I’m the first one to rejoice at the tremendous success of The Kashmir Files. It shows a sea change in the mentality of the Indian public, a fair recognition of the terrible plight of the ethnic cleansing of the Hindus in the Valley of Kashmir. This is most welcome, and we owe it in greater part to the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is because of him and some of the remarkable ministers that the public has shifted from a Nehruvian/secular outlook on events (that were not at all secular in their essence, because they always strove to bring down Hindus, their culture, and spirituality) to a truer vision of things. It is particularly noteworthy to see that a significant part of the Indian media has also changed its stance, and is now able to give their dues to the Kashmiri Pandit community.
Let me honour here also the pioneers: Lal Krishna Advani, who was one of the rare politicians to visit Kashmiri Hindu refugee camps and speak about their sorry condition; and Murli Manohar Joshi, who had the guts to go and raise the Indian flag in Srinagar on 26 January 1992 at a time when it was extremely dangerous, and when the entire Indian media made fun of him.
I want to recall here my days as a young journalist covering Kashmir because I faced the same incomprehension that sometimes bordered on contempt in my reporting. At that time, the BBC was the Queen, so to say, of all media, because television was still in its infancy here and radio remained, for both the public and us journalists, the best and fastest means to keep abreast of the news. Mark Tully was then the South Asia Chief of Bureau of BBC — he was worshipped by Indian and Western journalists alike, and his word was gospel.
From 1989, when the first Hindu public figures of the Valley of Kashmir were getting murdered by what was then the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), such as the director of Doordarshan, Lassa Kaul, and Satish Tikoo, people whom I had interviewed earlier, till the first elections in Kashmir in 2000, the Indian government was accusing Pakistan of training, arming, and financing the Indian Kashmiri militants, and sending them back across the border to create havoc in India. Mark Tully, ironically, accused the Indian government of lying and denied that the Pakistani government had a hand in Kashmir’s terror saga.
I was a lone voice then to whom the Indian statement made sense. It made complete sense in the backdrop of Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s vow to “bleed India through a thousand cuts” in Punjab and Kashmir. It was also logical that Kashmir terrorists needed weapons and training, and that they crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to source these at the hands of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
I wrote so in my articles for the French-speaking newspapers I was a correspondent of — Le Figaro and Le Journal de Genève — as well as in Indian publications, such as The Hindustan Times or The Indian Express. I often faced a lot of hostility from the sub-editors who would censor my articles.
The killing, raping, strangling by wire, shooting in front of the whole family of Hindus, started increasing in 1990, after Benazir Bhutto’s ‘Azad Kashmir’ speech. The next Friday all mosques in Kashmir blared: “Hindus, Convert, Leave, or Die.” In a few months, the entire Hindu population of the Valley, who had lived there for generations, left everything — land, houses, belongings — and fled without firing a single shot in defence, becoming refugees in their own country.
I was there, it touched me immensely and opened my eyes to what a monotheist and intolerant religious worldview could do to other people. What bothered me most was that Western journalists, led by Mark Tully, followed by Indian reporters, only highlighted the so-called human rights violations committed by the Indian Army and paramilitary forces on Muslims of Kashmir, but kept quiet on the ethnic cleansing of Hindus — as if they were responsible for their persecution. Let me state it again because I saw it first-hand — the Muslims of Kashmir started a violent war in the name of Islam, on the Indian Army, the Indian government and Hindus of Kashmir. The terrible irony is that today these Muslims pose as martyrs, and are taken at face value in the Western media, such as The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde.
Towards the end of my stint in Kashmir in 1994, I was one day having lunch with other journalists in the only hotel still open in Srinagar, called ‘Adhoos’, when one of our drivers came to announce that Shabir Shah, one of the separatist leaders who was under house arrest, had escaped and would surface near the grand mosque Jamia Masjid in old Srinagar to make a speech. Immediately, the entire Western and Indian journalist corps jumped into cars to get their byte. I was not interested, but instead visited a Hindu which had been attacked by mortar the day before. It was heavily guarded by the Border Security Force and I was extremely touched by the story of the three Pandits who had chosen to stay in spite of the grave danger to themselves. That day I decided to present to the public the tragic story of the Hindus of Kashmir.
In 2004, I received at the hands of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee the ‘Nachiketa Award for Excellence in Journalism’. With it came a cheque of Rs 50,000, which I used to mount an exhibition on the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus. This exhibition was opened in India Habitat Centre in Delhi by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 2005, and visited by more than 10,000 people. With the help of Sri Sri, we displayed this exhibition all over India, and then in different parliaments in Europe, Israel, and finally to the US Congress in 2011, which prompted Democrats and Republicans alike to pass a resolution taking notice of the plight of the Kashmiri Hindus.
I had already started studying Indian history, and writing books to correct the many failings and injustices that the British coloniser’s view of India had standardised. But I felt it was not sufficient, so when Sri Sri gave my wife Namrita and me a piece of land near the Pune airport, I decided to open a museum there dedicated to the great Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The first exhibition we housed was that of Kashmiri Pandits. Today, The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum of Indian History has a Bharat Mata temple, a library, a reception, and 20 pavilions.
Once again, let me congratulate Vivek Agnihotri, his dedication, courage and persistence. The success of The Kashmir Files should not make us fall into the ‘politically correct’ mode — to talk about the Kashmiri Hindus, but do nothing to change the status quo. I can see it coming already.
The author is a French journalist and author of ‘A History of India as It Happened’ (Garudabooks.com). He is also building a museum of true Indian history in Pune. Views expressed are personal.