Texas doctor demands “retribution” after Kashmir Files film

Vivek Agnihotri's film The Kashmir Files has divided opinion in India. | Picture: Kashmir Files

The film has incited widespread calls for anti-Muslim violence.

Pieter Friedrich | TwoCircles.net

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UNITED STATES — “Retribution,” declared Rajiv Pandit, a doctor based in Dallas, TX, in response to a call to “pay… back 100 fold, in their own coin,” those allegedly responsible for the 1990 Kashmir Pandit Exodus portrayed in the recent film, “Kashmir Files.”

The call was issued by an anonymous (and newly created) account with the handle “Right-Wing Alpha” in response to Dr Pandit’s original question: “What was the most powerful emotion you felt immediately after watching Vivek Agnihotri’s ‘The Kashmir Files’?” With his declaration of “retribution,” accompanied by a thumbs-up, Dr Pandit seemed to be endorsing Right-Wing Alpha’s sentiments — whatever they might be — wholeheartedly. To many on social media, the call appeared to be an incitement to violence.

Although “Kashmir Files” purports to be an accurate account of the exodus of the Pandit community from Kashmir, many have rejected it as outright propaganda designed to incite Islamophobic sentiment in an India that some experts warn is on the verge of an impending Muslim genocide.

While the community suffered a tragedy in the 1990s, even Pandit organizations have reported that — out of a population of 140,000 — perhaps 650, at the most, were killed over decades. Yet “Kashmir Files” writer and director Agnihotri not only claims that 4,000 were killed but repeatedly emphasizes throughout the film that it was a “genocide, not an exodus.” Although the atrocity occurred in the context of an armed separatist movement launched in Muslim-majority Kashmir against an Indian government whose local employees were often Pandits, Agnihotri portrays attacks on them as solely motivated by religious hatred of Hindus.

Meanwhile, audiences in India are reacting to the film with unhinged emotional outbursts that, often, have devolved into outright calls for genocide of Muslims.

“When Muslims are slaughtered, they will cry ‘Ram, Ram,’” chanted one group after viewing the film. At another show, audience members broke into calls of “death to Muslims” and “shoot the traitors.” At yet another theatre, a Hindu monk wielding a trident declared, “These monsters commit such atrocities which you can’t bear.” Speaking about how Muslims “are everywhere” in India, he claimed, “They are a threat not only to India but also to the entire world.” The audience, he urged, should “pick up weapons.”

Many other calls to violence as well as various poisonous rhetoric against Muslims have filled Indian theatres after showings of “Kashmir Files.” Similar Islamophobia is also visible in various other tweets made or shared by Right Wing Alpha. These include a cartoon of a Muslim boy stabbing a Hindu boy in the back, a cartoon of a Muslim man slitting another man’s throat, and a rant claiming that “Muslims don’t deserve democracy” and “Islamic faith is intrinsically anti-democratic.”

Dr Pandit, after his comment was screenshotted and widely criticized, was quick to defend it. He meant, he said, “retribution as it relates to criminal law,” citing a definition that suggests retributive justice is premised on doctrines like “an eye for an eye.” He added that he has “many” Kashmiri Muslim friends, saying, “I want those terrorists that perpetrated that violence to face consequences — only them.”

“An eye for an eye,” however, seems to rather obviously not be the sentiment of Right-Wing Alpha’s tweet. “Payback” is typically defined as “the act of taking revenge.” Payback “100 fold,” on the face of it, is not a call for “an eye for an eye” but rather for 100 eyes for one. Paying someone back “in their own coin” is defined as meting out to them the same mistreatment that they meted out to you; considering that the film portrays rape, murder of children, women being sawn in half, and the like, one can surmise what payback “in their own coin” means.

Moreover, considering that the Kashmiri Pandit Exodus occurred over 30 years ago, one wonders which of “those terrorists” referenced by Dr Pandit might even still be alive today to receive the “retribution” he demands.

Notably, Dr Pandit reportedly has a history from the 1990s of leadership in various projects of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), including American Hindus Against Defamation and Hindu Students Council. VHPA is the US wing of India’s VHP, which was founded in 1964 by then chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary, MS Golwalkar.

Golwalkar infamously described Indian Muslims (and Christians) as “foreign races,” as “internal threats,” and — laying the groundwork for today’s calls to “shoot the traitors” — as “traitors” who had joined “the camp of the enemy.” He called for their elimination from the country, suggesting that the Nazi treatment of the Jews was a good model to follow.

In 1947, the RSS put Golwalkar’s ideology into action in Jammu, the hilly region neighbouring the Kashmir Valley, by massacring anywhere from 20,000 to over 200,000 Muslims. Ever since, the RSS and VHP have perpetrated countless acts of grotesque violence against Indian minorities, especially Muslims, most notably the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom which was overseen by then Gujarat Chief Minister — today, Indian Prime Minister — Narendra Modi. Although Modi was banned from the US for his role in the pogrom, that didn’t deter VHPA activists like Dr Bharat Barai of Indiana, just like many other members of RSS affiliates in America, from tirelessly working to ensure his election in India.

VHPA has its own checkered history of Islamophobia, including platforming late VHP leader Ashok Singhal (who once celebrated how the Gujarat pogrom caused entire villages to be “emptied of Islam” and called for its nationwide replication) and Indian politician Subramanian Swamy (who has called for destroying hundreds of Indian mosques). In April 2021, they planned to platform Swami Yati Narsinghanand (who has called for eliminating all Muslims and eradicating Islam from the Earth). Eight months later, Narsinghanand organized the now notorious Haridwar Hate Conference where speakers called for genocide of Indian Muslims and he himself pledged millions of dollars to anyone willing to become a terrorist for the cause of wiping out Muslims.

“Kashmir Files,” reports Indian journalist Shama Raha, is an “unabashed propaganda vehicle.” Raha writes: “The truth is that this is a film where all Muslim characters have been portrayed as evil without exception, out to kill Hindus, or, at the very least, drive them out of their homeland. Every one of them has been cast as a rabid Hindu-hater, a militant, a murderer, a rapist, a traitor, a separatist. Not one is shown to be a moderate, peace-loving, regular human being. Even Muslim women and children are not spared — the women won’t let Hindus collect their ration, the children shout anti-Hindu slogans and beat up Hindu kids.” As she concludes: “Perhaps no other film in the history of cinema — barring some Nazi propaganda films in Hitler’s Germany — has managed to demonise an entire people and not show a single one of them with an iota of humanity or decency.”

As appears to be its sole intention, the “most powerful emotion” that the most vocal audience-goers in India felt and are expressing after viewing it is one of unadulterated hatred which holds every Muslim across the entire country collectively guilty for the tragic murder of perhaps 650 Hindus in one small region over 30 years ago. “Kashmir Files” is an incitement to genocide endorsed by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political wing of the RSS, whose goal has always been to turn India into a Hindu nation where minorities — and especially Muslims — are allowed no place.

Thus the call for payback, “100 fold, in their own coin.” It’s not an original call, however, but merely mimicry by an anonymous troll of a far more powerful figure: BJP’s Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. “If they [Muslims] kill one Hindu man, then we will kill 100 Muslim men,” he once thundered.

India’s 80 percent — or thereabouts — Hindu population faces no risk whatsoever from any community within the country, perhaps least of all the 14 percent or so of Indians who follow Islam, but Indian Muslims face an ever-escalating risk of genocide. “Kashmir Files” is not only pouring fuel on the Islamophobic fire that the RSS-BJP has sparked, but also seeking to salve the consciences of those who would commit anti-Muslim violence by encouraging them to adopt a sense of victimhood.

If and — God forbid — when a Muslim genocide breaks out in India, the perpetrators will no doubt justify it as righteous vengeance. Revenge. Retribution.

Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in the analysis of South Asian affairs. He tweets at @FriedrichPieter