By Suhail Mir
28th June 2019
Kashmir has been on the edge for a very long time and its youngsters are being consumed by the unrest. The hostile environment in the Valley marked by vituperative narratives such as jugular vein, coupled with uncertainty, violence and radicalisation, has been jeopardising the prospects of the youth. Scared that their children may fall prey to the milieu of Kashmir, many parents spend their hard-earned money to send their kids to different parts of the country to seek education. The youngsters have the potential to assuage the differences between their region and the rest of the country as they act as ambassadors of social exchange, bringing integration.
But ironically there have been sporadic incidents where Kashmiri students have become victims of campus wrath. In the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack, Kashmiri students and traders were reportedly harassed and beaten up in a few parts of the country for which the Supreme Court had to nudge the Centre. While the countrywide anger over the ghastly attack was justified and such cowardly acts must be condemned unequivocally and dealt with a heavy hand, pulling out an ordinary Kashmiri and branding him as different would only create mistrust. On various occasions, Kashmiri students are vilified and their patriotism is questioned. The perpetrators are driven by the noxious stereotype of a Kashmiri who is a stone-pelter, who celebrates Pakistan’s win in cricket and who can’t be a nationalist as his loyalty lies somewhere else. The unwholesome reporting, venomous social media bandwagon and insensitive cinema have hurt the image of a Kashmiri.
After qualifying in the UPSC (civil service) prelims exam, 2016, I was to write the mains examination. The centre allotted to me by UPSC was in Najafgad, almost 42 km from where I was residing. It would not have been feasible to commute daily and so I decided to stay put in some hotel near the centre for the exam week. A day before my exam, I reached the place. But the area surrounding the centre was a rural hamlet, bereft of any hotels. Desperate, I started looking for a family to rent out a room to me for a week.
After three hours and many rejections, a family finally allowed me to stay after I said I was there to write the IAS exam and agreed to pay the rent the landlady asked for. I heaved a sigh of relief, moved in and while unpacking my stuff, the landlady casually asked me, “What is your name and are you from Delhi?” “No aunty! My name is Suhail and I’m from J&K,” I replied. She was taken aback and said, “Jammu or Kashmir”. “Kashmir,” I said. She turned pale and with a sense of insecurity visible on her face, said, “Please leave, I cannot rent out the room.” I would have left, but my exam was the next day and I had no other place to go to. I started begging, pulled out my UPSC admit card, my Aadhaar, but she wasn’t convinced. She however said, “Let my husband come and I will talk to him and he will decide.”
The landlord eventually showed up at my room with a broad smile, and affectionately said, “You will stay here with us provided you will accommodate us when we visit Kashmir some day.” I smiled and said, “Of course,” and my week-long stay started. Two days later, while I was having dinner with the family, suddenly a news item ran on TV showing visuals of stone-pelting youth in the Valley with the anchor saying that entire Kashmir was simmering in violence. Aunty suddenly said, “Son, please don’t be offended for the other day.” She pointed to the screen and continued, “Such kind of news regularly comes on TV. I felt insecure as I was concerned about my children and family.” My heart melted and I empathised with her. Had I been in her place, I would have done the same.
However I was left aghast at how falsely the media and cinema have been portraying Kashmir. I was reminded of a scene from Bollywood movie Baaghi 2, in which a Kashmiri is tied to the bonnet of a car by an Army officer and paraded village after village. The act is justified in the movie as the person would have burnt the tricolour. But the scene is inspired by a real-life incident where the victim had actually cast a vote before going through that ordeal. When such rabid content is being shown to a person oblivious of the situation in Kashmir, they are bound to form a negative perception. Erving Goffman, an American sociologist, wrote: “Media outlets not only tell the audience what to think about but also how to think about that issue.”
Even a small protest for a power transformer in the Valley is shown as posing a threat to national security. Incidents of violence flash on TV for days together. But positives are seldom covered. The all-encompassing, warm Kashmiriyat that still defines the Valley is hardly mentioned. This is not to say everything is hunky-dory in Kashmir, but one-sided coverage and blowing things out of proportion are the biggest disservices some media outlets are doing to the nation.
When I was about to leave, aunty walked to see me off. She said, “If it ever happens that any Kashmiri needs accommodation in this place, please let me know, I would happily take them in.” I was overjoyed as I had changed her perception. I could showcase to her that I am just like any other Indian youngster who believes in love and compassion, not in violence. But the onus largely lies on the media to sensitise and not sensationalise. Peace and national bonhomie are more important than television rating points.
Source: The New Indian Express