For anyone who thought that the partition and subsequent adoption of a democratic Constitution had somehow settled the debate over the idea of India, as something defined by the values of “civic constitutionalism”, such as the described recently a former vice president of India, the recent success of the film The Kashmir Files must be a brutal shock.
The film elicited heated debate and a rather predictable response from the traditional guardians of the conscience of our public life on the left. They point out the film’s historical inaccuracies, denounce its supposedly simplistic and voyeuristic depiction of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits which ignores the continued suffering of Kashmiri Muslims, and denounce it as another attempt by the Hindu right to mutilate the secular idea. from India. . They also suggest that the film is a diabolical assault on the syncretic values espoused by the notion of Kashmiriyat.
Alas, those of us who are directly involved in solving India’s internal security problems cannot afford the luxury of indulging in such fanciful flights of fancy about the very real challenges posed to the idea of India by the Kashmir conflict – a conflict that grew out of more than seven decades of festering separatism based on unchecked ethnic and religious chauvinism. After three decades of bloody conflict, this separatism has now abandoned any pretense of being anything more than a front for the ideology of jihadist terrorism. It is an attack not only on the territorial integrity of India, but also on the very idea of India as an inclusive, tolerant and liberal society. It is this assault on the idea of India that is portrayed in the film. But our leftist liberals are so obsessed with the threat that the Hindu right poses to secularism that they have a complete blind spot when it comes to acknowledging even the possibility that secularism in India faces a challenge well more serious on the part of Islamic fundamentalism, of which the conflict in Kashmir is the most flagrant example.
Do we call the violence and displacement suffered by Kashmiri pundits a genocide? Compared to the very recent examples of the Jewish Holocaust and the massacre of Armenians by the Turks in the 20th century, this is certainly a misnomer. However, it still represents a very brazen and brutal example of ethnic cleansing. Those who attacked the film spoke highly of the failure of successive governments to deliver justice and rehabilitation to displaced Kashmiri Pandits. But again, there is complete silence on the ideology of hate that enabled this persecution and displacement in the first place, an ideology that peddled lies about Kashmiryat to create a self-serving narrative of conspiracy and victimization .
Let’s be honest, Kashmiriyat has always been a bit of a fantasy. Kashmir’s recorded history since medieval times is replete with examples of mass conversions based on political coercion and brute force. There was nothing abnormal or abnormal about what happened to the Pandits in the 1990s. Our Kashmiri Muslim citizens and left-wing intellectuals are in collective denial that what happened to the pundits in Kashmir in the 1990s was an evil plot by the then Indian government to defame Kashmiryat. Are we to believe that thousands of Kashmiri pundits faked their persecution and voluntarily left their livelihoods and homes to participate in a huge charade aimed at slandering Kashmiri Muslims? One would have to be exceptionally gullible, or paranoid, or just plain twisted to peddle this tale.
There is a tone the film takes that shocks even all the proud Hindus who are patriotic Indians. It is the belief that not a single Kashmiri Muslim has stood up to the dominant narrative of hatred. I can’t believe that even in the midst of this collective madness, there weren’t a few Schindler Kashmiri.
The violence against the pundits in Kashmir was not only the work of a few fringe terrorists. It enjoyed the tacit support of large sections of the Valley’s political class and civil society. It is this tacit support that prevents the return of Pandits to Kashmir. Unless the now almost entirely Muslim-dominated civil society in the Kashmir Valley challenges its own twisted narrative, acknowledges its complicity in the plight of the pundits, and weans itself from its reliance on victimization and jihadist separatism, the peace will not come to Kashmir anytime soon.
The popularity of the Kashmir files must also be seen in the broader context of the broad public support for the dismantling, in August 2019, of Kashmir’s special constitutional status which was based on Articles 35A and 370. The Constitution of India does not that codify our secular ideals. They actually derive their sustenance from centuries of cultural syncretism which is central to Hindu philosophy and culture. It is this syncretic core that has been truly damaged by the persecution of the Kashmiri Pandits and their displacement. Recognition of this fact, as this film does with typical Bollywood hyperbole, is essential to any credible idea of India as well as any viable roadmap for ending the conflict in Kashmir.
Our largely left-liberal elite have long argued that secularism in India faces an existential threat from the Hindu right. For many decades after independence, this position went largely unchallenged both in politics and in our wider public discourse. It is now contested in both areas. This is what happens when outdated ideologies fail to adapt to the realities on the ground. Vivek Agnihotri is definitely not Satyajit Ray or even Manmohan Desai. Nonetheless, it is predictable to denounce the popularity of The Kashmir Files as yet another example of popular sentiment misled and ill-fed by the forces of Hindutva. This is another chapter of being intellectually deaf to the political and cultural realities of India today.
This column first appeared in the print edition of April 16, 2022 under the title “Misreading The Kashmir Files”. The author is an IPS officer currently serving in Uttarakhand. Views are personal