03/18/2022, 12.58
INDIAN MANDALA
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Kashmir files film reignites Muslim Hindu tensions

by Alessandra De Poli

The never-ending conflict in the region divided between Pakistan and India has been reignited by the latest Bollywood film, which recounts the exodus of the Pandits between 1989-90. The movie has been accused of historical revisionism. The BJP has made the film tax-free to promote its viewing. At least 350 civilians and military personnel died in Kashmir last year.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The latest Bollywood film, "Kashmir files", not only "smashed the box office", earning over 7 million euro in a week, but, after rekindling the debate on the region for decades disputed between India and Pakistan, is continuing to fuel hatred towards Indian Muslims, promoted by the propaganda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The film, directed and produced by Vivek Agnihotri, tells the story of a young Indian boy who discovers that his parents did not die in an accident, as his grandfather had explained to him, but were killed by Kashmiri rebels at the time of the uprising (also called the intifada). 

When an uprising against Indian rule broke out in 1989, hundreds of thousands of Hindus, known as 'Kashmiri Pandits', were forced to leave their homes and move to India because of the violence of the Muslim insurgents. Aided by Pakistan, they opposed Indian rule in the region, which has been the scene of violence and clashes from 1947, the year of Pakistan's partition from India, to the present day.

The film, accused of historical revisionism, enjoyed the incentives offered by the BJP. Not only was there an extensive social media campaign urging citizens to watch the film 'if they cared about the future', but the BJP-ruled states gave the film tax exemptions (making tickets cheaper) and offered leave from work to civil servants who wanted to go to the cinema to see the film. On 14 March, the well-known review site IMDb noted 'unusual activity' on the Kashmir files page, which had a score of 9.9. After recalibrating the rating system, the rating had dropped to 8.3 by the evening.

The opposition accused filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri of using the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits in a "deliberately misleading manner to serve a partisan cause", fuelling the BJP's "propaganda verve". In recent days, videos have been circulating online (the authenticity of which has not yet been verified) of people cheering and inciting violence against Muslims during screenings in various cinemas. 

In the film, the exodus of Hindus is referred to as 'genocide', but the issue can be traced back to the dispute over autonomy for the region. When the British Empire withdrew from its colonial territories in South Asia, it left it up to the princely states to choose whether to join India or Pakistan, weighing up the religious beliefs of the majority of the population. Hari Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir, favoured India, despite the fact that the region - also known as Jammu and Kashmir - was mostly inhabited by Muslims. Clashes immediately began with Pakistan, which saw Kashmir as a natural extension of its territory. Even though India and Pakistan are supposed to administer two different portions of the region (the poorer and almost uninhabited portion governed by Islamabad, the livelier portion managed by Delhi) that should be granted a certain degree of autonomy, the independence groups have never stopped carrying out attacks and violent actions against the security forces.

After the failure of all diplomatic efforts, militant movements began to emerge towards the end of the 1980s, alternately demanding union with Pakistan or autonomy for Kashmir. Over time, despite India's massive military presence, the area has also become fertile territory for jihadist and radical Islamist groups. Delhi has repeatedly accused Islamabad of "cross-border terrorism".

In August 2019, Modi revoked Kashmir's special autonomy status and intensified military operations. Immediately after the decision, communications were suspended and a curfew was imposed to combat insurgency. Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has also promoted a demographic rebalancing, urging formerly displaced families to move to the Muslim-majority region.

Data on the clashes are difficult to collect and evaluate: according to some activist groups, over 100,000 people died between 1989 and 2011, a figure that the Indian government lowers to 41,000 for the period from 1990 to 2017. Last year alone, 350 civilians and military personnel died in the Indian-administered area.

 

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