Raliv, Galiv, ya Chaliv... Convert (to Islam), Die, or Leave (Kashmir) were the choices given to Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus of Kashmir Valley) by Islamists (defined as “an advocate or supporter of Islamic militancy or fundamentalism”) on January 19, 1990. Imagine yourself to be a Pandit listening to this slogan blaring out from mosques and streets across your neighbourhood; reading it in bold letters printed in newspapers, posters stuck on lamp posts of your street, written boldly on the walls of your home. Take a moment, reflect.
Yes, it happened in the Secular, Democratic, Republic of India. When the Indian state and administration turned a blind eye, thanks to the self-imposed compulsions in the name of political correctness! As the Pandits were left to die or fend for themselves, it marked the beginning of their eighth exodus in the last thousand years from the land which is the kernel and keeper of the Indic Civilisation. What followed was a genocide, where lakhs of Pandits were raped, assaulted, murdered in cold blood and countless more were displaced, who continue to languish as refugees in their own country, India.
What makes 'The Kashmir Files' directed by Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri truly remarkable is that it is the first, honest depiction of the story in popular culture, in all its magnitude, with dignity and respect the victims deserve. It is the result of years of painstaking research where the director personally interviewed over 700 families, all of whom were first-hand victims of the Islamist terror unleashed in the valley in the days and months that followed that fateful day.
The film shows the journey of a young Krishna Pandit (Darshan Kumar) who is running for the post of President of a student body of a prestigious university under the mentorship of Professor Radhika Menon (Pallavi Joshi) who's a seperatist ideologue, in the guise of a humanist. Krishna was barely a few months old when he fled the Kashmir valley with his grandfather Pushkar Nath Pandit (emotively played by Anupam Kher) after his parents and elder brother Shiva were butchered by Islamists. Growing up in Delhi, Krishna is unaware of his roots except for a few stories of Kashmir told to him by his grandpa. He was told that his parents died of an accident and knew nothing about the trauma his family went through.
Krishna had grown up disconnected from his roots, not just unaware of the trauma inflicted upon his family, but naively parroting the lines of an ideology learnt from his campus politics. This is the story of most of us. Vivek Agnihotri and his entire team have done such a careful study of the separatist ideologies and their modus operandi of catching young idealists from campuses. The character of Radhika Menon is so well built that one is bound to see such narrative-peddling professors across universities in India.
The movie also gives us a realistic picture of how ill prepared we are as people and communities. If a calamity were to strike us; how indifferent the governments and bureaucracy can become; how powerless and helpless the administrators can be; how journalists will shut their eyes and push the narratives set by their masters; how doctors cannot attend the dying for the fear for their own lives. It happened in Kashmir in 1990. It has happened so many times before and continues to happen in pockets across our country. Yet, we are numb to it all, going on with life-as-usual in the bubbles we’ve created for ourselves!
Perhaps the most important contribution of this film is to help the public understand the true nature and identity of the conflict raging in Kashmir. It is a battle of civilisations that has been raging on for at least 1,300 years on multiple fronts.
Over the past three decades, false narratives are being spread around the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. These ill-willed narratives and their perpetrators had found a sound footing in the special status offered to Kashmir by the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This was abrogated by the Government only recently, to herald an era of peace and prosperity to the region. Our only hope as a civilisation is to awaken to the truth by being alert and developing the ability to discriminate between facts and false narratives. In doing so, we must stand steadfast and support what is right. As Nobel Peace Prize Laurate and Nazi Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says, ‘If we forget, the dead will be killed a second time’. The truth will set us free.