The Kashmir Files – Truths, Lies, Lessons

Around the time The Kashmir Files was released, I was binge watching the 9-part series Inventing Anna on Netflix. This series was released on Netflix a month before The Kashmir Files was released in theaters. Inventing Anna is about a twenty-something New York City socialite Anna Delvey who dupes multiple people and organizations of hundreds of thousands of dollars. After watching the series, I looked up the real story behind Anna Delvey and was astonished to see how closely the drama series reflected the real story. 

But why am I talking about Inventing Anna, when I should be talking about The Kashmir Files. What is the connection? Well, my attention was grabbed by the tagline of Inventing Anna: “This story is completely true, except the parts that are totally made up.” The fact that some parts of the series are “totally made up” can cause some people to question the story, but in my opinion, this characteristic is the strength of this Netflix series. Unlike a documentary that relies on actual footage from the events, features have to go through the challenge of weaving together the events in a tell-able story. Schindler’s List had to face that challenge. A Beautiful Mind had to do that. Life is Beautiful had to do that. Inventing Anna had to do that. But The Kashmir Files does that much better than many movies that are based on real life events, definitely better than any movie made in India. The Kashmir Files is serious business. It is a genre in itself — a type of movie that has probably never been made in Bollywood. If one has, it has not seen the light of the day. It is a movie that is hard to watch for all, and hard to face for some, but it is not one that can be ignored; it is not one that a viewer feels bored watching in spite of its 170 minute duration.

The troubles of Kashmir and its people make for tough storytelling. No matter whose story you tell, which story you tell, which way you tell the story, there will always be people who will accuse you of lying and there will be others who will applaud you for telling the truth. There will always be those indulging in whataboutism and asking you why you didn’t tell some other story along with the story you wanted to tell. Do we have to tell every story, when we tell one story? When I talk about my pain, do I have to talk about everyone else’s pain too in order to be heard? The movie’s writer-director Vivek Agnihotri has singularly focused on the elimination of Hindus from Kashmir, collected and selected factual stories from related archives and woven them together into a single story. 

There have been countless reviews of the movie all over the Indian media. Unfortunately, the reviews have been very partisan — liberal reviewers have rejected the movie outright as propaganda, and right wingers have hailed it as a war cry. So, please take both types of reviews with a grain of salt. Neither of the attitudes is correct. In this article, I am only trying to answer some questions that I have heard people ask. I do so in my capacity as a Kashmiri Hindu myself, who had to lose his home and homeland in the events depicted by this film.

The lesson from the movie should be that in an environment charged with majoritarian religious fervor, minorities suffer – no matter which minority it is.

Is the Kashmir Files Against Muslims?
The Kashmir Files is against Muslims as much as The Schindler’s List (or any other holocaust movie) is against Christians. It is not. The Kashmir Files indicts all Kashmiris as much as The Schindler’s List indicts all Germans. So, let us not suppress the movie for being anti-Muslim as so many in India’s liberal media and political circles are trying to do. But while this fact must be understood by those on the Left, it must be equally understood by those on the Right. While the Left must stop indicting the movie for being Islamophobic, the Right must stop indicting and hating all Muslims and proving the Left right. Even if the movie is being told from a Hindu perspective, it points out the truth that cannot be denied. The lesson from the movie should be that in an environment charged with majoritarian religious fervor, minorities suffer — no matter which minority it is.

Did Those Horrible Things Really Happen?
The stories of terror that are told in the movie may be new for an average Indian moviegoer, but not for us, the Kashmiri Hindus themselves. We are a very small community. If I met a Kashmiri in a far off place and started talking to her, within minutes we are likely to find common connections. Yes, I can do so even with a celebrity like Anupam Kher, who plays the lead role in this film. I can do the same with Bhasha Sumbli, the other main Kashmiri actor in the film. With both I have common relatives. As a result, all the incidents that are shown in the film have happened to people who are our acquaintances or are acquaintances of our acquaintances. We have known and have talked about these incidents throughout the last 32 years and before. Some of us have lived through these incidents ourselves.

Following is a YouTube video that compares the characters and incidents in the movie with the real ones.

The Kashmir Files: Reel vs Real

Has The Kashmir Files Told the Whole Story?
No it has not, and it did not have to. It has missed so many incidents that happened to Kashmiri Pandits, and to Kashmiri Muslims, but the stories that it has told are all true and have been told in an honest, effective, and in-your-face manner. As a family member of mine who escaped the pogrom in Kashmir wrote, the real story was the decades before 1990. He writes on Instagram:

It…it’s important to note that the worst part of the whole Pandit crisis was not the migration itself, but the life from 1970-1990 when the oppressor convinced you that you were weak, a powerless minority, your parents told you not to get into a fight with a Muslim student, not to be friends either. When you grew up you were told not to dream of an engineering or medicine seat in J&K. People from Jammu called you cowards and parasites, they still do. Till today most KPs of my generation see themselves as weak and avoid conflict. So the major issue is discrimination. The need, is for us all to see a person as a human. Is it a dream too Big? Looking at how things are, with racism, religious fundamentalism, regional bias being nurtured and exploited by politicians across the Globe, I don’t have much hope. But, it’s high time, human beings start fighting for equality, environment, rule of law.

Instagram @kaulskk

What everyone needs to understand is that this is not a story of just 1990. It has started decades before, and continued in decades after. So, before you question, “Who was in power in 1990?”, understand that 1990 was just the climax (or one of the climaxes) of a decades long, or rather centuries long sequence of events. The exodus of Hindus, forced as well as voluntary, from Kashmir had already been going on for ever.

What is Genuine About the Movie?
Anupam Kher has done an amazing job playing Pushkar Nath, the protagonist of the movie. The Kashmiri language dialog he has spoken, or even the Hindi with a Kashmiri accent, makes the movie different from so many movies made about Kashmir. Bhasha Sumbli is the only other ethnic Kashmiri playing a major role in the movie and she has contributed her own authenticity to the movie.

The cuisine, the costumes, the room decors, all have been well researched and well incorporated to represent a Kashmiri Pandit home.

What is Not Genuine About the Movie?
One scene that I found hard to believe was Anupam Kher dressed as Shiva for the festival of Shivaratri and coming home on a scooter. One thing to note about Hindu festivals in Kashmir was that our festivals were low key. This was part and parcel of being a small religious minority. There was no color on Holi, no lights on Diwali. Whichever festivals we celebrated, they were mostly celebrated inside homes with not much public display. Therefore Pushkar Nath (played by Kher) playing Shiva and daring to drive home on a scooter in a costume in those tumultuous days was next to impossible.

The Kashmiri dishes shown in one of the scenes were all genuine, but were all vegetarian, when we know that the scene called for mutton dishes Rogan Josh and Yakhni. To me, this seemed like a politically motivated move.

What Next?
Many Kashmiri Pandits and their sympathizers are expressing the opinion that finally justice has been done and now the next step is for Kashmiri Hindus to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Bringing Kashmir fully into India’s fold, or bringing pro-India Hindus back to their homes in Kashmir is a dream that is very far from becoming real, unless some catastrophic geopolitical upheavals take place.



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