In a democratic set up, media is supposed to be the vanguard of the principles of democracy and free speech and for this reason, media is called as the fourth pillar of democracy, Legislature, judiciary and executive being three others. India is believed to the world’s largest democracy with a huge media presence that claims to be very vibrant and the saviour of the weak and suppressed sections of the society.
To a large extent, there is truth in this claim and we see Indian media raising different issues that concern the weaker sections of the society and exposing the wrongdoings of the people misuse their power and authority. Big, small, all the media houses across the country play a vital role in exposing the atrocious atrocities committed by those in power and authority against the suppressed sections of the society.
However come Kashmir, the Indian media in general, barring few exceptions, seems to be in unison in portraying a wrong and erroneous picture in the name of so called national interest. As far as happenings in Kashmir are concerned, the media plays more to the tunes of establishment than presenting a factual and correct picture before the Indian masses.
The news channels based in New Delhi and other parts of the country for quite some time now have been presenting the biased and one sided narrative of the volatile situation in this region, painting an entirely wrong picture of an ordinary Kashmiri with the result that students and other people who have to visit other states for studies or business purposes have to bear the brunt of the perverse behaviour of lunatic and criminal elements of communal and fascist groups. None of the media houses, again barring a few, have made any attempt to look at Kashmir and the happenings here in their right perspective.
None has bothered to see what really ails Kashmir and why people here are up in arms against the government.Instead,entire lot of the people of Kashmir are painted as anti national and all the youth are branded as stone pelters who are on the pay roll of Pakistan and its agencies. The news channels and their not so worthy commentators, who constitute a new kind of shouting brigade, pouring venom on people of Kashmir and refuse to listen to reason, have of late have raised the spectre of rise of terrorism put together with Wahabi ideology.
The approach of the media for the sake of so called national interest seems to present the true picture upside down. The victims are presented as unholy and unworthy while the other side is portrayed as the proverbial holy cow. Those who are asked to join the fiery debates in TV studios on the evolving situation either happen to be some retired military men, persons who have least knowledge about the very nature and background of the problem that Kashmir happens to be and who only are interested in defending the status quo or else they happen to be the spin doctors of right wing political parties. For name sake and in a bid to buttress their claim of neutrality few faces from Kashmir are also invited at these discussions. However, they are there only to be bombed with a battery of silly questions including ones like “are you Indian....which passport you do hold.... you seem to be defending those who are paid by Pakistan”. At times when a Kashmiri panellist attempts to make a point or reply to the baseless and frivolous accusations from others he is not allowed to complete his sentence or is then put on mute button.
In Kashmir and very rightly, this projection through a jaundiced prism is being questioned by the ordinary masses. It's a source of angst for them that the national media consistently plays to a negative stereotype where Kashmir is concerned. They make even a small stir in the Valley look like an alarming event threatening national security. The youth of Kashmir rightly resent the fact that when some masked youth take to the streets to pelt stones or brandish flags, national news channels flash the footage for days together. However, the same media ignores any positive developments in Kashmir. They hardly ever mention the all-encompassing, warm Kashmiriyat that still defines the Valley, despite decades of turmoil and suffering. Some time back a boatman was drowned while saving the life of three tourists who were on board his shikara in the Jhelum River. This incident, which spoke volumes about the compassion of Kashmiris received scant national media coverage. It seems that good of the Kashmiris has got lost amid today's combative, jingoistic squabbles on prime-time TV. Hot-headed warrior anchors on TV lose no time in pouncing upon Kashmiris for all wrongs, real or perceived.
Even senior bureaucrats and police officials argue that this negative image of Kashmir in mainland India and abroad is now following a repetitive pattern. Outsiders think Kashmir is some violence-ridden place where guns are always being fired. This is the consequence of the uni-dimensional portrayal of Kashmir in national media. Kashmir is viewed only from the lens of violence and bloodshed. This consistently negative portrayal has a highly adverse impact on the Valley -- socially, politically and economically.
In the summer of 2015, heavy rainfall took place in Srinagar for two days. Kashmiri hoteliers recall that some news channels promptly played the images of the catastrophic floods of September 2014 on loop. The result was that many hotel and flight bookings to Kashmir were cancelled. The irresponsible and one sided reportage of NIT controversy and the Handwara-Kupwara violence, resulted in cancellation of over 40% of the total flight and hotel bookings for the Valley. This caused a major setback for tourism, which is the mainstay of the economy here.
Courtesy the media projection, Kashmiris are regarded as alien, violent people. This is far from the truth. It is only when people come here that they experience the warm hospitality and graciousness of the Kashmiris.
No doubt that Kashmir for many years now has been passing through a period of turmoil. Large number of youth has taken to armed struggle and day in and day out we have fiery encounters between these Kalashnikov wielding youth with men in uniform. But has anyone ever bothered to deliberate as to what forced these youth to take up gun and fight the world’s most trained military. Has anyone ever given a serious thought as to how can these boys brought back home.
One may not deny the role played by Pakistani agencies, not to mention groups such as the one led by Hafiz Saeed, who have made a business enterprise of jihad, in adding to the woes of Kashmiris. However, if an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up loathing all things Indian it is because of the excessive presence of the security forces in the Valley and their heavy-handed approach to the local population. And if there is one thing that epitomizes all that has gone wrong with India’s Kashmir affair, it is the AFSPA. This black law has created a dangerous, ever deepening disconnect and gulf between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. Thanks to these “special powers”, just about anybody could be picked up from anywhere any time, kicked, abused, raped, killed in broad daylight or simply disappeared and no one including the state government can do anything about it.
In 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records declared Kashmir as the world’s ‘largest militarised zone’ with the presence. The Line of Control (LOC which separates the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan, was also declared as one of ‘the most dangerous borders’. The CIA Fact book also confirmed this fact by calling it the ‘most militarised territorial dispute in the world’ between three nuclear neighbours in South Asia. Many of you, may not be even surprised by reading these facts about the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
But it’s easy to not have any idea about the civilian cost of war in this region, because Indian media has been failed to inform this. The rights groups claim that over one lakh people have been killed in the state since insurgency began in 1989. However, the actual numbers of deaths, forced arrests and missing person records are expected to be more. But the news about the state in national media, hardly mentions such high number of civilian deaths in the region. The focus of the news mostly remains on politics, military and ceasefire violations. The state-centric approach to cover a state like Jammu and Kashmir has led to the alienation of its people. Many media researchers and journalists have pointed this out.
An Indian researcher Teresa Joseph, highlights the lack of civilian perspectives in the national press about Jammu and Kashmir. She studied the coverage of Jammu Kashmir by leading national newspapers in India during 1990s. The results were shocking and depressing. She published her results through research paper titled ‘Kashmir Human Rights and The Indian Press’ where she concludes, “The over-dependence on government sources appears to be the bane of the Indian press reports on Kashmir giving them an inherent bias towards the government position on the issues concerned, while ignoring the ground reality.”
The research clearly pointed towards how the government dominates the media narrative about the state. Another study about the coverage of strikes in the Kashmir valley by research Danish Nabi Gadda pointed out how the strikes were down played as small events in the national media. Gadda concluded by saying, “The national press chose to tow the official line, denying its audience a fair picture they ought to see of the Kashmir conflict.”
The fact remains that the so called national press in India has bitterly failed to provide a comprehensive perspective about Jammu and Kashmir to its readers and viewers. No wonder, the feeling of alienation is still growing among the citizens of the troubled state. It is time that the media coverage of Kashmir became more multi-dimensional. While the media looks at the violence in Kashmir, it must also speak of other side of the story that unfortunately has so far buried beneath the negative propaganda.