The Kashmir Files: Let Nightmares of Past be Never Forgotten, Never Repeated
It has been almost a week since I saw The Kashmir Files. The day before we packed up my husband’s belongings to finally come back home to the US together, we caught an afternoon show. It meant we stayed up the whole night to pack, it meant we didn’t get to pack up everything we otherwise would have — but I didn’t want to put it off. I didn’t want to make it less important than anything else in our lives.
I thought I was okay after I watched the movie. I thought I could digest it; after all, factually, it was nothing new to me. But every night now, I have nightmares. Of being in hiding, of being on the run, of being a fugitive in my own backyard. Even in the midst of these happy days building a new home with my husband, I am haunted.
I know I am not the only one. I see so many posts of angst about should I watch The Kashmir Files or not, should my kids watch it or not, what about all this trauma that will be caused by the movie. Yes, of course, it is an individual / family choice. But just think for a moment how absurdly privileged we are to even have that choice. How many Kashmiri children had that choice when the seven exoduses / genocides occurred?
This morning, when I woke up, I wondered how long the nightmares will last. And then I had a curious feeling. I do not want them to end. I do not want to ever get over this feeling of being disturbed, of knowing that all is not right in this world, of an outrage that insists we can not rest until things are made right, of what Sri Rohit Arya so eloquently termed — Next Year in Kashmir.
Kunti prays to Sri Krishna that may she keep suffering, for in suffering alone would she remember the Divine and remain close to Him. If we are able to move on from this, if we are able to forget or ignore, to turn a blind eye, then this, too, would be a betrayal of our people, of our history, of our Dharma.
We should be further disturbed by the fact that what is traumatizing us as viewers, what is giving us sleepless nights and such depths of pain and anger, is not the truth. It is a sanitized, glossed over version — and this is no discredit to Vivek Agnihotri. It is the only way he could make a movie that is appropriate for the masses and to protect the dignity of those who are still today too shellshocked, too traumatized, to relive and retell those moments, a calibrated dose to give us as much as we could handle.
In the most recent episode of the Sham Sharma show, AIM explained how each of those scenes we saw were a thousand times worse in brutality, cruelty and suffering. In the true incident behind the rice scene, she was held captive for ten days, forced to cook the rice, and then force fed the rice mixed with the remains of her husband. The mechanical saw that we watched in the movie was in the historical version, a manual saw that was used to saw her alive after she had been brutally raped multiple times by multiple ‘men’. The hanging bodies had had their eyes gouged out before they were nailed alive to the trees.
These are not spoiler alerts. This is history, and if we did not know this history before, then shame on us. This history has been told bravely by Sunanda Vasisht and others, long before the film was made.
Today, in Kashmir, the handful of Kashmiri Hindus remaining are in such a miserable and perilous condition that they cannot even tweet in support of the movie. The release of the movie, they have said, has put them in more danger.
Let that sink in for a moment. There is such shamelessness, such moral depravity and degradation, in that society that even now, even today, they dare to threaten the lives of the last few remaining Kashmiri Hindus in Kashmir. Where is the introspection, where is the prayaschitta? After World War II, Germany went through and still goes through decades of mandatory education and awareness about the Holocaust, of sensitizing around anti-Semitism, though of course not every German was a Nazi.
And really that is the most disturbing and traumatic aspect of The Kashmir Files. That we have nothing more to offer to our Kashmiri Hindu brethren than our commiseration, than bearing witness. Abrogation of Article 370 is not nearly enough. The reality is even if the political will was there, no genuine offer or movement to bring Kashmiri Hindus back home can be made because there will be no safety for them.
I have heard over the years people scoff at the plight of Kashmiri Hindus and say that if they want to go back home so badly, they just should. What callousness! Many people do not know that after the end of World War II, after the ‘liberation’ of the death camps, those last remaining survivors had long journeys back home to the dispersed countries of Eastern and Western Europe. Primo Levi once said that the one to two years’ journey back home was the worst time of his life, worse even than the concentration camps.
Why? Because in what should have been that moment of hope, there was nothing but despair. There was no home to return to. When Jews did come back to Poland and other places, they were met with pogroms and denial of the Holocaust. They were attacked and killed again and again.
And I think this is what makes The Kashmir Files resonate with all of us so strongly; this is what has made it into one of the biggest sleeper hits of all time. It is not just the story of Kashmir. It is the story of more than seven genocides in Kashmir. It is the story of Partition, of Sindh and Punjab, of Bangladesh, of Kerala, of West Bengal today. It is the story of all peoples who have been deemed expendable and undesirable, who have been condemned to simply no longer exist.
And in the face of that all we can do is resist and survive and thrive. We are all that is left. Not just as Hindus, but as survivors against the onslaught of colonialism, invasion and conversion by the two proselytizing Abrahamic faiths. The rest of the world is mostly lost. We are the hope not just for ourselves but of so many other civilizations and cultures that can be revived under the banner of Dharma — Buddhists, especially Tibetan Buddhists, indigenous traditions, pagan traditions, and others.
So, let us not move on. Let us not forget. Let us not recover from the experience of this movie. Let us not become comfortable and complacent in our air-conditioned cocoons of imagined safety and security.
Primo Levi once wrote that decades after the Holocaust, after he had built himself a family and a comfortable existence, in the middle of the night he would hear again the morning call of the concentration camps. And in that moment, everything else would disappear, and the camp was the only reality. Everything else was just an illusion.
This history, this legacy, this collective memory chronicled in The Kashmir Files — this is our reality. May we never forget it. May it inspire us to resist, to insist, and to never desist until we have created in India, in Akhand Bharat, a homeland safe for Hindus where the nightmares of the past will never be forgotten and shall never be repeated.
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Aditi Banerjee is a novelist, writer and speaker about Hinduism and the Hindu-American experience and a practicing attorney in the USA.