Movie theaters for me, are a place to laugh and bond with friends, to live in a fantasy world, and to immerse myself in an alternate exciting reality. Yet recently, I found myself crying as I watched a unique movie premiere – The Kashmir Files, which presented the unvarnished truth of the Kashmiri Hindu community that was thrown out of its historic homeland in 1999. Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, Pallavi Joshi, Anupam Kher and brought to life by a larger team that worked relentlessly for four years, the movie depicted my buried pain in a way a few movies have. This week as we mark the grim 32nd anniversary of my family’s exile, I feel compelled to share the story so others too can heal.
Bereft of their roots, their homes, their temples, and their leaders, the Kashmiri Hindu community has lived a scattered existence, flung across parts of India and the globe. With justice denied for over three decades, many who survived the horrors of that time have passed on or are getting too frail to share their testimonies. And telling our story is not easy! It’s a complicated multi-century saga of persecution and survival, that books like Our Moon Has Blood Clots and others have tried to document.
Going into the movie, I worried about how the directors would fit the complex information into just three hours. If the movie was dwelling only on data, it would be boring for audiences. But if it focused only on the gruesome events of 1989-90, how would it highlight our community’s continuing pain of being ignored by the media, academia, and government for the last three decades. I remember thinking, “If this turns out to be another dramatized love story like Shikara or a stereotypical Bollywood movie romanticizing our genocide, it’ll be a huge letdown.”
Maybe I’ve just been conditioned to be pessimistic. I’ve been vocal about the cause for as long as I can remember. For 32 years, the Kashmiri Hindu voice has been consistently silenced. It has been a challenge to make our voices heard since our very existence threatens many popular narratives. My people have constantly talked about our struggles – letters to various government officials, cries for help, congressional hearings, newspaper submissions, and more. We have tried our best, though few have been ready to listen. But maybe that tide is finally turning!
After watching the movie, I am hopeful – maybe justice for my community is slowly being delivered! The Kashmir Files exceeded my expectations in every way. It successfully captured the raw emotion and pain of the victims and the many atrocities that occurred. Without turning it into a documentary, the movie also successfully weaved in the facts and figures of not only the 1990 genocide but also the civilizational threat Kashmir has faced for centuries.
It accurately depicted the ignorance of the Indian government of that time, the ploys of the Pakistani groups that fed separatist lies to the masses, the radicalization of our own neighbors, the lies of the “Free Kashmir” movement, and the deceptive ways in which the media and academic institutions brainwashed the general population.
I found myself crying multiple times while watching the movie. It is one thing to read and hear about the horrors faced by the Hindus of Kashmir, but another to see it unfold in the theater. My mother, a victim of that genocide, cried throughout the film since it was almost too much for her. She has spent her adult life trying to heal from the pain of the death of her father Chaman Lal Kaul, who was hacked into pieces for being a Hindu, and the movie was triggering her buried emotions. After the film, she said, “This movie will bring my father some justice.” My own father’s anxiety got the better of him and he left within 15 minutes of the movie starting. The visuals on the screens were too close to his past for comfort.
There was not one dry eye in the audience as the movie ended. And the impact wasn’t limited to direct victims of the genocide. Many people from different backgrounds shared their emotions as well. Brianna Wheatley, an African American girl who grew up in Maryland, even felt guilty. She asked, “Studying in school, we learned about many minorities being persecuted, but why was such a recent genocide of such scale ignored?”
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the release of the movie (originally planned for 26 January 2022) has been delayed. I deeply encourage everyone to watch it when it does release. It was a cathartic experience for my family and, hopefully, can be cathartic for many more.
Today, we live in a world and are part of a generation that is tackling the ghosts and hidden atrocities of years and even centuries past. I am hopeful that the struggles of my family and of the Kashmiri Hindu community are recognized for the broader struggles they truly are – against majoritarianism, against a monopoly of ideas, and against the homogenization of identities. This is a struggle for the survival of ancient indigenous minority voices that are drowned out today, just as they have been for centuries. To paraphrase Dinos Christianopoulos — let us be the seeds they tried to bury.
Rohit Raina is a second-generation Kashmiri Hindu living in the United States. Born in Jammu and Kashmir, his family moved when he was only 6 months old. Rohit has been an active advocate for his community for nearly seven years, speaking and educating on college campuses and elsewhere, about groups affected by terrorism. Rohit enjoys his free time learning about his heritage, reading books, swimming, and speaking Kashmiri with his family.
Edited by Pushpita Prasad, Contributing Editor at India Currents.