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How Anti-Muslim Propaganda is Spilling into India’s Film Industry

CJ Werleman reviews a new Bollywood film that distorts the history of Indian administered Kashmir

A man looks at the poster of upcoming film “PM Narendra Modi” outside a theatre in Mumbai, India April 9, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Alamy

How Anti-Muslim PropagandaIs Spilling into India’s Film Industry

CJ Werleman reviews a new Bollywood film that distorts the history of Indian administered Kashmir

The Bollywood produced film The Kashmir Files opened in cinemas throughout India and the rest of the world on Friday. It tells a story about the exodus of Hindus – the Pandits – from Indian administered Kashmir during the early 1990s.

The script could have easily been written and directed by Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or its political wing – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Kashmiri Muslims are portrayed as bloodthirsty killers and rapists, while Kashmiri Hindus are cast as hapless and defenceless pacifists, who refuse to take up arms against so-called “jihadists”, a pejorative term used to cloak local opposition to Indian rule in Islamic extremism. Expectedly, the Indian Government’s eternal bogeyman – Pakistan – lurks sinisterly in the background. 

In a climatic point in the film, the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto screams: “We will never allow Kashmir to become an integral part of India,” among calls for jihad from local religious leaders, therefore echoing the current Indian Government and its supporters, who have long accused Kashmiri Muslims of being puppets of Pakistan.

Kashmiri Hindu women and children are shown to be shot mercilessly in the head from point blank range, as radicalised Muslims roam the streets of Srinagar in search of their next victim. Historical facts be damned. This is the telling of a Pandit “genocide”, according to the film’s producers, who blend Hindu nationalist tropes with garden variety Islamophobia and straight up falsehoods.

For starters, there’s virtually no evidence that a Hindu genocide occurred in Kashmir during the 1990s. 

Even the Indian Government reported that fewer than 220 Pandits were killed in Kashmir during the period spanning 1989 to 2004, a number that was contradicted by Srinagar district police headquarters in 2021, when it reported 89 Pandits had been killed during the past 31 years.

If this meets the definition of genocide, then so does the killing of 1,800 Muslims in Assam in 1983, the mass murder of 2,000 Muslims during the violence that swept Gujarat in 2002, and the Delhi Riots in 2020, which left 51 Muslims hacked, burned, and shot to death. But none of these mass atrocities were called a genocide, a term that has been reserved by Hindu nationalists crimes committed by “Islamic extremism”.

More to the point – if 89 to 219 dead Kashmiri Hindus equates to genocide, then what name do you give to the killing of at least 50,000 but potentially 100,000 Kashmiri Muslims by Indian occupation forces since 1989? And what name do you give to their nearly 10,000 unmarked graves?

Were you to count the number of inconvenient truths omitted from the screenplay, you’d not only run out of fingers and toes, but also marbles and loose change. The producers do not want the audience to know that the exodus of Pandits took place under Jammu & Kashmir Governor Jagmohan Malhotra, who was appointed by the central Government, which was supported by BJP.

For this reason, Kashmiri Muslims insist that the exodus was a “concentrated effort” by Jagmohan Malhotra to first “clear the Pandits from the valley, before turning the guns on their vulnerable selves,” writes Vijaylakshmi Nadar in a recent op-ed for the Indian Observer.

Driving an Agenda

In mythologising the tumultuous political events that swept the valley during the early 1990s, The Kashmir Files not only advances Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda by further polarising the electorate, but also legitimises the persecution of innocent Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Indian occupation soldiers.

It’s impossible to ignore that the movie is being released two years after the Government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, while imposing draconian lockdowns, curfews, mass arrests and communication blackouts. And at the same time BJP leaders vow to make Muslims second-class citizens, while some Hindu nationalist leaders call for a Muslim genocide.

Worryingly, the movie is being screened for free in many Indian cities, which will only whip up further hatred towards Muslims and drive a great number of Hindus towards BJP’s ultra-nationalist agenda, one that posits Islam and Pakistan to be a threat to the country’s Hindu majority.

To this end, The Kashmir Files accords with the imagination of the Indian Government’s unofficial Ministry of Propaganda, with Islam, Muslims, and Pakistan making a fearsome presence in every scene.

In India, we have a ruling party that not only draws its ideological inspiration from the Nazi Party, but also serves up propaganda to promote Hindu nationalism, the political ambitions of BJP, while demonising political opponents and Muslims.

Indeed, the Indian Government has helped pay for the film to be promoted in the United States. It knows that if it can get American audiences to see Hindus as victims of radical Islamic terrorists, then it can silence US opposition to its Hindu settler-colonial enterprise in Kashmir.

Modi has carefully studied how pro-Israel groups have undermined political support for the Palestinians in falsely framing Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation as the product of Islamic extremism, not secular resistance to colonial rule.

The Kashmir Files does exactly that to Kashmir’s Muslim majority population.

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