hour of prime time TV news aggression pushes Kashmir a mile westward from India
afternoon of July 13, my one-year-old child was finding it difficult to sleep
because the adjacent curfewed street had been rattling with a sinister medley
of Azadi slogans and tear-gas explosions since daybreak. In a conflict zone,
introduction to violence is a part of a child’s baptism. So here I was
witnessing the exact moment when my child was getting marked as a Kashmiri —
the tabula rasa of his mind impacted by history, much before he would be
circumcised and officially marked as a Muslim. Kashmir had knocked at his
conscience much before Islam. Three decades ago, I was in a similar moment with
my father stroking me to sleep while mortar shells were pounding the hills in
our backyard. Interestingly, the afternoon marked yet another familiar yet
bloody rendezvous between the Valleys’s past and present — it was 85th Martyr’s
day. But the street unrest had a rather unusual trigger this time — the death
of a young militant commander at Kokernag on July 8.
same time, I was alerted by an unknown caller that Zee News had been running a
marathon discussion for past two days on the current crisis, and my photographs
and videos were also being juxtaposed with the visuals, dead and alive, of
young local militants from Kashmir, as some sort of a clash of role models.
perturbed me a lot — not only for the sheer insensitivity and shallowness with
which this was being done but also for the security risk that it posed to my
life. I was puzzled because with a Rs 50,000 monthly salary and a Rs 50 lakh
housing loan I was certainly not the best example of a successful Kashmiri
when the only measure of greatness here is the size of one’s funeral
procession. Who would want to die for Rs 50,000 and die unattended, at that. My
fears were proven right: Soon, I was told, there was a huge mob outside our
colony, rallying against the remarks of the Zee News anchor asking the dead
militants to be burnt along with garbage instead of being buried in India’s
land; the studio and the street were competing with each other.
Next day, I
left for my office, incognito, wearing a Kurta-pyjama and a farmer’s cap,
hopping across check posts like a thief, knowing well that if a group of
enraged youngsters recognised me, I might be in trouble, and rightly so, for
falling on the wrong side of the Kashmiri vs Indian binary at such a critical
juncture. Abusive comments on my Facebook wall had the same refrain.
In the last
few years, a section of the national media has been misrepresenting the idea of
India in Kashmir, as part of a business strategy. It has also been projecting
lies about Kashmir to rest of the country. It happened in 2008, in 2010, and in
2014. So there is nothing surprising about the tilt and the timing of this
the programmes on Kashmir right now are aimed to provoke people, the coverage
is selective, and intention appears to be to compound the problems for the
state government. The print media, though, has always maintained balance.
the current round of commercial savagery by a few news channels even more
tragic was that they continued to promote falsehoods, dividing people, creating
hatred, completely disregarding the values of democracy and secularism, even
when people were dying and the government was trying hard to calm down people’s
passions. It did not stop even after appeals were made to de-escalate. This
brazenness to market TRPs as national interest and do business over the dead
bodies of young men was the worst aspect of these loud newsrooms.
no Kashmir, the biggest challenge for India, this time, is how to reclaim the
custody of “national interest” from its national media, and restore
communication with its neighbours and people. I have no hesitation in saying
that Zee News, Times Now, NewsX and Aaj Tak are at the vanguard of a
movement that will take India from a dialogical civilisation to a dumb,
Indian tradition, the state is supposed to communicate with its people through
accommodation, not harangue, and through welfare, not violence. Ashoka put
together a network of pillars and edicts to communicate with his people. During
the Mughal rule, Diwan e Aam also symbolised direct communication between the
state and its subjects. The Firmans could only be issued by the sovereign,
not by scribes and minstrels, as is the case today. In the Islamic tradition,
too, truth, patience and perseverance are central to communicating. As a
confluence of Indo-Islamic experience, Kashmir needs a mix of honesty, truth
and directness. Communication that divides will only hurt India’s case further.
When we are
looking for the causes of the ongoing unrest, we must also look at how we have
outsourced, or rather abdicated, communications to TV channels, which are only
interested in provoking and alienating. The Indian state can’t afford to leave
the Kashmir project to intellectual renegades, political turncoats,
opportunists, intelligence agencies, and most importantly, to self-appointed
vigilantes of the national interest.
people often confuse the outrageous editorial policy of the national media with
the oppressive state policy. When Kashmiri representatives are bullied in TV
debates, their aspirations ridiculed, their grievances shouted down, the
symbols of Kashmiri pride insulted, or when non-issues are given precedence
over the killing of the innocents, when military bravado is encouraged over
civilian agony, when positive initiatives of the state government are
overlooked, and truth is not shown at all, and most importantly, when cows are
made to feel more important than the Kashmiri people, the frustration and anger
will, expectedly, be directed against India. Every hour of prime time TV news
aggression pushes Kashmir a mile westward from India.
It may not
be easy to intervene or even shut down these mirror-houses of hateful
journalism because there are constitutional safeguards for freedom of speech.
But the unity and integrity of the country is a far bigger imperative and we
will have to restore the original, traditional and additional channels of
communication between Delhi and Srinagar that can cut down the noise and bile,
and make newsroom nationalism irrelevant. We may as well have to convince these
media houses to tone down their jingoistic rhetoric and pay heed to the feedback
from the ground.
teenagers in Srinagar and they will tell you how all these years India has been
communicating to Kashmiris through rigged elections, dismissal of elected
governments, through encounters and corruption. They will tell you how India
has become synonymous with a military bunker or a police vehicle or a ranting
panellist on prime time television. Is this the idea of India which can win
Kashmiri hearts? Accepting what India and its symbols stand for in the eyes of
a Kashmiri is the first step towards untangling this Gordian knot.
are very sensitive people. But they are by nature sceptics as well. Any
dialogue with Kashmiris will bear fruit only in an atmosphere of warmth and
will have to be done on equal terms, not as Ehsan. The prime minister,
who has single-handedly transformed India’s global image, should take upon
himself the task of transforming India’s image in Kashmir.
Shah Faesal, an IAS officer, is director, school
education, Kashmir. Views are personal