From the many large communal riots over the decades to the six-hour mass slaughter of Muslims in Nellie, 1983; Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere, 1984; Kashmiri Pandits, 1990; selective massacres of Hindus in Punjab, 1983-1993; and Gujarat, 2002, we have failed to bring to justice the perpetrators of our greatest tragedies, says Shekhar Gupta.
What is Vivek Agnihotri’s latest movie The Kashmir Files wants to convey is correct in its essence.
There is no doubt or question that between November 1989 and May 1990 almost all native Hindus in the Kashmir valley, mainly Kashmiri Pandits, had been brutally expelled by Islamist forces in an Indian equivalent of ethnic cleansing .
Many were killed, starting with elderly social activist and lawyer Tika Lal Taploo in September 1989.
Unattributed advertisements appeared in local Urdu newspapers asking Hindus to leave. This is a reality that should be well known to two generations of Indians.
Historians, storytellers, especially filmmakers, will each find their version of the truth.
In a polarized and traumatized environment, they will also focus on what affects them the most.
As Clint Eastwood showed us, Iwo Jima had two versions of the truth (Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima).
But no one can doubt the ferocity of the battle there, and the heroism of the professional soldiers.
It is therefore ridiculous and tragic that The Kashmir Files the debate got locked into questions such as “How many Kashmiri pundits were actually killed?” Was the number two digits, three, four, five, six or, according to some claims, seven? Was it ethnic cleansing, forced exodus, genocide, another holocaust?
This argument will do nothing. What matters 32 years after this great national tragedy is that we are still reduced to an argument over the scoreboard of the killings.
The numbers, in any way, will not lessen or aggravate the tragedy.
And the national shame involved in a large community, a minority in its home state, being driven out, into a democratic republic with armed forces, police and intelligence agencies that rank among the most formidable in the world.
That one side would feel free to add zeros to the balance sheet in such a cavalier way, and that the other would shed tears over the horrific atrocities committed against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, on the one hand, but demand that we address the Kashmiri Pandit question with a light touch, in a spirit of letting go of the past or worse are two sides of the same coin of irony.
Nothing I say here means that I endorse or denounce the film.
I have not seen it again. For the same reason that I haven’t seen the stars of Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt ’83 and Gangubai Kathiawadirespectively.
I’m still too scared of the Covid to go into a movie theater.
The film’s positive contribution is that it exposed a lacerating wound that had never healed.
The downside is the chilling and shameful sectarian response from movie theater audiences: the demonization of the entire community and calls for reprisals against ordinary Muslim families.
The brilliant journalist and author Rahul Pandita, who wrote the historical account of the atrocity in his Our Moon has blood clots but is now also fiercely attacked on social media for raising facts and treatment arguments with the filmmaker, says this is some kind of catharsis for Kashmiri Pandits and they must have it.
This is an important point, and deserves to be explored further.
In 75 years since independence, India has endured several significant tragedies.
Nor is India the only one to have experienced a violent evolution.
A common and unfortunate trait among us Indians, in fact throughout the subcontinent, is our inability to look the truth in the eye, to accept if not confess what we have done wrong, to find a solution for the victims and perpetrators, and probably to move on.
Our culture and our civilizations take a circular view of problems.
Our arguments are linked again and again.
The shameful fact is that as a nation and as a system of laws, we have failed to bring to justice the perpetrators of our greatest tragedies.
From the many large communal riots over the decades to the six-hour mass slaughter of Muslims in Nellie, 1983; Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere, 1984; Kashmiri Pandits, 1990; selective massacres of Hindus in Punjab, 1983-93; and Gujarat, 2002.
What is regulated by law does not necessarily solve a problem. But it helps.
In our system, on the other hand, every self-inflicted calamity becomes an eternal partisan argument.
In some cases, he pretends to fade away, like with Nellie.
The reason I said “pretend” is that a mass injustice lurking under the rug may be temporarily forgotten, but is never forgiven.
It goes down in oral history and becomes an endless blood feud. It is our scourge.
Such grievances never go away. Be ready for a The Kashmir Files like a film about the bloodshed of the Partition in the east one of these days, and the consequences it unleashes.
Societies and communities do not forget their saddest times, but they can forgive.
No truth is too bitter or inconvenient to ignore.
Once you have accepted the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits and apologized for the fact that their nation has not given them the protection due to them under law and the Constitution, you can push the further argument – that the same mass crime by terrorists has angered the whole population. the power of the Indian army, police and intelligence agencies; whereas since then nearly 20,000, mostly Kashmiri Muslims, have been killed by the armed forces, many of them by Pakistani-controlled Muslim terrorists; that there will be no lasting peace in the valley until the Pandits can come and go as they wish and feel safer there, as fellow Kashmiri, and not in Jewish enclaves of West Bank type.
India’s handling of Kashmir has been impulsive, seeking cynical quick fixes embodied by Yasin Malik.
On January 25, 1990, he allegedly led a terrorist squad that murdered four unarmed IAF officers waiting to board a bus in Srinagar and two civilian women in the same queue.
The case only went to trial 30 years later, in 2020, and charges were laid. Why?
It’s not like Malik fled to Pakistan.
He was here the whole time, most of which was spent in comfort under the lavish care of the “agencies” who thought they could now repackage him as a terrorist turned man of peace.
This, while he never even unequivocally denied killing those IAF officers.
In a full BBC interview talk toughhe repeatedly asserted: “I was in an armed struggle then, it was Indian soldiers and a fair target.”
For many periods, he had also been the darling of peacemakers.
Almost 25 years ago, when I was still a relatively new editor of The Indian Expressa highly respected activist (I do not name her as her own position has since changed drastically) called me to persuade me to join a delegation led by the late Kuldip Nayar in Srinagar to “rescue this precious young boy for peace … that agar yeh bachcha mar gaya toh chest the tragedy ho jayegi‘.
It was easy for me to get away with just stating the fact that The Indian Express Code of Ethics prohibited all its journalists from participating in any advocacy except on media freedom issues.
But I would have liked so much to tell the truth.
That I found the idea of sucking in a mass murderer of innocent civilians and unarmed IAF officers revolting.
And that if that was how they sought peace, they would only make India even angrier.
How much more angry we now see in theaters playing The Kashmir Files.
For any catharsis of our mass injustices, Yasin Maliks of every faith must be made to pay.
The Germans converted former Nazi concentration camps into solemn, airbrush-free memorials so that future generations would learn never to fall into the same trap.
But it was only after that that the main Nazi mass killers were tracked down and brought to justice.
To live in denial is to live in a vicious circle of injustice.
As Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “If we forget, the dead will be killed a second time.
This applies to all mass injustices. It is useless to wonder whether any of them was an exodus, ethnic cleansing, pogrom, genocide or holocaust.