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Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Kashmir Files – NZ Hindus demand right to share an historical account

Over the last few days, not only Hindu community but a few other groups in Aotearoa New Zealand have been actively trying to ensure that the events that took place in the Kashmir Valley in 1990 is allowed to be shown in New Zealand.

At the time of the writing of this media release, the decision of classification change/and or banning the film in New Zealand was still sitting with the Classification Office. Hindu Organizations, Temples and Associations (HOTA) has taken an initiative to write a detailed letter to Censor Board and to the offices of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Chief Human Rights Commissioner, and Race Relations Commissioner.

The filmmaker, Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, has undertaken extensive research to capture the story and experiences of the victims authentically. This includes interviewing more than 700 Kashmiri Hindus over 3 years and their experiences during that fateful time in the early 90’s where all Hindus in Kashmir were forced to create new identities that aligned with the militants or were killed if they refused. Some reports place the number of this exodus and ethnic cleansing at 500,000. Several Kashmiri Hindus have subsequently made Aotearoa, New Zealand their home.

Through the medium of film, the filmmakers have sought to tell the story of victims of historic violence. These victims were ordinary people who were caught amid regional and communal violence. We see and hear in the media all the time the hurt and suffering that any conflict causes. 

“To move forward, heal and recover from any conflict, we need to provide victims with the means, medium and opportunities to share their stories. The history of events that might be an uncomfortable discussion should not be avoided or swept under the carpet,” said Nitika Sharma, national Spokesperson Hindu Council of New Zealand.

The film has been released in several countries including Australia, United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, and India without any issues or reports of any violence following this movie. There are, in fact, numerous accounts of Kashmiri Hindus breaking down upon finally having their story shown.

The Hindu Community in New Zealand has been peace-loving, law-abiding, and contributing community. We are also tolerant and well-integrated into the fabric of New Zealand. Hindus have always stood in unity with other communities condemning all acts of violence and abuse.

“We have placed the highest respect into the hands of the esteemed democratic offices of the nation. As such, we respected the Classification Office and their decision of a R16 film to be released in the country. The Classification Office has long upheld their role with discernment and responsibility,” said Nitika Sharma

The film was classified as R16 and scheduled to release in New Zealand on the 24 March. Seeing a campaign being run that calls for a banning of the movie (one to ban the movie and one to lobby the cinema venues to not show it) has left the Hindu community feeling hurt should our story not be allowed to be shared. There may be some uncomfortable issues to discuss, but this contributes to the healing and charting a path forward.

New Zealand has long held a track record for righting historic offenses and ensuring that the rights of those who have suffered in the past are protected. Kashmiri Hindus have long suffered. Their story has been silenced for over 30 years. No victims should have to suffer this long in silence. As such, any move to ban the film from being shown in New Zealand will be denying Kashmiri Hindus a part of their history and their right to share their story.

It is good to see many senior political leaders of New Zealand, including National, ACT and New Zealand First, supporting the release of the movie.

The film is no different from various other such works that have shown and brought to the forefront stories of people and their experiences of violence, genocide, ethnic cleansing, or other atrocious events that have happened in the past. We are sure that in the future, stories would also be told of communal, regional, and international conflict.

“Those uncomfortable yet courageous conversations would also need to find a place in our society to enable the persecuted to have a voice,” said Vinod Kumar, President of HCNZ.

Now we wait for the outcome of the decision of the Classification Office. If there are concerns, the film could be reclassified to RP18 (restricted to persons 18 years and over unless accompanied by a Parent/Guardian) and released in cinemas. The re-classification from the current R16 places the responsibility of being able to deal with the themes of the movie into mature hands.  

“We request all communities to respect each other’s right to have their plights being shared. We request everyone to remain calm and allow those who do want to watch the film do so peacefully and safely once the decision is made by the Chief Censor,” added Vinod Kumar, President of HCNZ.

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