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24th June '2007
Indian Media and Kashmir

Any impartial and unbiased media coverage has two important elements. The first is the objective reportage of events. The second involves the unbiased editorship of the concerned medium, whether print or electronic. Kashmir has been an important focal point of Indian Media for last sixty years or even more. Unfortunately for the major part of this period, it has lacked both, the objectivity in reporting as well as impartiality in the editorship outside. Kashmir has suffered a concerted and continuous system of biased coverage. Before the partition of the sub-continent, Kashmir got into news because of an egalitarian struggle of a down trodden peasantry against the tyrannical autocracy. The news of Kashmir’s peasant revolution was widely reported in Moscow papers in early thirties. Prominent nationalist leaders of India including Nehru empathised with this struggle and were in fact an important factor in motivating the local Kashmiri leadership to change their movement from a basically Muslim tenor into a nationalist one in 1938. This nationalist struggle received wide coverage as long as it kept itself out of the ideological conflict which was raging in the sub-continent at that time. It appeared to the Kashmiri leaders that the Indian leadership which claimed itself to be progressive and secular had very noble aims in regard to their struggle. They seemed to have been either totally ignorant of the ulterior motives on both sides or were too deeply and completely absorbed in their own centuries old problems to care about anything else. The manifesto of National Conference which was prepared by BPL and Freda Bedi was not only progressive in outlook but had been fully oriented to the Communist Revolutionary Ideology. The National symbol of plough was quite near to the sickle and hammer of the Russian Revolution. The red colour of the flag and naming of the main venue of political manifestations as Red Square (Lal Chowk) had more than a symbolic meaning. Moscow was more than pleased with this transformation of Kashmiri freedom struggle and saw it as the beginning of Red Revolution in this part of the world. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who was installed as the head of emergency administration in 1947, with his progressive and secular outlook became the darling of Indian Media. He was hailed as a revolutionary leader of not only the Kashmiris but of the entire sub-continent because of his vehement opposition to Jinnah’s two nation theory. During his first tenure of about six years, Abdullah proved worst than Stalin in some of his ruthless measures to curb popular opposition. His “Peace Brigade” headed by a local “Beria” surpassed even KGB in suppressing people opposing his pro-India political philosophy. However, the Indian Media almost totally ignored these happenings in Kashmir. On the contrary, Abdullah’s revolutionary land reforms and his attempt to contain the Hindu fundamentalist agitation in Jammu for total integration of the State with India spearheaded by Praja Parishad created a Media furore throughout India. The landlords and big businesses controlling the media did not take kindly to his drastic actions. He was depicted as a Hindu killer and a conspirator. In fact, this very attitude of the Indian Media was pivotal in turning Abdullah against India. He had confided in some of his friends that a number of times the Indian Media representatives would report reverse of what he was saying to them. There were some progressive stalwarts who tried to take an independent view and put out authentic reports about various events but these were very few and even they had to suffer for their courage. After the unceremonial removal of Abdullah in 1953, the Indian Media started a drive to recruit local reporters from a particular community majority of whom were taken to be trusted and loyal followers of Indian cause. In time they came to monopolise the entire Media set up in Kashmir. Probably only exception was J N Sathu who again suffered for his independent views. At one point in time almost all reporters would send the same copy to their editors. A number of subsequent upheavals in Kashmir received the same biased treatment. The Indian psyche developed a “National Interest” in Kashmir. No matter what the cost, material or otherwise, Kashmiri Muslims had to be kept as hostages to thwart Pakistani designs. India had developed into world’s largest democracy with a number of institutions of exceptional standing but when it came to Kashmir, there was only one point overriding everything else, the “National Interest”. All streams of thought coalesced in case of Kashmir. There was only one consolation. The western Media was very sympathetic to Kashmiri cause. In spite of censors and restrictions, Kashmir’s suffering found sufficient space in both print and electronic Media all over the world. In 1990 there was a dramatic change in the whole situation. Almost the entire Indian Media set up in Srinagar migrated outside the valley, some to Jammu, and others to Delhi. A new trend in journalism was established by reporting on events in Kashmir sitting 300 kilometres away from the scene of happening. Minor incidents were played up and depicted with such graphic detail as if the persons reporting these were eyewitnesses disregarding the fact that they were sitting hundreds of kilometres away! A new phrase, the “Cross Border Terrorism” was coined and drummed up so much that the entire reality of the situation got drowned in this cacophony. It was in keeping with the Orwellian “New Speak” and Goebbels strategy of repeating a lie 100 times to make people believe it to be the truth. This vacuum of journalists in the valley gave the majority community the chance to throw up a new breed of young reporters both for national as well as international Media. They did exceptionally well in reporting news from a conflict zone and some of these like Yusuf Jameel became a household name. They tried to be objective in the most trying and difficult situations for which some of them like Mushtaq Ali paid with their lives. However, they remained handicapped because of the absence of the second important pillar of objective journalism, the unbiased editorship. The events of 9/11 proved a shot in the arm for the promoters of “National Interest”. Even the western world had abandoned the cause of Kashmiris because of the Muslim majority. For the west all Muslims were terrorists and Islam was a religion of terror. Anything with a Muslim connection was anathema to them. The Indian Media was emboldened to set aside any pretensions of impartiality and came out totally against Kashmiris. During Indra Gandhi’s rule everything “Undesirable” happening in any part of India was blamed on CIA. This was the easiest disposal. No questions asked! 9/11 gave new whipping boys-ISI and LeT (Lashkar-e-Tayyeba). Such a phobia has been created that every second Kashmiri is projected as an operative of LeT. In fact, outsiders are being made to believe that a LeT militant is not only lurking behind every bush in Kashmir but is freely moving around every nook and corner in the Indian mainland. The worst thing is the “Electronic Media Trial” conducted every now and then of innocent Kashmiris arrested in different parts of the country. A number of TV channels not only virtually try Kashmiris but conduct countrywide polls as to when and how they should be hanged. The Media announces the guilty verdict even before the courts complete their legal proceedings. Another interesting aspect which shows how naive the members of Indian Media can be is the confusing and contradictory reporting about de-militarisation. On one hand quoting various security and political authorities, it is reported that the situation is fast returning to normal. There is lesser violence in the towns and a complete cease fire on the Line of Control. On the other hand some other authorities or even sometimes the same ones are quoted as saying that the situation is not conducive for lessening or withdrawal of forces. Sometimes infiltration is supposed to have decreased while as sometimes it is claimed to be on an increased level. No one tries to verify the actual veracity of these reports. It is alleged that a part of the Media, both print as well as electronic is being very subtly manipulated monetarily by intelligence agencies from both the sides for their own strategic reasons. The main victim of this Media with vested interests is the most talked about “Peace Process”. Many people feel that the stalling of the process and its hushed forward movement is because of this Media scare. The main players have a mortal fear of the whole thing getting derailed should the Media get an inkling of any behind the scenes “Agreement” or “Deal”. Thus it would seem that the people in general should first strive to convince the Media on both the sides to give up the prejudice and bias before any forward movement can take place in the resolution of the vexed problem of Kashmir. As long as the Media keeps on defending their “National Interest” on both sides of the divide at the cost of objective reporting, Kashmiris have no escape!

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