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'The Kashmir Files'

Ashok Kumar Pandey: ‘A clear case of selective portrayal’

Print edition : Apr 22, 2022 T+T-
FL22INT-PANDEY

Ashok Kumar Pandey: “The Kashmir Files tries to establish the Hindu right wing’s narrative that the Kashmir problem is essentially a communal problem, which certainly is not the case.”

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A banner of the movie outside a cinema hall in Delhi on March 21.

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Vivek Agnihotri,

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At Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on March 22, BJP members protesting against the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi for not making the film tax-free.

Interview with Ashok Kumar Pandey, historian and writer.

Ever since Vivek Agnihotri’s box office success with TheKashmir Files , the first hit in an otherwise flop-ridden career, it has been difficult to seek out the noted historian Ashok Kumar Pandey for an interview about the truth or the absence of it in the film. Pandey, after all, is an expert on Kashmir, having penned two books, Kashmirnama and Kashmir aur Kashmiri Pandit, on the strife-torn border region. The books have received much praise in literary and historical circles for their honest approach to Kashmir’s history. For instance, in Kashmir aur Kashmiri Pandit , he spoke to local people who did not leave the State in 1990. With his detailed writing and painstaking research, he has debunked many preconceived notions about Kashmir, such as the absence of Hindus, destruction of all temples, and the renaming of places having Hindu names.

While his books have understandably been getting a lot of attention, Pandey himself has been busy with discussions on The Kashmir Files , a film that divides society into those who lap up its half-truths as facts and those who question the director’s selective amnesia. “In 1990, I would say, around 1,50,000 Pandits had to leave Kashmir, but equally importantly, around 50,000 Muslims were forced to leave Kashmir. The film is silent on them. It merely shows one Muslim neighbour facilitating the ouster of Kashmiri Pandits. There is not even a single positive Muslim in the film. No attempt to show good relations between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims before the 1990 tragedy,” he told Frontline .

Pandey is not just another historian seeking to dispel many ill-conceived notions with facts and figures. Born in eastern Uttar Pradesh, he did his master’s in economics from Gorakhpur University. He is a poet at heart and a Marxist by his ideological leaning. As he describes himself, “It is difficult to say what I am. Love to read and write poetry, but fiction is equally close to my heart. History is something I can’t do without and Marxist philosophy attracts me more than anything else. Born in a middle class family, I did schooling from a rightist institution but under the liberal eyes of a professor father and religious mother, developed a sort of rebellious (nature) for some. Followed my passion all my life.”

Also read: The wrongs in Kashmir

He calls TheKashmir Files “a propaganda film”. “It is not that I am saying it is a propaganda film, the director of the film himself has said, ‘I have my own agenda.’ If you have an agenda and make a film on that, it can only be propaganda, nothing else. The film takes cinema many notches lower. The director has picked and chosen the incidents.”

In between his online talks, off-line lectures and work on his books, Pandey took a few questions from Frontline . Excerpts:

Vivek Agnihotri’s reputation as a right-wing proponent precedes him as a film-maker. Does ’The Kashmir Files’ follow the same trajectory?

Exactly. If you go through any of his interviews, you will find him praising Narendra Modi, the current government and everything. As a historian, I would say the film is mostly inaccurate. There may have been certain instances that happened, but the scenes woven around those instances depict wrong history. There is a lot of fabrication. He starts from 1990, takes a Kashmiri Pandit family from that year, and then shows them murdered in the final scene. He does not clarify that the case is of 1996. He shows what suits him. This is wrong history.

Hindi cinema has often served as the handmaiden of political dispensations. Why does ‘The Kashmir Files’ shock us?

I agree that ruling political dispensations have tried to use every opportunity for their own political aims, but then there has always been some kind of ethics followed by film-makers, writers and poets. TheKashmir Files shocks with its sheer violent propaganda surpassing every moral consideration. Here is a film director who openly boasts about his allegiance with the ruling party, and has no reservations in propagating communal hatred through his film and interviews. The hate-mongering is blatant. Also, this is the first time that a Prime Minister, the Home Minister and other important leaders of the ruling dispensation are openly supporting a film and promoting it.

As a historian, how do you assess ‘The Kashmir Files’? Is it true in letter and spirit to the events surrounding the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits in January 1990?

If seen through the lenses of history, this film is a clear case of selective portrayal. While it chooses to showcase the brutality against Kashmiri Pandits and the failure of the National Congress and Congress governments, it conveniently avoids dealing with the persecution faced by the other side and the role of Jagmohan [as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir] in the deterioration of the law and order situation in the Valley. TheKashmir Files tries to establish the Hindu right wing’s narrative that the Kashmir problem is essentially a communal problem, which certainly is not the case. It avoids its political side.

Also read: ‘Alienation of people in Kashmir at an all-time high’

It is estimated that around 1.5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits were displaced. At the same time, around 50,000 Muslims too were displaced from Kashmir. What explains the conspiracy of silence around them? Does Vivek Agnihotri address this anomaly in the film?

Everyone who was seen as a supporter of India was terrorised. This explains why thousands of Kashmiri Muslims were killed and are still being killed by terrorists. This was the reason behind the displacement of Muslims. They didn’t support terrorism. Agnihotri hid this fact as this would have busted his communal propaganda.

How far did Muslims of Kashmir suffer because of militancy?

That is exactly the point I have been trying to make. Muslims suffered a lot and the suffering is continuing. Kashmiri Pandits suffered in 1990; Muslims are still suffering from the same phenomenon. The tragedy is haunting them even today. Some 50,000 Muslims migrated alongside Kashmiri Pandits. They got the same rehabilitation package and aid from the government. It is the Muslims who stayed back who were the real sufferers.

You talk of Kashmiri Muslims suffering. How come people do not know even about their displacement alongside Pandits?

Nobody wrote about it that is why. Just like the Jammu massacre after Partition when 4 lakh Muslims were killed. It was one of the biggest massacres in independent India. In Kunan Poshpura [in February 1991] there was a gang-rape of Muslim women allegedly by the security forces. I have talked about it in my books. I have written about the sufferings on both sides.

In one of your talks you mentioned that no Pandit was attacked in Kashmir even at the time of Partition. Is it not surprising considering there was large-scale massacre of Muslims in Jammu?

Yes, it is. This was the success of Sheikh Abdullah’s and Jawaharlal Nehru’s claims of secularism. Mahatma Gandhi made a very moving statement at that time in which he termed Kashmir as the only ray of hope.

Also read: History of betrayals in Kashmir

In the events leading to the migration of Kashmiris in 1990, did Pakistan-sponsored militants distinguish between Hindus and Muslims?

There were communal elements in the terrorist movement and there was no ideological base. In the first phase they targeted every pro-India element. Later, many Pandits were killed just because of their religion. There is no denial of the fact.

It is claimed that Yasin Malik, later to be regarded as an anti-India leader, once believed in Indian democracy and was even a polling agent. Is it true? What brought about the change?

He was a polling agent of Syed Salahuddin, a Muslim United Front (MUF) candidate. The MUF is termed as semi-loyalist. They were not like the National Conference or other mainstream political parties, they had their doubts and there was a demand for plebiscite. But then they chose to get representation through elections in accordance with the Constitution. If the elections were not rigged, they could have become a part of the mainstream discourse. That didn’t happen.

In 1990, the BJP extended support to the Central government from outside. It did not withdraw support to the government after Pandits were forced out of Valley. What moral right does it have to talk of their plight today?

They didn’t even support the idea of sending the Army to the Valley. They did nothing to stop Pandits from leaving. But when the exodus happened, they came forward and helped them a bit in their settlement in the camps. As for as their moral right, I leave it to you.

Vivek Agnihotri has been a member of the Central Board of Film Certification. His film was cleared by the board. Is it ethically and legally tenable?

Our institutions have been rotting for long and during the last decade; they have been made completely subservient to the ruling dispensation. This is only one example of that.

Also read: Roots of the Kashmir dispute

What do you read into the hysteria that has greeted the film? The film has done business of over Rs.200 crore.

The film has proved that communal agenda and moral bigotry is saleable. Get ready for more.

Finally, how different would the film have been had the director read your book on Kashmiri Pandits?

Once you decide that you will only force your agenda, no book can help. Once you give way to bigotry surpassing all moral traditions, you learn to pick facts according to your own malicious goals. No book or research can help it.

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