- To say I was unprepared for the film is a gross understatement, for I entered the theater expecting to cheer at the victories of our Hindu heroes, but I left feeling as though I had been stabbed a million times over.
The Holocaust was a genocide that has since been etched into the hearts and minds of every single child that has passed through any kind of schooling system. The atrocities that took place have been documented so thoroughly that countless authors, artists, and filmmakers have been able to produce a horrifyingly accurate recreation of the genocide itself. When such an overwhelming evil plagues our history books, how can one forget it? How can one dare forget it?
We don’t—plain and simple. And ever since those horrific events, Germany has attempted to scrub the damage of the Nazi regime from the country itself, ensuring that something so gruesome as the Holocaust never happens again. But it’s just as Mark Twain says: “History rhymes.”
And the violent rhymes that rang throughout the streets of Kashmir as terrorists brutally massacred the Kashmiri Hindus still resonate as you walk those very streets today: “Raliv, Galiv, ya Chaliv!” Convert, Die, or Flee. Kashmiri Hindus were murdered, tortured, raped, and all the while, the outside world remained clueless about their plight. How does genocide so brutal go so painfully unnoticed, you ask. Silence. Silence is the reason that there are a million Schindler’s Lists, and only one Kashmir Files.
The Genocide of Kashmir (or the “Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits”, as Wikipedia conveniently calls it) happened in 1990 during a time when “religious tensions” w too mild a phrase to classify the conflict of the time; Kashmir was a war zone. But it’s not exactly presented that way, with the media referring to it only as an “exodus” and stating the official casualties of the genocide as 30 to 80 Kashmiri Pandits. However, in interviews conducted with the very perpetrators of this genocide, that statistic may as well refer to the number of Kashmiri Pandits killed by each militant.
Upon the release of “The Kashmir Files,” director Vivek Agnihotri has revealed that each and every scene is based on countless interviews conducted with victims of this genocide, and it’s likely for this very reason that many question its authenticity. As stated in the film itself, “the truth is so painfully true that it feels like a lie.”
It was one of the first things I noticed watching the film; in place of the common acknowledgment that “all connections to people, places, and events in this film are purely coincidental” was a bone-chilling “this movie has been made based on real interviews and reports.” To say I was unprepared for the film I was about to see is a gross understatement, for I entered the theater expecting to cheer at the victories of our Hindu heroes, but I left feeling as though I had been stabbed a million times over.
Largely influenced by the media openly presented to me in my everyday life, I thought the same as every second-generation Indian: that our parents are Islamaphobic master-exaggerators throwing numbers and stories in our faces to justify their bigotry. I didn’t think much of the horrifying stories they told because I felt as though every account they shared was thrown violently out of proportion.
In fact, reading some of the reactions to the film on FaceBook before I had seen the film, I remember seeing posts about people who experienced the genocide unleashing their righteous anger onto social media because this film had finally given them the opportunity to do so. I remember thinking, “wow, you guys make it really hard to sympathize with you.” I remember saying it out loud to my mother. I remember being in the theater in a particularly giddy mood as my family and I hadn’t gone to see a movie in quite some time. I remember begging my father for a bucket of popcorn to eat as we watched the film. “Enjoy.” How bizarre to think that that was what we were told by the person collecting our ticket stubs. “Enjoy the movie.”
The film began. The disclaimers and acknowledgments flashed across the screen. I silenced my phone, and we were greeted with the sight of a few Kashmiri boys playing cricket. Then, in the next ten minutes, I was almost paralyzed with horror. I later came to know that some of the events were so gruesome that they needed to be censored. To watch such a paralyzing account of genocide and realize that it had been watered-down for viewership was all but shell-shocking.
There was one scene in particular that stuck with me; it was the one that closed out the film. It was a scene depicting the Nadimarg Massacre of 2003, in which 24 Kashmiri Pandits were lined up in front of a trench and shot. Among them were two little boys. When the final boy is shot, he falls backward onto the other corpses in the trench. His eyes are wide open, his face streaked with blood. The film doesn’t cut away to give us respite from the gruesome sight. The camera lingers on that boy’s innocent face for nearly a minute before slowly fading to black. No conclusion. No happy ending. Just massacre. But we don’t really deserve closure, do we? Not when those Kashmiri Hindus never got it. As the credits are rolling, my head is entirely empty, save for that final shot. Whenever I shut my eyes, I see his face. Even now, I remember it as if I myself had watched the massacre unfold.
When we left the theater, no one said a word. Our usual routine was to huddle in a small Indian circle, sharing our thoughts on the film we had seen, coming to the general consensus that it was “time pass.” This time, nobody spoke. How could we? Who could possibly form thoughts, let alone words, after such a harrowing experience? It was only thirty minutes later when we rode home in silence that I could begin to feel again. I felt my face: it was wet with tears, but to say I felt sad would be incorrect. I felt angry. And truth be told, most of my anger was not directed toward the terrorists for whom the word “evil” is far too mild—I felt angry at all the Kashmiri people who ratted out their own neighbors, allowing them to be massacred. I felt angry at the Indian government for keeping silent as genocide unfolded before their very eyes. I felt angry at myself: so indifferent to the truth that I had disregarded it entirely.
I won’t recount the film’s synopsis or events, because those things need to be viewed in the theater—moreover, how does one properly recount mass genocide? What’s most saddening is that the Kashmiri Hindus that found the courage to share their stories do not even ask for reparations—of any kind—when narrating these events. All they ask is for your ear. All they ask is that people listen, now thirty-two years later, all they ask is that people know.
The Kashmir Files is a film that needs to be watched, not just by those Indians that feign ignorance, but by everyone. I don’t think I could ever watch it again—once is enough to drill its events into my brain for decades to come. But just as the Holocaust has been recognized and condemned, the Genocide of the Kashmiri Hindus is one that should never be forgotten. As Holocaust survivor and renowned author, Elie Wiesel, said, “to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”