By Alishan Jafri and Kaushik Raj / The Wire
New Delhi: Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the list of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who have endorsed and promoted the controversial new film by director Vivek Agnihotri, The Kashmir Files. Modi claimed the movie portrayed the truth about the violence against the Kashmiri Pandit community and accused unnamed people of trying to discredit its contents. While critics have indeed questioned the movie’s approach to the Kashmir issue, of greater concern is the manner in which the film is being weaponised as a tool by Sangh Parivar and BJP activists and leaders to stoke anti-Muslim hatred on a mass scale.
In the past one week, multiple videos have emerged from movie theatres of aggressive young men inciting physical violence and calling for the boycott of Muslims.
Some of these videos have been popularised by BJP leaders, presumably in order to suggest the film has touched a chord with ordinary Hindus.
But who are the men delivering these hate speeches inside movie theatres? While the videos circulating on the internet may come across as the product of a spontaneous outburst of communal passions among filmgoers, a review of these clips by The Wire has established that many of the men seen in these hate videos have a history of being actively involved in anti-Muslim campaigns, violent protests against Muslims and various other Hindutva causes.
For example, at least two of the men seen leading hate speech events in theatres – Deepak Singh Hindu and Vinod Sharma – have long been involved in communal campaigns. Both of these activists were also part of a Hindutva-sponsored mob against the farmers’ movement that was presented to the media as ‘local protestors angered by the civic inconvenience’ caused by the farmers outside Delhi on January 30, 2020. Many others have been active in making hate speeches and stoking hatred over issues like ‘love jihad’ or calling for a socio-economic boycott of Muslims.
The videos made and posted by these activists make it clear that the film has become a tool for the Hindutva ecosystem to stoke the embers of hatred.
Bogey of ‘love jihad’, ‘population jihad’ and calls for revenge against Muslim women
Rakesh Sisodia, a close aide of Hindutva leader Pinky Chaudhary who was arrested in connection with the Jantar Mantar hate speech case last year, has streamed The Kashmir Files on a projector to a group of villagers. On his Facebook page, he put up inflammatory posts calling for revenge against Muslims, “Should we not avenge what happened to Kashmiri Pandits, Muslims in your neighbourhoods are in small numbers right now but if their numbers increase this situation will arise everywhere. Beware (of Muslims).”
In a video shared by BJP MP from West Delhi Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, an unidentified man can be heard saying in his speech in a theatre that “If we don’t leave secularism then after Kashmir, this will be repeated in Kerala and West Bengal. We have seen the riots in Delhi in which Tahir Hussain killed Negi.”
During the campaign of Delhi assembly elections 2020, Parvesh Verma had said that if Shaheen Bagh continued, it will become a Kashmir-like situation in Delhi and “they’ll” enter homes and rape “sisters and daughters.”
Leader of the far-right Hindu Army, Sushil Tiwari, who was arrested in the Jantar Mantar hate speech case, can be seen in a video warning Hindus after watching the movie in Lucknow. “If Hindus don’t wake up even now, what happened 30 years ago in Kashmir will be repeated 15 years later in the whole country,” he says.
Tiwari said that Muslims are trying to take over the country by their alarming population growth. He suggested that if the Muslim population growth is not contained through laws then they will perpetrate massacres of Hindus. He further referred to Muslims kids as “children of snakes” and said that “those who are 14-15 years old today will become adults and in the next 15 years they will be in majority in the UP assembly and then the Hindus of the country will meet the same fate as that of Hindus of Kashmir.”
Like Tiwari, Deepak Singh Hindu, leader of the far right Hindu Force, went to watch The Kashmir Files on March 12, 2022 along with other members of his group. He had an altercation with the police when the latter objected to the raising of slogans on the premises of the theatre. The police requested them to “maintain peace and order.” Deepak Singh Hindu had, on the morning of February 23, 2020, called upon Hindus to gather for a ‘religious war’ at Maujpur—the epicentre of the anti-Muslim violence in north-east Delhi two years ago – and who was recently arrested in connection with the hate speech and call to genocide at Jantar Mantar
Deepak Singh Hindu also used the film to stoke the bogey of Muslim population growth. In a Facebook post on March 19, 2022, he said, “If we don’t act on population control and Uniform Civil Code, we won’t have to go to theatre to watch Kashmir Files, it will happen live”.
In another viral video, an unidentified man in a theatre while addressing the audience aggressively called upon Hindus to stop Muslims from populating any further. He suggested, “If each (Hindu) man marries a Muslim woman, we can reduce their population in next three generations. Marry their woman and produce kids. While we are sitting here watching the movie they are increasing their population”.
Calls to ‘shoot the traitors’ and kill Muslims
Videos of men raising the slogan “Desh ke gaddaro ko goli maaro saalon ko” (‘shoot the traitors’) have gone viral from multiple theatres across the country. This slogan was popularised in the Hindutva ecosystem by BJP leader Kapil Mishra during the pro-Citizenship Amendment Act protests. Last year, when The Wire asked Mishra about his slogans calling for Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Aligarh Muslim Universtiy students to be shot, he first denied saying this. But when shown his own videos, he said it was not a big deal to say “goli maaro saalon ko” and that this reference to shooting was just an inconsequential rhyme. Eleven days after this call to shoot, two young men actually opened fire on peaceful protesters at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh.
This time around, the goli maaro slogan was raised by members of RSS-linked Hindu Jagran Manch while coming out of SRS Cinema, Bijnor after watching The Kashmir Files. One of the prominent members raising the slogan to “shoot the traitors” was District General Secretary of Bijnor’s Hindu Jagran Manch – Kshatriya Anshul Arya. He, along with several other members of Hindu Jagran Manch themselves posted the video on their Facebook profiles.
In another video from a different theatre in Bijnor, unidentified men can be heard raising the genocidal slogan against Muslims – “Jab Mulle kaate jayenge Ram Ram chillaayenge” (When Muslims are slaughtered, they will cry ‘Ram, Ram’) along with “Bharatiya Janata Party zindabad“.
The “mulle kaate jayenge” slogan was raised by the Jamia shooter in Haryana Mahapanchayats in July 2021. A month later, this slogan was raised at Jantar Mantar on August 7, 2021 during a rally called by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay and other Hindutva organisations against “colonial laws”. Bijnor Police has replied on Twitter that they are investigating both the videos.
Jantar Mantar hate speech accused, Sudarshan Vahini chief Vinod Sharma a.k.a. Azad Vinod, said after watching the movie along with other members of his group, that “if the evil people don’t learn a lesson, then violence is very necessary”. (“Ahimsa parmo dharm jeevan ki kastoori hai. Yadi dusht nahi maane toh himsa bahot zaroori hai”).
In these viral messages and hate videos, the prime message being propagated is anti-Muslim fear mongering and stoking hatred among Hindus that what happened with Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir can be repeated with them in the whole country if Hindus don’t wake up and act.
Now several of the men arrested and who are out on bail in connection to the slogans raised at Jantar Mantar are promoting the same message and actively inciting hatred against Muslims using the movie.
In fact, Vinod Sharma a.k.a. Azad Vinod is sponsoring movie tickets for The Kashmir Files. In his Facebook post, he announced that he wants to show this film to at least 200 young Hindu women of age 18-30 to make them aware of “love jihad”. On March 14, 2022, he claimed to have sponsored movie tickets for 150 Hindu women at G3S Cinema Rohini. After the movie, he addressed the audience in the theatre and stoked fears of Muslims. “This is our past”, he said about the movie. “But if you don’t understand them (Muslims) this will be your future”.
Outside the theatre, he urged Hindus to gift at least one ticket to a Hindu woman so that “she is not trapped into ‘love jihad’ by pigs (Muslims)”.
On March 18, his organisation, Sudarshan Vahini, allegedly sponsored the tickets for 100 more Hindu women in Barwani, Madhya Pradesh. Vinod Sharma wrote on his Facebook, “If Hindus don’t leave secularism, then what happened in Kashmir will be repeated”.
After the movie, Hindutva leader Swami Jeetendranand Saraswati, whose hate speeches following violence against Muslim vendors in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar in 2021 were covered by The Wire, addressed the audience and stoked the bogey of ‘love jihad’. “The way you protect yourself from coronavirus, you have to protect yourself from them. Some Salman will become Suresh, some Rehman will become Ramesh, and then they trap our women in love jihad,” said Jeetendranand and also stressed on the need to “pick up weapon of Lord Shiva”.
In another video posted by Vinod Sharma, one of his aides says, in the presence of Swami Jeetendranand Saraswati, “We need to do two things to them. Boycott them. Don’t buy anything from jihadis. Break their spines economically if you don’t want India to become a Kashmir and the world to watch the movie we’re watching today.”
The Wire had earlier documented that Sharma was present at a protest in Uttam Nagar on June 20 last year where unidentified men were captured on his live video as having said that they had driven out Muslim vendors from the area. Sharma had also joined Sudarshan News chief Suresh Chavhanke’s protest at India Gate in March 2020, calling for the economic boycott of Muslims. “Suppose we tell you, don’t get a haircut from ‘them’ [Muslims] then we have to give options… If we want to remove ‘them’ from these businesses then we need to have our own men,” Sharma had said last March at the India Gate protest. His speech was recorded in a video that went viral.
Suresh Rajput a.k.a. ‘Hindu Sher-boy’, another prominent online Hindutva influencer and a disciple of Yati Narsinghanand who regularly broadcasts calls to violence, rape and murder on his channel and whose Facebook and YouTube were suspended for extremist speech, also uploaded hate videos after the film’s release.
“Can he be a Brahmin seed,” Rajput asks in one of his videos attacking comedian Kapil Sharma for allegedly not promoting The Kashmir Files. “Something big will happen after this movie but it is important to wake people up first. That Modi ji has done,” he said.
In another video he abused secular Hindus and made communal and sexualised slurs for Neha Singh Rathore for her viral songs criticising hate politics and majoritarianism. He blamed the ‘disease of secularism’ and secular Hindus for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. After the recent violence in Tripura, Rajput lauded Hindus for celebrating Diwali properly in Tripura – a dog whistle for anti-Muslim violence.
In some of his videos, he has threatened sexual violence against women and issued death threats to the Delhi chief minister.
Calls to ban Islam; avenge the Kashmiri Pandit exodus
Responding to AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal’s call for the banning of The Kashmir Files, Hindutva leader Anand Swaroop demanded the government immediately ban Islam and the Quran. “As long as there is Islam and Quran in India they will keep repeating what they did in Kashmir,” he said in a video on Facebook.
Anand Swaroop was a key speaker in the Haridwar Dharma Sansad in December 2021 where he threatened to “wage a war” against the government of India if their demands are not met. He warned Ajmal that he best convert to Hinduism. “When India will be declared a Hindu Rashtra we will convert you back to Hinduism in the same way you were converted to Islam.”
Swaroop has also been aggressively pushing for a boycott of Muslims. In January 2021, addressing a “Hindu Panchayat” in Meerut, he had explained the rationale of these campaigns in clear words: “My argument is that if you [Muslims] want to remain associated with us, you should first stop reading the Quran and stop offering namaz.”
Then he offered a solution to Hindus: “You decide that you will not buy anything from a Muslim. If you destroy them socially, politically and economically, they will begin converting to Hinduism from Islam.”
Communal amity vitiated
The New Indian Express reported that the Delhi Police has asked the DCPs of all districts to make adequate security arrangements in mixed population areas of the city in view of The Kashmir Files film to prevent any law and order situation.
“The communal situation in Delhi is still fragile since the 2020 northeast Delhi riots. Recently the Hijab/Burqa controversy and Haridwar Dharam Sansad’s hate speech against the Muslim community, it cannot be ruled out that even a minor incident may create communal tension between both the communities and affect the law and order situation,” the letter read.
On March 17, one Harendra Kandari was arrested after he reportedly desecrated a Muslim shrine in the Jogiwala area of Dehradun. Kandari has been booked for “promoting enmity between religions, defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion, and mischief causing damage” under sections 153-A, 295 and 427 of the Indian Penal Code.
When The Wire contacted Nehru Colony Police Station, an official on duty said that the Investigating Officer is on leave and Kandari has been sent to jail and he doesn’t know further details. Earlier, Sub-inspector Deepak Gairola had told the Times of India that during interrogation Kandari said that he was “enraged” after watching scenes of violence against Kashmiri Pandits in The Kashmir Files.
Two weeks after the release of the film there is a clear pattern in the manner in which it is being used to promote hatred and incite violence against Muslims. And this campaign is being led by Hindutva activists and organisations that have a long history of such incitement.
This article first appeared on thewire.in