'The Kashmir Files' Denounces the Vedic Ideal 'Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava'

The film holds that Kashmiri Muslims constitute a nation that can never accommodate Hindus, and all they wish is to convert all Pandits to Islam – a trope that the Hindutva brigade has been pushing for long.

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The Kashmir Files is a bold and persuasive expression of the Hindutva nation. Indian Muslims, according to this narrative, constitute a separate nation, which cannot accommodate Hindus.

The film is a powerful denunciation of the value of Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava – the view that all religions lead to the same goal. This idea was realised and embraced by saintly personages such as Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

Sri Ramakrishna not only followed the paths of devotion (bhakti), discrimination (gyana) and Tantra Sadhana, he even lived the life of a Sufi Muslim and a Christian. After exploring diverse paths, Sri Ramakrishna echoed the old Vedic insight – ‘as many are the paths, so many are the ways’.

His disciple Swami Vivekananda not only propagated the catholicity and necessity of different faiths but also said that one could learn from the other.

Also read: ‘The Kashmir Files’ Uses Kashmiri Pandits For Propaganda, and Hates Muslims

This was the lived conviction of Mahatma Gandhi too. It is for such reasons that the Indian constitution accords respect to every religion, consistent with what is considered a dominant value in the Indian and even the Hindu tradition.

Defying India’s inclusivity

The Kashmir Files fundamentally defies Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava. The film holds that Kashmiri Muslims constitute a nation that can never accommodate Hindus. Kashmiri Muslims do not appreciate the success of Indian achievers. They wish to convert all Kashmiri Pandits to Islam.

They cast an evil eye on Kashmiri women. They are savage in their tactics. They shoot a man in front of his father and wife and even make the wife lick the blood of her life partner. Their killing of Pandits is reminiscent of Hitler’s desire to exterminate the Jewish population. The majority community of Kashmiri Muslims is committing Hindu genocide. The list of attributes accorded to Kashmiri Muslims by the Hindutva brigade goes on like that endlessly.

The time, therefore, has come for the Hindutva establishment to take on the Muslim nation.

If one went by this logic, the Muslim genocide of Hindus justifies starving Jammu and Kashmir of communication technologies and incarcerating its leadership before dilution Article 370. Therefore, the reading down of Article 370 would be the perfect way to deal with an ethnic ‘anti-national population’.

Security beefed up in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. Photo: PTI

In the same line of thinking, Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalism justifies Jammu and Kashmir’s recognition as one union territory, where redrawing electoral constituencies can make the Hindu vote more potent.

On the other hand, Buddhist-majority Ladakh has also been accorded the status of a separate union territory. As union territories, both Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir are more directly under Delhi’s supervision.

Prediction of India’s doom coming true?

Kashmiri Pandits have an equal right to Kashmir. Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava, after all, cannot discriminate against Hindus. On the other hand, if Muslim violence is shown – as if only Kashmiri Pandits have been ravaged – that would certainly go against that idea.

In fact, Hindu pilgrims visiting Amarnath have experienced the generosity of Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmiri Pandits have lived peacefully with Muslims over the decades and continue to do so. Not surprisingly then, Kashmiri Pandits have opined that this film is more about promoting the idea of the Hindutva nation than getting Kashmiri Pandits back to where they belonged.

The film ignores the fact that Hindus and Muslims found peace till 1990.

A.S. Dulat, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), recently refused to watch this movie. He noted that militancy intensified only after the release of five Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front operatives in December 1989. This occurred in the aftermath of the release of Rubaiyya Sayeed, daughter of the then home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, by her kidnappers.

The film failed to note how the elections of 1989 were rigged, which, in fact, is known to have spurred militancy. The rigged elections had been preceded by a series of events controlled by Delhi, leading to the seating and unseating of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah. These events effectively delegitimised the National Conference. There is not even a mention of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and how Kashmiri Muslims have been killed and jailed without any legal recourse.

Also read: As a Film, ‘The Kashmir Files’ Is Both Laughable and Frightening in Its Relentless Communalism

Kashmir is treated as a static anti-India realm. There is no mention of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s successful initiatives in favour of Kashmiris that were similarly pursued by his successor Manmohan Singh.

There was bipartisan support for the liberal approach at a time when India was considered an emerging economy with the capacity to redistribute wealth. It is easily forgotten how the policy of porous borders with the Kashmir administered by Pakistan only strengthened India. Predictably then, even Vajpayee is considered evil, just like Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

File photo of JNU students clashing with police during a protest march towards Parliament in New Delhi on November 11, 2019. Photo: PTI/Ravi Choudhary

The Hindu nationalist narrative needed to make all secular-liberal intellectuals appear anti-national. The director found a convenient protagonist in a Leftist professor: a ploy to tarnish the image of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and secular intellectuals.

It is well known that the present government has attacked JNU fiercely – perhaps because it is an institution that upholds the idea of India enshrined in the constitution.

No wonder then that two important cabinet ministers are still from JNU, as are many more civil servants. Having lived the life of a student and a teacher at JNU, I can attest to the fact that most professors and students at JNU will not dispute the fact that Kashmir is an integral part of India. They are also not regularly dating Kashmiri terrorists, unlike what the movie would like us to believe. And JNU’s scholarly achievements are considered spectacular by institutions that rank Indian universities.

The Kashmir Files provides three reasons why we should forget the Vedic legacy of Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava. As per this narrative:

  • Hindus are good, and Muslims are evil.
  • Secular intellectuals and institutions have got it wrong.
  • Finally, the plight of Kashmiri Muslims does not deserve any consideration because they have only performed genocide on Hindus.

Indian citizens should open their eyes to see how far even the imperfect practice of Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava has brought India.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah and many Western scholars in 1947 were convinced that India was just a colonial construction that would soon wither away. Will Hindutva nationalism fulfil that colonial prophecy?

Rahul Mukherji is a Professor at South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University.