Doubts have been expressed regarding the statement made by the director of The Kashmir Files, Vivek Agnihortri, that he meant the film to be about terrorism, and not about Hindu-Muslim conflict. This issue needs to be addressed.
One reason for my doing so is personal, but not in the sense one might immediately assume. After seeing the movie here in Montreal last week, I was left in a state of cognitive dissonance for several hours. The drumbeat regarding this movie being one about Hindu-Muslim issues had been deafening, but when the movie ended I could not square what I had been led to believe, with what I had just seen. It was when I realised that the movie was really about what terrorism does to people, both to the victimiser and the victim, that the sense of puzzlement finally left me. I had been led to look at it through the lens of the Hindu-Muslim binary; but it seemed to me that it was rather about another binary, that of terrorism and humanism.
We need to distinguish here between fact and value. The movie is a straightforward narration of the events as they unfolded and led to the genocide — or more politely, to the exile, or exodus — of Kashmiri Pandits, and the devastating effect it had on their lives. There is perhaps some element of storytelling in the way the events are portrayed but no one, to my knowledge, has questioned, or even doubted, the veracity of the events themselves. This is the fact part of it. Now how we choose to evaluate this fact, or the facts narrated therein, is a related but separate matter. To the extent the movie only claims to present just the facts, and stays with the facts, it cannot be accused, it seems to me, of contributing to Hindu-Muslim tensions. In fact, it could even promote reconciliation between them, if, after seeing it, the communities begin to appreciate the enhanced need for such reconciliation.
This is not a pipe-dream. My Christian colleagues tell me that, it is no longer considered proper, after the Jewish Holocaust, to target Jews any more for conversion to Christianity. One of them even remarked on the terrible price at which the lesson has been learnt. This is not to say that those who want to evaluate the film on a Hindu-Muslim axis rather than any other, may not do so, but how could the producer be blamed for it?
It might be argued that the filmmaker could have foreseen this. In order to deal with this perspective, one again needs to draw a distinction between foreseeable and intended consequences. The following example might illustrate the difference. Suppose you are a member of a committee recruiting people for a job, for which a friend of yours is also an applicant. You are a well-wisher of your friend but it so happens that another candidate, who is even better qualified for it in your opinion, is also available. The committee meets, and the votes for the two candidates are tied. So your vote will now decide who gets the job. You vote for the better candidate. She gets the job. Your friend is disappointed.
Did you betray your friend? No, because although you could foresee that your friend will be disappointed, it was not your intended result. If you had a grudge against your friend for some reason, and therefore you voted for the other candidate, then you would be guilty of betraying your friend. But that was not the reason why you voted the way you did. You voted the way you did to select the best person for the job. The distinction between foreseeable consequences and intended consequences, helps us understand what Vivek Agnihortri might be trying to tell us.
What this film has achieved may be viewed in the following perspective. What the feminist movement has done for women in a patriarchal society; what BR Ambedkar did for the former untouchables in a hierarchical society; what Mahatma Gandhi did in relation to the Indians in British India; and what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done in relation to the Hindus in secular India — The Kashmir Files has done in relation to the Kashmiri Pandits — it has given them the courage to look their oppressors in the eye. And demand justice.
The author, formerly of the IAS, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal Canada, where he has taught for over thirty years. He has also taught in Australia and the United States and at Nalanda University in India. He has published extensively in the fields of Indian religions and world religions. Views expressed are personal.