- Will this film finally be able to frame conversation about Kashmiri Pandits in its true light, as an ‘ethnic cleansing’?
In the early 20th century, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK, represented a unique and promising story for the self-sufficient, financially successful African American community of Tulsa, OK. This ‘’American dream’ story was ripped apart on May 31, 1921 when the Tulsa Black community suffered one of the greatest single assaults on a minority community in the last century. This dark chapter in U.S. history for decades was referred to in textbooks as the ‘riots’ of Oklahoma, inaccurately framing the minority community as the perpetrator. If not for steadfast efforts at seeking truth and reconciliation by survivors and their descendants of this tragedy, our generation would not have known the true nature of this massacre.
On January 19, 1990, while I was enjoying my senior year in high school in suburban middle America, across an ocean in India, terrorist-driven violence, rape, torture, and murder led to the forced exodus of my uncles, aunts, and cousins along with 350,000 other Hindus from our homeland in the northern Indian state of Kashmir. The world remained ignorantly blind to the ethnic cleansing of a 5,000-year-old indigenous community.
While my Hindu Kashmiri community and its shortlist of supporters would advocate for recognition of our plight and rehabilitation of our community, it was indeed difficult for my friends and colleagues here in the U.S. to even remotely grasp the gravity of the situation.
Fast forward through three decades of being silenced, the movie “The Kashmir Files” was globally released on March 11, 2022. For the remaining Kashmiri Hindus that are scattered throughout the world, this movie represents an emboldened attempt at the honest retelling of an emotionally fraught, mostly neglected story of the genocide of our community.
“The Kashmir Files” is the first mainstream widely released movie to accurately, graphically, and unapologetically depict the horrors that my extended family and other Kashmiris faced in 1990 and the subsequent years of violence, painting a depiction of the period that is both mind-numbing and breath-taking, affording audiences the opportunity to sit in disbelief and raw emotion to these unimaginable events. Just as many Westerners are now asking how such tragic events could possibly unfold in Ukraine to White Europeans, many across the world are now asking similarly, “Did this really happen in India?”
As an advocate for our community, in 2005 I was part of a group that organized a public exhibit, depicting some of the victims of the 1990 Kashmir atrocities, in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Out of our 32 displayed poster-sized photo panels, 4 had to be withheld because they were felt to be too graphic to show in public. No such imposition could be placed on the film industry and therefore Kashmir Files succeeds by stringing together a seemingly endless pictorial of real violence that most of the world has been sanitized from seeing for 32 years.
Will this movie have the same result as all the cumulative efforts to correct false narratives has done for the Oklahoma Black Wall Street Massacre victims and their descendants? Will this movie allow the global populace to see the fallacy of an outlandish narrative suggesting that the entire population of the 350,000-strong community somehow voluntarily chose to leave their millennial homeland overnight? Will the global Indian community finally find the courage to support their Kashmiri brothers and sisters to right this wrong and preserve what is left of this unique cultural identity for the sake of history and humanity?
Though our plight has been referred to as a near-genocide by India’s National Human Rights Commission in 1999, many in the media and public still refer to it as a ‘migration.’ Will this movie finally be able to frame this conversation in its true light, as an ‘ethnic cleansing’?
If in the 20th century history was truly written by the victors, perhaps we will find in the 21st century that truly written history is the ultimate victor.
Dr. Rahul Pandit is an Associate Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology, Weill Cornell Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas. He has been practicing ophthalmology for over 20 years in Houston, TX. He was born in Kashmir, India and moved to the U.S. as a child. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect any of the institutions he may be associated with.