Art World

Singapore bans controversial Kashmir film praised by India’s premier

A girl walks past a poster of the Bollywood movie "The Kashmir Files" inside a cinema in Mumbai

Singapore has banned a controversial film on the exodus of Hindus from Indian-administered Kashmir for its “provocative and one-sided portrayal” of Muslims that officials in the city-state fear has the “potential to cause enmity between different communities”.

Released in March, The Kashmir Files depicts in harrowing detail how about 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus – known as Pandits – fled the Muslim-majority region following attacks by rebels in 1989 and 1990, when an armed resistance against New Delhi’s rule began.

Up to 219 Hindus may have been killed, according to official figures.

The 170-minute Hindi language film was praised by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Hindu nationalist followers and is one of India’s highest-grossing films this year.

After the film was released, Modi said it showed the truth and that “vested interests” were running a campaign to discredit it.

“They are shocked, that the truth that was hidden for so many years is out and is backed by facts,” Modi said, without clarifying to whom he was referring.

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But critics say the film is loose with facts and tackles themes close to the political agenda of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, which has been accused of marginalising and vilifying Muslims.

“The film will be refused classification for its provocative and one-sided portrayal of Muslims and the depictions of Hindus being persecuted in the ongoing conflict in Kashmir,” the Singapore government said in a statement on Monday in response to media queries.

“These representations have the potential to cause enmity between different communities, and disrupt social cohesion and religious harmony in our multi-racial and multi-religious society,” the statement added.

Singapore’s 5.5 million population is made up mainly of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians. The tightly-controlled Southeast Asian country has strict laws that punish any attempts to disrupt interracial and religious harmony.

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It occasionally bans films and publications for fear of inflaming divisions, leading some to ridicule it as a “nanny state”.

The film’s director, Vivek Agnihotri, lashed out at the decision, tweeting that Singapore was the “most regressive censor in the world”.

Thousands of people, many of them Hindus, fled Kashmir after a violent uprising against the Indian rule began in the valley in 1989.

The Kashmir Files revolves around a university student who learns about the death of his parents in the 1990s in Kashmir – a disputed region split between India and Pakistan since 1947.

Supporters of the movie say it shines a light on an often overlooked chapter of the region’s history, while others see it as evidence of the growing religious polarisation Modi’s critics say he has fostered since coming to power in 2014.

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