British historian Orlando Figes, in his book The Whisperers, explored the terrorised lives of ordinary people in Stalin’s Russia, a world where people were so afraid to talk that they spoke in whispers. “The Russian language has two words for a ‘whisperer’ — one for somebody who whispers out of fear of being overheard (shepchushchii), another for the person who informs or whispers behind people’s backs to the authorities (sheptun). The distinction has its origins in the idiom of the Stalin years, when the whole of Soviet society was made up of whisperers of one sort or other,” he wrote.
We, in India, have had our own share of whispers and whisperers who were witness to a million Hindu mutinies against the ravages of history “with its layer and layer of distress and cruelty”, as Sir Vidia Naipaul writes in India: A Million Mutinies Now. Unlike the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, there was not one Hindu Holocaust that has not been officially erased from the annals of history and the only way they could survive to this day was through whispers and whisperers.
Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files gives voice to one such Holocaust, involving the Pandits of Kashmir. For long, one was made to believe that the Pandits went out of the Valley as if they were going on a holiday. They got up one morning in 1990, packed their bags, got their kids ready, and drove out of the Valley in their little cars. Only in the footnotes of the official narrative were we told that this had been a never-ending holiday, 32 years and still on!
What happens when whispers get a voice? It creates a melee of different emotions: The victims, so used to being silent for decades, find their voices choked. They cry. They hug. They even touch the feet of the man who gave them a voice — a filmmaker in this case. For years they were told what happened to them in Kashmir was not true. Maybe they had a bad dream, which got mixed up with reality. Even their kids, now a proper second or third generation refugees in their own country, wondered if their parents and grandparents actually went through what they have been claiming all this while.
And then suddenly this film appears which reiterates what Jagmohan, who was the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir at a time of the great Pandit exodus, recounted in his book, My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir, how the assaults and killings of the Pandits had the sanction of Kashmiri society at large. Police refused to register genocidal crimes, bureaucracy was often seen siding with separatists, and the press took up the cause of terrorists with a passion of a neo-convert.
More so, the vicious nature of Kashmiri society, which has so far been hidden under the vacuous term called ‘Kashmiriyat’, gets exposed when one realises, much like what whisperers would talk among themselves, that Kashmiri Pandits’ wasn’t an exodus but a genocide on the scale of the Holocaust that the West is so sensitive about today. The story that was part of the Pandits’ dystopian saga suddenly seemed so real.
Through the film, BK Ganju makes a comeback with a vengeance, seeking justice for being killed while he was hiding in a cereal drum to escape the wrath of terrorists. He asks who the biggest culprit was — the terrorists who shot him dead, or his ‘friendly’ neighbour who signalled the armed men to look at the “right place”. Or, the biggest villain was the society that did nothing to stop when Ganju’s wife was forced to eat the cereal lashed with her husband’s blood while being gang-raped till she was not brutally killed. Then there was blind-folded Girja Tiku, who was gang-raped by four men in a moving taxi. And when she recognised one of them. “Aziz, are you here as well?” she asked. They then took her to a wood-processing unit and cut her alive on a mechanical saw.
These were a few of the people who were brutally tortured and killed just because they belong to a religion that was seen to be identifying with the idea of India. But the biggest victims of the Pandit genocide were those who survived the actual killings, those who were forced to live as refugees in their own country, those who saw the ‘mainstream-isation’ of some of the militants and separatists, so much so that a very gentle prime minister found no repugnance in shaking hands with a JKLF terrorist who had publicly boosted about killing a prominent Kashmiri Pandit!
If one thought this was a one-time genocide, and that all this happened in the spur of moment in 1990, think again. The tragedy of the Pandit saga isn’t just confined to the past, it’s not just about the dead. Rahul Pandita, in his book Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, writes poignantly how it persisted in the early 2010s among the few Kashmiri Pandits who were staying in the Valley as per the then UPA government’s package to provide 6,000 jobs to them. Pandita recounts the chilling stories of a few Pandit women who were still facing ignominy, indifference and, worse, persecution.
One of them was a Pandit woman who worked as a teacher in the Valley but found it akin to living in a ghetto. She couldn’t go out and when she did, she was discriminated against, threatened and harassed. “Each day we leave behind something of our identity,” Pandita quotes another Pandit woman as saying. “Yesterday, it was the freedom to sing the National Anthem; today it is the freedom to wear a bindi; tomorrow it could be our faith.” In Sheikhpora, there was another woman who could go out of her settlement only thrice in seven years — one to visit her relatives in Jammu, and twice to visit the Kshir Bhawani shrine. “Dil chhum fatnas aamut—my heart is about to burst,” she told Pandita.
Thankfully for these persecuted Pandits, India is changing, more dramatically after 2014. The Left-liberal ecosystem, in its utter disdain and a misplaced sense of invincibility, failed to see the growing restlessness among the masses who found themselves ridiculed, ignored, and worse persecuted. Their innate sense of eclecticism, pluralism and tolerance was seen as their weaknesses. People in the corridors of power at the drop of a hat would invent Hindu terror; they would infer the majority as the second-class citizens, for what else a former prime minister’s statement would mean when he pompously said that the minorities had the first right to the nation’s resources?
It is in this backdrop that 2014 should be analysed and appreciated. It was a mass movement — bloodless, of course, a typical Indic-style revolution. The Modi regime, in that way, marked the beginning of the “Second Republic” in India — a phenomenon that most Indian intellectuals are yet to truly comprehend. In the past eight years, the trend has only crystalised. The making of a film like The Kashmir Files — and its success despite pervasive indifference from mainstream Bollywood — is the result of this awakening which saw people promoting the film through social media, organisations sponsoring its tickets to their employees, and restaurants offering discounts to those watching the film.
The problem with the Nehruvian secular brigade, in New India, is that Pandits aren’t the only victims of genocide. There are many. In fact, by that standard, Pandits were well educated, better placed, and largely united to survive the institutional apathy that often complemented the jihadi forces that made them homeless. There was this massacre in Assam’s Nellie district in 1983: Here, the official number of the dead was 2,291, most of them Muslims. When the Financial Times asked the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, why she was so late in stopping the carnage, she said: “One has to let such events take their own course before stepping in.” This statement would remind many of Rajiv Gandhi’s “when the big tree falls” analogy in the wake of the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984. Worse, these killings expose the so-called liberal media that went for the kill on the 2002 post-Godhra violence in Gujarat but ensured all other massacres and genocides remained buried and confined to whispers and whisperers.
And then there was one genocide, about which no one knows how many people were killed. Official figures say less than 10 people died, but if whisperers are to be believed the numbers can be as high as 10,000. The victims were mostly untouchables and outcastes. And they were killed by those who never get tired of doing politics in their names. Unfortunately, this saga has very few whisperers left. One hopes they too find their Vivek Agnihotri. But who were they? Why were they killed? More on that in the next article.
This is Part 1 of the two-part series.