New Delhi

Myth of Secular India

Released in March 2022, the Indian film ‘The Kashmir Files’ serves as fresh fodder to fuel the narrative of hate advocated by the ruling BJP and Sangh Parivar.

By Taha Kehar | January 2023

Under the ongoing tenure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India has transformed into a safe haven for right-wing ideologies that have challenged its time-honoured secular ideals. Over the span of a few years, Indian democracy has become a prisoner to Hindutva fascism and has been replaced by an ecosystem of hate that mercilessly targets hapless minorities. Muslims have invariably found themselves in a vulnerable position since 2014 as Modi-led administration has pursued a slew of Islamophobic policies that have propagated violence, discrimination and bigotry.

It is difficult to extricate the debates and controversies surrounding director Vivek Agnihotri’s from this prevailing culture of hatred. On the contrary, the ruling dispensation’s willingness to throw their weight behind the film is a glaring testament that is yet another attempt to reinforce long-standing prejudices against Muslims in India.

A film can be the subject of an intense debate. However, has become the cause of a diplomatic furore after an Israeli director criticized it in November 2022. This shouldn’t be construed as a peculiar development as is an unusual film in both spirit and content, and is likely to trigger an unpredictable response.

Released in March 2022, the film documents the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits as violence assailed the scenic valley in the 1990s. From the outset, Agnihotri’s film has been the subject of controversy. Before was released, a public-interest suit was filed against it as the film was believed to contain inflammatory content that would stoke communal tensions. Rejecting these concerns, the director argued that the film reflected the unvarnished truth about the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. Most reviewers haven’t been entirely convinced by these claims. For months, has been panned in the media for adopting a myopic view of historical events in the conflict-riven valley and unabashedly demonizing Kashmiri Muslims. Sceptics are of the view that the film weaponizes the plight of the Kashmir Pandits to target the Muslim community, which is already languishing on the brink of marginality in today’s India.

Throughout the year, vociferous criticism of has attracted a few rumblings on social media from proponents of the Sangh Parivar. However, the film attracted a fresh controversy when an Israeli director Nadav Lapid slammed the film at a festival in Goa. Lapid expressed his consternation over the fact that had been included as an entry for a prestigious film competition at the International Film Festival India (IFFI). As the chair of the jury appointed for the competition, the Israeli filmmaker felt it was his responsibility to publicly declare that the film was “vulgar” and bore traces of propaganda.

At first glance, it seems rather unusual that a member of the jury should go public with his reservations about an entry submitted for a competition. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that silence is the only acceptable recourse under these circumstances. That a member of the jury chose to flout protocol and openly criticize an entry reveals that his concerns about the film went beyond artistic considerations. Lapid’s remarks echo the concerns raised by critics about the film’s ideological flaws that stand the danger of compromising on the essence of truth, democracy and nuance.

The Israeli director’s remarks haven’t been viewed in the right context. The director has been accused of disproportionately highlighting the film’s political facets to the exclusion of its artistic merits. Lapid’s fiercest critics have even gone to the extent of asserting that his comments serve to invalidate the challenges faced by the Kashmiri Pandits. A few Indian news anchors have even made attempts to browbeat the Israeli director during interviews and coerce an apology out of him.

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