kashmiri Pandits are forgotten.
A tragedy remains a tragedy whatever label it is given, and it does not become less or more significant by the number of people killed and dispossessed.
It is also unarguably true that justice must be done and reparations made but it is a monumental task to apprehend the perpetrators, so at least the process of healing should commence and continue.
The Kashmiri Pandits know that they may never get closure or be able to return to their homes that, in many cases, have been stripped of anything of value and torched. (One of the men interviewed talks about how there are gangs who enter homes that have been emptied of valuables to steal copper wires, plumbing supplies and window and door frames.)
There have been books and thousands of media reports about the situation in Kashmir; those who want to find out, could get enough material.
Agnihotri’s team had access to archival footage, copies of important documents, and, of course, clips of The Kashmir Files, to emphasise many points.
Agnihotri is right when he says that acceptance is important for other political or legal measures to be taken.
He also grandly claims that after The Kashmir Files came out, the world was made aware of the issue, and action was taken to arrest some terrorist leaders.
It is apparently quite safe for tourists to go to Kashmir now.
It does make one wonder how and why Agnihotri became the spokesperson for the Pandits, and the reason is not just altruistic.
Like the film, the series also evokes sadness and anger but since the latter takes a serious tone, mixing emotionally-fraught memories of the victims with facts presented by experts, it is a more in-depth piece of work, though, obviously one-sided, since the ‘other’ side is difficult to present. The separatists could give reasons for their demand of independence, but never justify the violence.
The Holocaust and the efforts to never let the world forget can be held up as an example of how to honour the unimaginable pain of the victims.
The wounds of Partition are still raw after 75 years.
The suffering of the Kashmiri Pandits should also not be allowed to fade from public memory, but there need to be more voices speaking up, ideally from the community itself.
The Kashmir Files Unreported streams on ZEE5.
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