Kashmiri Pandits deserved a better storyteller

Kashmir Files does not do justice to the grief of Kashmiri Pandits.

Credit : Indie Journal

Renowned Palestinian author and intellectual Edward Said writes in his book ‘Reflections on Exile and Other Essays',

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement.”

The recently released film ‘Kashmir files’ directed by Vivek Agnihotri has stirred up a storm. The exile of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley since the early 1990s remains one of the most traumatic post-partition wounds in the history of modern India.

The relationship of a community with the land where they have lived, grown and prospered for thousands of years is certainly stronger, more natural and more organic than any other emotion or identity. It's not an identity that is invented by the person, rather it is what creates and shapes the humanity of the person. We often confuse displacement, migration and exile for one another. While people migrate voluntarily, displacement occurs due to a crisis or other reasons. However, exile is imposed, by the system, from others. And when such a separation from one's land is imposed on someone, their grief becomes so deeply ingrained that it makes them feel helpless their entire life. 


The relationship with the land where a community has lived for thousands of years is stronger and more organic than any other emotion or identity.


The experience of Kashmiri Pandits is no different. The grief of being separated from one's land, culture, one's homes, memories and people and rebuilding nests somewhere far away is incomprehensible for the people living in conflict-free states. Their pain can only be felt in a borrowed form. While being able to tell the story of this pain is not a panacea for any refugee group, it can at least be a soothing balm. This is precisely why the storyteller of their grief must share the same sentiment, someone who will not only relieve their pain but will also do justice to their story. Unfortunately for the Kashmiri Pandits, their most famous storyteller did not dive deep enough to take responsibility for their pain.

The plight of the Kashmiri Pandits and their hurt is comparable to the price paid by communities across the world for human exploitation, violent struggles and political maneuvers. The stories of the Palestinians being alienated in their own homes, the Africans enslaved on a land far away from their homes, the Rohingyas wandering around the world with their precarious lives and the Latin American refugees devastated by violence, all have different specificities, but the origin of their story is the same. Their pain is the same. That is the pain of losing one's land.


Art and literature borrow from this pain so that it can be experienced universally across the world.


This pain has been presented in varied forms. As mentioned before, art and literature borrow this feeling so that it can be experienced universally across the world. No matter how much one cries and how much one gets upset after watching a film or reading a book, it’s difficult to claim to have experienced the same pain as it is simply impossible.

And hence, what is the purpose of the art, the stories that express this grief?  Should it be the objective of the story to recreate violence, cruelty and hatred? Should the objective be to ensure that the same story, the same pain becomes a reality for others? Can the art that tells the story of this pain, also become a tool to create the same pain? And if this is the case, can it do justice to the original grief?

'The Kashmir Files' is an 'artwork' written and directed by a person who himself is not a Kashmiri Pandit, who has no direct or indirect experience of what exactly happened in Kashmir, nor does he have any stakes in the situation in Kashmir and whose intention of telling this story raises suspicion. In such a case any sensible society needs to check whether this story is for the justice of the refugees or to insult their suffering. 

Is it not crucial to tell the story of Kashmiri Pandits? It certainly is. It is an indescribable human tragedy that 4 lakh people had to leave their homeland and become refugees. It must find an expression. We need to experience this story. Therefore, the context and its representation become important. 

In the year 2020, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a director born in a Kashmiri Pandit family, presented the film 'Shikara'. The story was based on a book by Rahul Pandita, a Kashmiri Pandit writer-journalist. Two Kashmiri Pandits were expressing their pain through a beautiful film. They were talking about their homeland, their 'Wadi' (valley), what their Kashmir was like, about their neighbours, what was their 'Kashmiriyat' and their identity, how their land was taken away from them. However, nowhere after the screening of this film in 2020 were there any slogans of 'Goli Maro Salo Ko… {Shoot the Rascals}'. No one called for the massacre of Muslims. Because the pain expressed in this story was an expression of grief of Kashmiri Pandits. If after watching their grief anyone were to think of inflicting such cruelty on anyone else, then it would have been a perversion.

Watching ‘Shikara’, one is not overwhelmed with rage. Certainly, you will get angry. However, you will not want to be violent after watching the violence in the film. You will see references to violence, humanity, refugee suffering and even the selfishness of ordinary people. Witnessing this on a big, wide screen, you will connect to the spiritual pain of its director and writer that will moist your eyes by the end of the film and you will expect justice for Kashmiri Pandits.

‘Kashmir files’ is not the same. Sure it is based on true events. All the violent events in the film are true. But its perspective appears to be created by a person who is clueless about the pain of the Kashmiri Pandits. The violence in the film does not aim to generate compassion in our minds but to recreate the violence in a targeted manner. With a perverse intention, this film is created by omitting contexts, combining many individuals into one character. Violence has been portrayed in this film in the same way as rape is portrayed in an exaggerated way to arouse sexual feelings in Bollywood films. It is true, but its presentation and portrayal is derogatory, disturbing. This is a deceptive borrowing of the grief of our countrymen and its disfiguring to achieve enmity against other countrymen. To justify the hatred in your mind, art is used as a tool. In a sense, this is an insult to Kashmiri Pandits and their misfortune. This does not bode well with a civilized society like ours.


‘Kashmir files’ is not the same. Sure it is based on true events. But its content appears to be created by a person who is clueless about the pain of the Kashmiri Pandits.


On the other hand, those who are despondent over the Kashmir Files today, the ones who identify with progressive thoughts and want to have compassion, need to reflect on this - Why did this happen? How did this situation arise? Why was such a general feeling created or was it possible to “create” as you say? Or whether the issue of the Kashmiri Pandits was suppressed? Did it not get justice? If Shikara had become popular in 2020 and there would have been so much discussion about it, if Rahul Pandita's book had been discussed, had there been a comprehensive discussion over Kashmir’s suffering, then would there have been a space for the reception of a vitriolic presentation of the issue? 

The point of this writing is not whether one should watch ‘Kashmir files’ or not. The purpose of this article is not to say that the story of Kashmiri Pandits is not infuriating, nor is it to express any opinion on the Kashmir issue. Do watch ‘Kashmir files’. But do take the time to watch ‘Shikara’ as well. It is available on Amazon Prime. Watch these two stories one after the other, interpret them yourself, interpret the pain of Kashmiri Pandits and ask yourself… Why didn't we feel anguish/outrage when we saw the pain in ‘Shikara’? Why did we disapprove of ‘Shikara’? And ask yourself, what kind of famous/popular narrator did Kashmiri Pandits deserve?

Translation by: Vidula Sonagra

Read the original article in Marathi here.