Home / Opinion / Columns /  Five stages of grief in response to a hit film on Kashmir

The elephant in the room seems to have woken up with a start and pushed open a door where it had been told that there were no doors. The Kashmir Files is an astonishing phenomenon. And the key reason for the film’s extraordinary success is that most Indians had no idea about what happened in the Kashmir valley in 1989 and 1990, and have been shocked and left aghast by it.

These atrocities were suffered by citizens of the sovereign Republic of India, who were rendered homeless and have been refugees in their own country for more than three decades. Some of us knew about it—or heard about it, but did we ever talk much about it? This is a national shame that we cannot deny anymore.

The refugees from Kashmir did not block highways or sit on railway tracks to command attention. The very civility of these hapless people is perhaps the most heart-wrenching aspect of this disaster. None of us deserves that grace, the quiet dignity that Kashmiri Pandits have lived by.

There has been some outrage over the film, but it extends from the trivial to the bizarre. One, it’s a lie, a “jhooti" film, as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal commented in the state assembly. No, it’s not. It all happened. Every ghastly event shown in the film is documented. At least a couple of incidents were much more gruesome than what is shown. The reality would have been too traumatizing for the average movie-goer.

Two, the argument that official records show that only a few dozen Kashmiri Pandits were killed. This is ridiculous. When your brother has been murdered in broad daylight and you know that the police force is totally compromised (not even the film’s strongest critics have denied this), are you going to spend time lodging a complaint, or are you going to get your family together and escape, because that’s the only real option you have? Also, well-calculated terrorist acts aim at generating giant ripple effects. You don’t need to kill a thousand people—that’s a waste of time, energy and ammunition. If you hang a well-known person in a public square with his body mutilated and eyes gouged out, large numbers get the message. The goal is achieved.

It is in fact degrading to see people who claim to be public intellectuals quibble over exactly how many Kashmiri Pandits were killed in comparison with local Muslims and whether the use of the word ‘genocide’ is correct according to the Oxford dictionary, or should it be called ‘ethnic cleansing’ or, perhaps ‘exodus’? The horrors and hardships endured by a people who lost everything that they had are very real, and we haggle over death counts and semantics?

Three, that the film is bigotry. How can a story documenting terrible bigotry be an act of bigotry?

Four, that the film hampers the process of ‘reconciliation’. This argument is absurd by any moral or pragmatic standard. Reconciliation is only possible after truths are acknowledged. And it is insane to suggest that it is the duty of victims to forget the truth and initiate reconciliation.

Five, and this one is a sort of broad-spectrum dismissal that does not need to provide any substantiating evidence—that The Kashmir Files is a “propaganda film". There can be no logical rebuttal to this, because this is entirely a matter of opinion. The Kashmir Files is a small-budget independent film that was not financed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); if the BJP did decide to make a film on Kashmir, it would quite likely have been a huge production with big stars. Yes, the film has been endorsed by the BJP and the Indian government, including the Prime Minister, and also given tax-free status in some BJP-run states, but this happened after it became a startling hit at the box office.

No one accused the 2014 film Haider of propaganda, when it seemed to support the Kashmir ‘azaadi’ cause. In fact, any political or human interest film can be termed as propaganda, from Battleship Potemkin to Inventing Anna. It only requires someone to brand it so.

Six, the weird demand that the makers of the film should donate their earnings to Kashmiri Pandits. Did anyone even think of asking the makers of Dangal, one of the top-grossing Indian films ever, to share their profits with female wrestlers from Haryana, or the producers of Chak De India to fund the Indian women’s hockey team? This demand takes whining to a new low level.

Reactions to The Kashmir Files seem to be going through the five-stage Kubler-Ross model of experiencing grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. You start off with a contemptuous glance: So there’s a film on the Kashmir troubles, and it’s on very limited release, who cares, and then you refuse to believe that every show is house-full and cinema halls are lining up to screen the film.

Next, you get angry: What sort of morons are these millions of people who are paying money to watch this trash?

The bargaining phase is of course about death numbers and definitions: Some bad stuff may have happened, but not so many people were killed, the tales are exaggerated, and if what the film depicts is true, why did no one make a film on this in 32 years, which proves that it is not true, right?

The depression stage is when you beat your breast on talk shows and in op-ed pieces, that the success of this film is the final marker of India’s descent into hell.

We are waiting for the last stage now, acceptance. It may never come, and perhaps most Indians could not care less.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines


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