A little-known human rights group based in the US has recently recognised the exodus of Hindus from Kashmir in 1989-90 as “Kashmiri Hindu Genocide”. NRI Affairs decided to dig a little deep and find out a little more about them.
In recent days, social media has been teeming with news of a US-based organisation called International Commission for Human Rights and Religious Freedom (ICHRRF) of having recognised the ‘genocide’ of Kashmiri Hindus that reportedly took place 33 years ago.
The organisation held a special public hearing on the issue of “Kashmiri Hindu Genocide (1989-90)” on 27 March 2022 after which it came to this decision. This proclamation seems to have come at the right time for the makers of the film The Kashmir Files and the many nationalistic voices that have been seeking to vindicate their claim of ethnic cleansing at the hand of Islamists in the Kashmir Valley.
Vindication from an international human rights body is indeed a big feather in the cap for those trying to project the killings by allegedly Pakistan-sponsored militants as Hindu phobic ethnic cleansing in Kashmir and Vivek Agnihotri, director of The Kashmir Files was quick to grab the opportunity as were hundreds of his fans and supporters.
A few mainstream newspapers like The Deccan Herald and Business Standard have also carried the news. Agnihotri, when questioned by Firstpost about how much of his own research had gone into the conclusions of ICHRRF, replied:
“In fact, I am facilitating this. But I am supporting the ICHRRF only from behind the scenes. If I come forward it all becomes political when my interest is only human. It has been wonderful to see so many Kashmiri Pandits testify before the ICHRRF during the last couple of days. That this has happened proves the power of cinema.”
Who are the ICHRRF?
According to their website they are ‘a US-based non-profit focused on promoting human rights, religious and philosophical freedom and a polycentric worldview through continuous monitoring, education, policy research and collaboration’.
When was it formed? It does not say anything about that on its website but the earliest events that it held can be dated back to November 2020, the earliest publication is dated December 2020 and this Rights group opened its account on Twitter on May 2020. Its Facebook page, which was started about 2 years ago, has 106 followers as of 30 March 2022.
So, this very recently launched organisation, that began to initially delve into Human Rights issues by bringing to light the plight of racial dynamics in South Africa, preservation of Mayan culture, Ethno-religious mediation in Africa, Native American genocide in North America, Kurdish rights, has finally stepped into the limelight with Kashmir’s ‘genocide’ issue.
It is also interesting to note that the board of directors of this ‘international’ organisation is made up of only Indians. Dr A. Adityanjee, the president and chairperson of ICHRRF, who is also the president of New-Delhi-based Council of Strategic Affairs, viewed the Pulwama attack as the “new Pearl Harbour”, calling it “the latest calculated act of war by the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) of the Jihadistan, aka Pakistan, to provoke civilian unrest in India prior to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Attempt to disrupt India’s democracy is a brutal assault on the heart of democracy!”
Another member of the ICHRRF board, Padma Bhushan awardee (2018) Professor Ved Nanda serves as the Chairman of the Board of Hindu University of America (HUA). This university had conferred Anupam Kher (one of the main actors of The Kashmir Files) with an Honorary Doctorate in Hindu studies last year.
While speaking about Kher to ANI, Professor Ved Nanda had said, “The Hindu University of America is privileged to confer its inaugural Honorary Doctoral degree on Padma Bhushan Sri Anupam Kher. Anupam Kher Ji, we indeed are honoured that you have graciously consented to accept the historic award of the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Hindu Studies from HUA. You are a constant source of inspiration to us all, and we express our deep appreciation for your monumental contributions.”
The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), a sister organization to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that supports and mobilises Hindus living outside India, had put up a post on their Facebook page to congratulate Professor Nanda on 26 January, 2018. Professor Nanda is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Dharma Civilization Foundation.
In an article for Denver Post in 2016, Professor Nanda had candidly declared, “I have been a long-time BJP and Modi supporter”, and went on to praise the newly elected Prime Minister of India who according to him, “ran a charismatic and social media-savvy campaign on the platform of economic growth and good governance, and as chief minister of Gujarat state, he amply demonstrated his ability to deliver both.”
One of the executive team members of ICHRRF is author Carl Clemens, who grew up in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Coimbatore and who has also co-authored a book titled, The English Medium Myth: Dismantling barriers to India’s growth, with Rajiv Malhotra.
Silence on human rights abuse in India
Nobody denies the atrocities and horrifying experiences Hindu families had to go through at the hands of Pakistan-based terror groups in the nineties but there is hesitation among experts to label it as a genocide. Number of Kashmiri Pandits killed in 1989-90 is thought to be in the hundreds and not the thousands as are being claimed by some. Government records and even Kashmiri Pandit organisations in Jammu and Delhi point to a lesser number killed than what is being propagated through various channels.
One cannot help but notice that despite the recent report cards that human rights organisations from all over the world are handing out to India in the last few years, ICHRRF, whose Mission Statement reads it is “focused on upholding Human Rights and Religious Freedom” has never taken up the issue of any discrimination or violence against any other minority community in India.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch an international non-governmental organisation, headquartered in New York City, has submitted a damning report suggesting that India is witnessing “a serious regression in human rights and constitutional protections” under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A few weeks ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has also accused the Indian government of allowing incitement to violence against Muslims, in a report that documents the state-driven and tolerated hatred, discrimination and violence against minorities in India.
According to the report, the Indian government has tacitly allowed incitement to violence against Muslims by failing to condemn a December 2021 video of Hindu religious leaders calling for a Muslim genocide until India’s Supreme Court took up judicial notice.
International human rights bodies like the Amnesty International and The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have been critical of the current government in India and have rapped them occasionally for promoting “Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.
Fake’ claims about the recognition of ‘Kashmir genocide’
‘The Kashmir Files’ director Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri had recently been called out for claiming that the state of USA – Rhode Island has “officially recognised Kashmir Genocide” due to his film Kashmir Files.
On 14 March, Agnihotri shared a photo of a certificate on Twitter and wrote, “HISTORIC, First time in 32 years, any state in the world, the democratic & liberal state of USA -Rhode Island, has officially recognised Kashmir Genocide due to a very small film. Pl read this and decide who is the persecutor and who should get the punishment. This is #NewIndia (sic).”
A US based journalist said the claim was fake.
“I reached out to Rep.Brian Kennedy, who told me that citation was given to simply recognise the premiere of the movie at Rhode Island College & not “Hindu Genocide in Kashmir” It isn’t either a resolution approved by the state or members of House,” tweeted Raqib Hameed Naik.
“K. Joseph Shekarch, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, says that he is not even aware of this citation that was requested by Rep. Kennedy in off-session. It is not official position of the House,” a staffer told Naik.
A ‘limp attempt’
Hindu organisations are promoting the film ‘The Kashmir Files’ on social media in a big way. Theatres are being booked and people are requesting Hindus to watch the film. Unsurprisingly, only Hindus are being urged to watch.
In an unprecedented move, even the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi has spoken up about the film and the “facts” that needs to be said.
Speaking at the BJP parliamentary party meeting in Delhi recently, he said: “The entire Jamaat (gang) that raised the flag of freedom of expression has been furious for 5-6 days. Instead of reviewing the film on the basis of facts and art, there’s a conspiracy to discredit it.” Endorsement of a movie, even defending its veracity, by the leader of a country, surely ranks high on the list of firsts for the Indian film industry.
However, many human rights activists and critics say the film has altered the facts and promoted Islamophobia and hatred against some parts of the community.
New Zealand Chief Censor has reclassified the film and audiences aged 18 or older are allowed to see it in cinemas in the country. The film was initially classified as R16 in New Zealand but a review was conducted after concerns were raised by members of the Indian community in New Zealand.
It has received run-of-the-mill reviews from mainstream critics.
The New Indian Express has called the movie a limp attempt at provocation. In a scathing review about the claim that it champions the case of displaced Kashmiri Pandits in the film, it says, “the Kashmir Files hasn’t the slightest concern for its subject people, gleefully exploiting their trauma and tragedy for cheap rhetoric. And its communal agenda is so brazen, it beats most mainline propaganda.”
“We are shown killings, desecrations, and senseless acts of pillage and abuse. In evoking this bloodlust, the film gives away its own. The violence isn’t contextualized — graphic provocation is all it’s meant to achieve.”