Movie Review: Shikara is a step in the right direction

Masterji in sabne Kashmiri Pandit nahi dekha hai’ (They have not seen a Kashmiri Pandit before) – This was what a Kashmiri Muslim kid said to his teacher, a Pandit, while his fellow mates were staring at that man, probably in his late fifties, with a palpable mix of awkwardness and curiosity.

Kids may say the most innocuous-sounding phrases that actually reflect the stark reality of a situation. They do not worry about being diplomatic or tactful and only they have the power to show you the mirror whether you like it or not.

These children had come to get tuitions from someone who had come back to the valley 30 years after the heart-breaking Pandit exodus in 1990 (due to the terror attack on their homes and their lives) which is still a big blot of shame for the entire country. But like the riots and religious massacres (all of them were terror attacks as well) that have taken place before or after it, justice for the victims seems like a faraway promise, forget about truth or reconciliation.

Another scene gives us a glimpse of the psychological fallout of the exodus of these people, especially the older generation. Here is an old man, recently displaced from his home in the valley, wailing uncontrollably at one of the makeshift camps in Jammu with a desire to go back home. At the same time, a couple is registering in those camps where the babus (government officers) are being unbelievably rude and insensitive towards people undergoing deep suffering and pain, all because of the madness of militancy.

If scenes like this do not affect you on a deeper level and compel you to appreciate the predicament of the Pandit community, then nothing else will.
Shikara – A story well told but too late

Shikara, the untold story of Kashmiri Pandits, was released across India on 7th February 2019. The story revolved around the lives of Shiv and Shanti, a Pandit couple who fell in love, got married but were soon displaced, along with countless others, from the place that was their own for centuries. It is a saga of love, anguish, torment, betrayal, terrorism, displacement and everything else that encapsulated a life of a Kashmiri Pandit during and after 1990.

This was a story that needed to be told over and over but for some reason, Bollywood took its own sweet time to make a movie on a subject as critical as this. Disappointment and disgust writ large on those faces who continue to be homeless and stateless for decades but whose pleas for justice continue to be ignored by the rest of our country. A film industry that churns out utter garbage year after year has no space for their stories, more so when there are prominent members of that very community in the film industry.

If we leave aside a few minutes here and there that were dedicated on the Pandit exodus in movies like Mission Kashmir, Lamhaa or I AM, there was never a full-fledged mainstream movie (Like Firaaq or Parzania for 2002 riots and Amu or 31st October for 1984 riots) dedicated entirely on the events surrounding terror attack of 1990 on the peace-loving Pandits and its aftermath. I haven’t seen too many documentaries on this subject online or on Television, something that we need to address ASAP.

Any such documentary type detailing of tragic events like these is vital in furthering the just cause of the Pandit community since it helps to educate the general public over what happened during those dark days and how our fellow Bharatvasis (especially our politicians) failed an entire community who were thrown out of the valley for the sole reason that they were seen as Indian agents. Maybe the movie did not show the whole radicalization process of several local Kashmiri Muslims in detail. But it needs to be understood that a 3-hour movie cannot address a 30-year-old problem in one go. What it can do is to start a conversation and in that the director and his team have clearly succeeded.

The Letters that Shiv wrote to the President of the United States, fulfilling the wishes of his brother who was killed by the Kalashnikov wielding terrorists, couldn’t have been more heartfelt. It was showing the mirror to a superpower who had sent arms and ammunition to Afghanistan for fighting against the Soviet Army, but now those same guns were being used to wipe out and the entire community and render them homeless. The part that was incredibly moving was when Shiv said that he did not expect much to happen because of those letters but that he was writing them only for his own sanity. Few of us can do that I guess because it is easier to use violence rather than peaceful dissent to give way to our frustration with any kind of injustice.

If this movie had not come into being, how many of us would have known of the existence of Hit-lists wherein Pandits were being earmarked and threatened to leave or face consequences? How many of us were aware that our parliaments remained largely silent while all this was going on in broad daylight? How many of us would have come to know that these people, who had houses of their own in the valley, were being forced to live on tomatoes?
Not many care about their plight

This might sound harsh, but it is the truth. Governments (both in centre and state) looked away while the Pandit community had to leave their homes during those fateful days in 1990 due to the terrorist attacks which were clearly backed by Pakistan but also had the support of some locals.

There has been a feeling of resentment among the local population ever since independence. Both India and Pakistan have looked at this state as nothing more than a piece of land that needs to be acquired by hook or crook, something that has led to continued oppression and misery for its locals.

If both Indians and Pakistanis were to be honest with themselves, they will finally understand that the animosity of Kashmiris towards both these states is justified, especially in the face of a barrage of excesses committed by state as well as non-state actors. Politicians have also not made their lives any easier either by their inaction or direct complicity with forces who look at Kashmir as a company and exploited its people to further their own interests.

Their miseries are compounded even further by the activities of the militants who came to Kashmir valley with the promise of freedom but took away everything from them, including their peace and dignity. Measures like abrogation of Article 370, imposing a Draconian and unwarranted Internet ban which was only partially removed after more than 150 days and detaining former chief ministers along with hundreds of other politicians without reason will further alienate the Kashmiris living in the valley.

Coming back to the Pandits, it was not only the exodus that was traumatic for them. It was also the attitude of our governments that hurt them even further. Watch the movie to see the pathetic state of those camps in Jammu and the rest of India, which is no place to keep displaced people (many of those camps are running to date). Couldn’t any politician or civil servant have made sure that these people at least have decent homes to live in?

Politicians have failed them – time and time again

The government prioritizes votes above everything else, which is exactly why it is not a surprise to see their behavior towards the Pandit community. It is a fact that the Grand old party of India, Indian National Congress, has failed the Pandits but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hasn’t done too well either. It has excelled in gathering votes in the name of Pandits.

They have a fixed script wherein the Pandit exodus is used to consolidate the Hindu votes with the promise that when their government comes to power, they will help them get back to their homes in the valley. They have been in power at the centre for more than 10 years and in Kashmir for 5 years now. What stopped them from rehabilitating the Pandits? Or for that matter what was it that prevented them from at least making the refugee colonies more humane and liveable? What stopped them from going after the terrorists who were responsible for driving out the Pandits? Couldn’t they have filed a proper watertight case in the courts demanding the trial and subsequent arrest of the terrorists still present in the valley?

If our politicians were dead serious about rebuilding the lives of those who were made refugees in their own nation, then it would have done so on a war footing instead of spending the money that could have rehabilitated them on statues that have absolutely no practical purpose. There are real human beings undergoing a kind of unspeakable trauma for the past 30 years, but our governments don’t give a ****.

The least that they should do now is to declare this movie tax free so that more people can watch it and at least have an informed debate that will eventually lead to a solution.

Will peace ever come back to the valley?

Doesn’t look like it. At least not in the near future. Both India and Pakistan have made Kashmir a living hell and I doubt that a movie here or an article there will change the situation. There needs to be an unrelenting campaign to seek justice for the community without giving space to anyone who wants to use their misery for political or personal gains.

But it is not a movement that can or should be the responsibility of only those who were directly affected but other Indian and global citizens should also be a part of this fight for justice. What happened to them can transpire with anyone of us. So it is imperative that we stand with them in their demand to seek retribution. Otherwise, we will lose the battle to keep both our sanity and humanity.

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