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Photo illustration by John Lyman

Has the Indian government co-opted The Kashmir Files, a new film by Vivek Agnihotri, to help craft a narrative around Kashmir?

In the verdant valleys of Kashmir, the Indian government’s settler-colonial ambitions are manifesting through contentious policies and measures. Among these, the delimitation process stands out as particularly polarizing. This initiative aims to redraw the electoral boundaries within the region—an undertaking that has been met with vehement opposition by Kashmiri parties. They argue that such an action could potentially erode their political leverage and unjustly tip the scales in favor of Jammu’s Hindu majority, to the detriment of the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley.

Compounding the complexity of India’s settlement initiatives is the delicate issue of the Kashmiri Pandits—a Hindu minority who were compelled to leave the valley amidst the crescendo of violence in the 1990s. In an effort to orchestrate their return and assimilation, the government has proffered employment, security, and housing. Nevertheless, the initiative is riddled with contention. The dialogue—or conspicuous lack thereof—between returning Pandits and resident Kashmiri Muslims is fraught, marred by distrust. Local resistance bristles at the notion of segregated townships for Pandits, and a troubling surge in targeted attacks on Hindus in the valley underscores the volatile nature of the current scenario. This strategic interplay between settlement, politics, and identity reveals the intricate and controversial layers of India’s settler-colonial enterprise in Kashmir.

The overarching narrative of Hindutva—an ideology advocating for a Hindu majority—fuels these endeavours, underpinning the drive to subdue and assimilate Kashmir’s Muslim populace. Through the delimitation exercise, there is an implicit attempt to amplify Jammu’s clout, steering the region towards the eventual appointment of a Hindu Chief Minister. This strategy is seen as a step toward restoring an unequivocal Hindu preeminence over the valley’s Muslim inhabitants. The orchestrated return of the Kashmiri Pandits from their 1990 exodus fits into this larger tapestry of demographic and political restructuring with the underlying intent of suffocating any secessionist impulses.

The Indian state has been accused of wielding Bollywood as a megaphone for its version of Kashmir’s narrative, leveraging the industry’s colossal influence. Films like Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files, a dramatized portrayal of the Pandits’ exodus, have sparked intense debate. Critics lambast the film as a blunt instrument of propaganda, distorting reality and maligning Kashmiri Muslims. The movie’s inclusion in the Indian Panorama section at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was not without controversy, prompting the jury chairman, Rahul Rawail, to publicly censure the decision, expressing incredulity at the film meeting the festival’s esteemed criteria. Such denouncements, made in the presence of government officials who have previously endorsed the film, underscore the schism between official narratives and communal truths.

Speculation is rife that the Indian government has co-opted The Kashmir Files to craft a narrative around the Kashmiri Pandits’ departure, steering public perception. Despite its endorsement by certain political quarters, the film has drawn criticism for its skewed depiction of the Pandits’ plight, with some contending that it misconstrues the exodus as an act of ethnic defense, while systematically overlooking the enduring plight and human rights violations endured by Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of state forces. The film’s disputed veracity has even stirred members of the Pandit community to call for its censure.

The film stands as a testament to India’s long-standing and multifaceted campaign within Kashmir—a campaign that has been intensifying in its scope and tactics. The narrative propagated by The Kashmir Files aligns with Hindutva, seeking to override and assimilate the cultural identity of Kashmir’s Muslim inhabitants. In this fraught context, grasping the intricacies of India’s settler-colonial project and honoring the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiri people is more vital than ever.

Abdul Mussawer Safi is an author at various platforms such as Modern Diplomacy, Kashmir Watch, and Eurasia Review. He is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from National Defense University. He has a profound interest in world politics, especially in the regional dynamics of South Asia. His academic strengths are critical and SWOT analysis.